Editorial 1 / Battle hymn
Beyond vengeance
Above all / The simple way of life
People / Mira Nair
Letters to the editor

Before terrorists used hijacked aircraft to ram into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the strategic plans of the president of the United States, Mr George W. Bush, were centred around his missile-defence plans. The attacks on US soil on September 11 have clearly put such plans on the backburner. The US, it appears, is vulnerable to less sophisticated weapons. The specific face of the enemy is emerging gradually but surely. The enemy is not a nation but an ideology and the enemy may not be in one country. It is apparent that if the brains of the attack are located in Afghanistan, its other organs and limbs are spread out across the world. Mr Bush has rightly called the terrorist attacks acts of war, the first war of the 21st century, directed, not surprisingly, at the world’s only superpower. There is no intelligence and security system that can pro-vide foolproof protection against a bunch of fanatics willing to die for their faith. But reprisals are possible against those who inspire the fanatics and mastermind actions. This is one range of policy options that Mr Bush and his team of advisors and officers will have to consider. On another register, it will have to look beyond the short run and ponder a set of steps and alliances which will lead to the complete eradication of terrorism across the globe.

That there will be a series of severe retaliations from the US is a foregone conclusion. The US has never hesitated to hit back when it has been attacked. The bombing of Pearl Harbour and the entry of the US into World War II is the case that comes immediately to mind. Mr Bush cannot afford to sit back in a gesture of masterly inactivity. Both the timing and the mode of hitting back will have more than symbolic significance. The ground for this is being prepared through a series of diplomatic initiatives. The first fruits of such moves are seen in the decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to invoke article 5 and be part of any military action which the US undertakes against terrorists. It is also obvious that the US is putting Pakistan under tremendous pressure. It is no longer satisfied with the words of the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, against terrorism; it wants Pakistan to act on those words. The military options are also being narrowed down and the possibility of air strikes and troop movements against Afghanistan can by no means be ruled out.

As the leader of the world’s greatest power, which is also the self-appointed preserver of world peace, Mr Bush will have to think of a world beyond reprisals. At the moment, the tragedy that has engulfed the US appears paramount, and justifiably so. But there are other nations which have been targets of terrorism; and there are other countries that have served as a haven for terrorists. Mr Bush will have to rethink US attitudes to such countries. He cannot forget that US intelligence agencies had some role in arming Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan. That policy has now come home to roost for the US. The Russian bear that stalked the Cold War warriors seems a trifle more preferable today than the mad mullah of Orientalist demonology. The decisions of the Bush administration will determine the fate of a world that waits with bated breath.


When the shock and horror have abated a little, and grief and anger yielded to calm reflection, the day of infamy when terrorists struck in the United States should prompt a sober reappraisal of American policy, especially in west Asia and in relation to dependent dictatorships like Pakistan’s. Nothing can compensate for the devastation, but a reappraisal might ensure that one evil does not compound another.

It was a coincidence, but surely a coincidence pregnant with symbolism, that Israel’s national security adviser, Major-General Uzi Dayan, was leading a ten-member delegation in New Delhi as the attacks took place. For out of the death and destruction could rise a new strategic equation in south Asia. If this is an opportunity for India to get out of the rut of old moorings, it is no less an opportunity for the US finally to shed the blinkers of the Cold War.

Indians see the assault on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon (heaven alone knows what other mayhem was planned) as a sequel to the bombings that ripped apart Bombay in 1993. As Jaswant Singh remarked sorrowfully, “India has travelled these bylanes and these roads.” Now, India faces two dangers. Not content with wreaking havoc in Kashmir, Islamic militants have hijacked aircraft and bombed buses and trains elsewhere. They can hit targets anywhere in a country with hostile neighbours, porous borders, disgruntled minorities and poor security. And however reassuring Yashwant Sinha might sound, the soaring price of crude can be a severe drain on a country that imports more than 70 million tons annually.

The tragedy is that Washington did not take Indian concerns seriously. Not when Sushma Swaraj warned in 1999 that Osama bin Laden had bracketed India and the US as the “biggest enemies of Islam” and urged Muslims worldwide to “target” them. Nor even when the Clinton administration’s coordinator for counter-terrorism, Michael Sheehan, told a senate committee that “the centre of anti-American terrorism has moved eastward, from Libya, Syria and Lebanon to south Asia”.

Differences of perception made the US-India joint working group on coordinating anti-terrorist policies, set up in 1999, ineffective. Americans suspected India of only trying to place their friend and protégé, Pakistan, in the dock. Indians accused Americans of a blind spot about Islamic terrorism in Kashmir. India now hopes that “hexperience”, as Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist would have said, will force Washington to focus on terrorism in general instead of only on just one man. Surging outrage in America might even allow Washington to develop strategic cooperation with New Delhi without a formal security relationship, possibly on the basis of the draft comprehensive convention against terrorism that the 56th United Nations gene-ral assembly meeting was scheduled to discuss.

The need arises because, in spite of unrealistic gushing about two open, secular democracies (which has no bearing on Realpolitik), New Delhi is still coy about being seen to be tied to Washington’s apron strings. America’s favour has meant the kiss of death for too many Asian leaders. Moreover, India wants to preserve the goodwill that it believes it enjoys among nationalistic Arabs and is worried about the sensibilities of millions of poor and uneducated Indian Muslims who might be carried away by fundamentalist propaganda. It does not want them to think of their country leading Samuel Huntington’s apocalyptic crusade against Islam.

Finally, no Indian government dare take public opinion for granted. It’s not just fellow travellers that our rulers must beware of. I was at a birthday dinner at a stately mansion in Alipore on Wednesday when the news came through. Ignoring the band playing old time waltzes and foxtrots, guests, many with sons and daughters in America, clustered round the TV set. Everyone was shocked by the gruesome tragedy, but two sentiments appeared to lace their horror. There was unmistakable admiration for the terrorists’ sheer skill and daring. There was a feeling, too, that a superpower that had blasted Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ravaged Vietnam, pulverized Iraq and pounded Serbia was at last getting a taste of its own medicine. One young man tells me that the American Central Intelligence Agency and Islamic fundamentalist organizations are alike in their commitment and ruthlessness.

Some of this explains why India also keeps its burgeoning friendship with Israel under wraps. There are reports of a $ 2 billion weapons contract, of Israelis upgrading Indian fighter aircraft, providing sensors and surveillance equipment and training commandos in Kashmir. But officials only admit that Jaswant Singh’s visit to Israel last year resulted in another joint working group (similar to those with the US, Britain, Canada and Germany) to share intelligence and cooperate against terrorism. General Dayan was in New Delhi for the group’s third formal meeting.

Moving cautiously because of this baggage, Jaswant Singh was quick to assure Washington that India’s concerns are not Pakistan-specific. But taliban hospitality for bin Laden is compared with the reportedly lavish lifestyle under Pakistani protection in Karachi of Dawood Ibrahim and the Memon brothers, suspected perpetrators of the Bombay blasts. We have seen pictures of the celebrations in Karachi that greeted the attack and read of the popularity of bin Laden T-shirts in Peshawar.

Much will depend now on whether George W. Bush turns the screws on General Pervez Musharraf to obtain his cooperation in the war against terrorism or persists with the notion — a relic of the Cold War — that Western interests are best served by succouring Pakistan, no matter how obscurantist, repressive and militaristic it might be.

By implication, the US accepted Islamabad’s definition that terrorism in Kashmir is freedom-fighting, presumably because Americans also agree with the expedient and dangerous thesis that Kashmir is of crucial importance to Pakistan’s identity and existence. If so, Washington might well decide to turn the screws on India over Kashmir as a sop to ensure the general’s help in dealing with Afghanistan.

The US must also rethink its superpower obligations in west Asia. Support for reactionary feudalisms does not endear it to the Arab masses. Neither does uncritical backing for Israel, as seen at Durban. There is scope for a realistic formula that guarantees both Israel’s security within recognized borders and legitimate Palestinian aspirations for a sovereign homeland, if only Washington would consider it. Indeed, Wednesday’s holocaust might even be called a reaction to earlier American action. Bin Laden describes “the time when the Americans decided to help the Afghans fight the Russians” as his baptism in revolution. The CIA says it never “controlled” him but certainly knew all about the renegade Saudi tycoon.

He learned two lessons from that conflict. First, the CIA, which financed, armed and trained (through Pakistani intermediaries) the mujahedin, could be turned to his own purpose, especially when it abandoned huge stockpiles of weapons, grenades and rocket launchers. Second, the mujahedin’s victory “cleared from…minds the myth of superpower”. Bin Laden believes that that triumph can be repeated against the remaining superpower, “the American (who) imposes himself on everyone”. He claimed to have learnt that sheer will can destroy even a superpower.

Everything hangs now on whether the US, too, has learnt anything from the tragedy. The craving for vengeance is understandable, but wisdom decrees taking a look at the long term to ensure not the elimination of one Osama bin Laden but prevent the emergence of others like him. That means a superpower whose authority is voluntarily accepted because it stands for peace and justice. Almost the entire world now mourns with the US in its suffering. But I am not sure whether they are reacting with revulsion to the means employed rather than expressing repugnance for the cause.

Unless Washington can make the adjustment, it will serve no purpose Atal Bihari Vajpayee telling us that the world’s oldest and biggest democracies must unite in the face of the common enemy.


India has a sizeable population of jungle-dwellers who live on the fruits of forests, animals and birds. Where forests were left alone, humans who lived there continue to do so to this day as their forefathers did, poor but happy with their primitive way of life. Where forests were cleared and the land used for farming, these forest-dwellers took to a nomadic life, keeping themselves alive by taking vegetables grown on land cultivated by others and fruits from orchards to which they had no right. Petty thieving became their way of living. From small-scale pilferage they turned to thieving, robbery and murder. Since they were always on the move, no government could levy taxes on them. They became an unwanted nuisance and came to be despised as a sub-human species which deserved to be exterminated. In 1871, our British rulers declared 150 such wandering communities as criminal tribes giving the police special powers to deal with them. The police did in the way best way known to it; by blood-letting, in the firm conviction that these tribes had bad blood in their veins and were born criminals.

We treated them worse than we treated the lowest of our low-castes. The Criminal Tribes Act was repealed, many commissions of inquiry constituted to suggest improvements in the living conditions of the new denotified criminal tribes but it has made very little difference in the attitude of the police, and the deep-rooted prejudice that most people have against them continues to exist.

Dilip D’Souza has written a highly readable book, Branded By Law: Looking at India’s Denotified Tribes. Being based in Mumbai, most of it is about the Pardhis of Maharashtra, some tribes of Gujarat and the Sabars of Purulia.

I confess I hardly knew of the existence of these denotified criminal tribes till I read this book. D’Souza admits that neither did he till he stumbled on their existence. He writes: “It is one of those intriguing, maddening, and yet somehow fascinating things about India: however long you live here, however well you think you know what happens here, there is always something else. Some stone under which you have not looked, some practice you have never known, a community you have never heard of, an issue you have never grappled with. In close to 40 years, the word “Pardhi” had remained outside my consciousness, and I consider myself a relatively well-read, well-informed Indian. How many others are there in my country to whom Pardhis are entirely unknown?”

It is the duty of every educated Indian to involve himself in bettering the lot of our unfortunate brethren because our country will be judged by what we do to better their lot. D’Souza writes: “Ignore or agonize? Whichever option you go with, you’re up against a great power these people exert; they define India to the world. Now we may like to think we are a nuclear power, that we produce rockets and missiles and fancy cars and flavoured potato chips.

But at the back of our minds we all know the truth: if the world notices us at all, it sees India first and always as a desperately poor nation. A nation whose continuing unwillingness to address the problems of its poor is perhaps its most striking feature. In fact, that enormous unwillingness even raises the question of whether we Indians are ourselves fully aware of the poor in India. Yes, perhaps we would rather they remained out of sight.”

Branded by Law is not all about wretchedness because D’Souza also sees the comic aspect of the lives of the people he writes about. Here is an example of the outlandish names some Pardhis have: “Pistolya, Rifleya, Bandukya ( from banduk-gun), Policeya, Torchya”. ( “—Ya”, as anyone who has grown up around Marathi speaking kids knows, is a common Marathi suffix to form diminutives or nicknames.) Around Satara district, you can hear tales of a reformed Pardhi criminal, now farming a small plot of land, named European. Britishya was another former criminal. Perhaps these last two names came from an association with some long-forgotten British officials in the area. Another Pardhi name is Lafangya (good for nothing) which would do well for one yet to be de-notified criminal tribe, politicians.

A love of mango and dates

The mango season is over. Right from April to the end of the monsoon it’s been a succession of the pick of the season. Fortunately, I am on the gift-list of a few benevolent people who are aware of my love for this fruit. It starts with a crate of Alphonsos sent by Saryu Doshi. This product of the Ratnagiri coastline has hogged the export market. I like them well enough for their looks and texture, but I fancy products of western Uttar Pradesh more. I know a few growers and owners of orchards.

There is the six foot four inches tall Pathan Abid Saeed Khan who has a large orchard in the village, Bugrasi, near Saharanpur. He is also very large-hearted. He sends me different varieties: Dussehri, Chausa, Langda and Ratol. So does Sarla Ban who has an orchard close to Moradabad. There are also Parveen Talha and Ammar Rizvi who grow them near Lucknow. Then there is Captain Raghubir Singh who grows them in his farm in Terai. So there is not a day during the season that I do not have a mango-fest: one for breakfast, one with lunch, one in the afternoon. By August-end, I have more mango juice in my veins than blood. That many mangoes do not do one any good, particularly one who is prone to diabetes. I soon have boils erupting on different parts of my body, including a painful carbuncle on the left side of my bottom, which hurts me when I sit. I don’t know what other ailments come with over-indulgence in mangoes but I am hooked to them and wait impatiently for the next season.

Another addiction I have is to dates. Humayun Zaidi and some other friends living in Muscat and Dubai bring a few packets for me whenever they come to Delhi. Believe it or not, there are dozens of varieties of dates varying in size and taste, all delicious. Why is it our own dates are so poor by comparison? Once in Australia I was taken to a date-research project near Alice Springs in the heart of the desert. There I saw palm trees not higher than six feet bearing long-tapering dates tastier than any from the Middle East. We have a vast desert in Rajasthan ideally suited to growing dates. Don’t we have date-research projects in any of our agricultural universities?

Voice from the grave

You call me a cold-blooded murderer
You paint me as a whore
You accuse me of amassing wealth
In your lexicon, I am uncouth vengeful dacoit and much more.
I know, you resent my political ascendancy
I know, for you I am a butt of ridicule
I know, you are all men of decency
Full of righteous indignation, honour and honesty.
I know, your blood boils (doesn’t it?) when women are gangraped
I know, you feel like setting the world on fire
When the criminals have escaped
I know, when minor girls are bought and sold
Beaten blue and black for not being sex-ually bold
You are hurt in your heart so deep
That you forego your dinner and vow not to sleep
Isn’t it?
The mother of all diseases and the enemy of decency
I know, you’re uprooting poverty from this country,
Caste hierarchy, exploitation and cruelty
And therefore found me guilty,
I know, why I have been murdered openly.
Contributed by: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)


Always in the Frame

The Golden Lion might have come as a bit of a surprise to filmmaker Mira Nair, who didn’t expect — quite rightly perhaps — “anything from this film, really”. But it came as more than a bit of a surprise to the rest of the world, given that the 44-year-old Nair is better recognised as a shrewd seller of films and an outspoken woman, than a great filmmaker.

In fact, soon after the award was announced, tongues wagged about the “India connection at Venice”, given that Nair’s “old friend”, author Amitav Ghosh was a member of this year’s jury.

Of course, over the years, she has made films with an eye to an international jury, choosing her subjects with care, whether it was interracial love in Mississippi Masala or 16th century Indian erotica in Kamasutra — A Tale of Love. The filmmaker, who now lives in New York, defended her choice of subjects rather spiritedly in Venice. “I like to push the envelope... movies are there to provoke and get under your skin.”

The Monsoon Wedding also pushes the envelope. For, in the middle of all the boisterousness of an affluent Punjabi wedding, dark secrets come tumbling out of the family closet, the darkest one being that of child abuse. “But the family, rather unusually, accepts it and rallies around the woman,” says Shefali Shetty, who plays the abused woman, Riya, in the film.

Nair who grew up in India and first studied theatre in New Delhi, also teaches film, in New York, where she now lives, and in Cape Town, where she lived for a few years with her Ugandan husband. She picked up the basics of filmmaking in New Delhi. But the success of Salaam Bombay! (based on Bombay’s street children) in 1988 was followed by a string of disappointing films, which only helped reinforce the view that at best, Nair was a creative documentary filmmaker with great marketing skills.

And she is quite candid about the marketing aspect. Talking about Kamasutra at a recent meet of NRI entrepreneurs in the US organised by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), she said, “A lot depends on the marketing. The studio is releasing the film as a kind of high-brow artistic film, rather than a smutty film.” The Monsoon Wedding is already being sold as “a slice of real urban Punjabi life” rather than a film.

What is creditable about Nair’s filmmaking technique though, is her ability to create the sort of bonhomie on her sets that leads to very easy, very friendly filming. “She has this fascination for rehearsals, which is quite an unusual way to go about making a film — it is more of a theatre thing,” says Shetty.

Shetty described the experience of filming with Nair as “very different.” The film, which ended up looking very like “one of those video recordings of a family wedding, was shot within one month in one of those sprawling farmhouses along the Delhi-Haryana highway, with a cast that was largely picked from theatre circles,” she said.

As in her earlier films, Nair had the actors rehearse scenes for The Monsoon Wedding very informally. The mehendi scene, one of the most colourful in the film, was rehearsed during a tea-party. “The party was at the home of an assistant director. So you had all these authentic sangeetwallis — they are all very beautiful, glamorous women from good families, who traditionally sing at these affluent Punjabi weddings,” says Shetty. She went on to describe how the tea party was transformed into a riotous evening of “purane Dilli shaadi songs”, and lots of food and fun. The rehearsal later found its place in the film.

Nair used the technique earlier, in Kamasutra, when she had her whole cast of characters get together “like one big family”. Nair says the rehearsals help, both in strengthening the chemistry between actors, and also to get the mood right. She was right about the chemistry, at least on the sets of The Monsoon Wedding.“At times, almost 35 of us were packed into a small room, but amazingly, it didn’t feel like a crowd,” admits Shetty. “And credit for that, and the fact that we completed shooting in just a month, has to go to the director,” she adds.

Filming on tight schedules is part of Nair’s business-like approach to filmmaking. She might have been weaned on a diet of Kurosawa, Guru Dutt, Scorcese and Emil Kusturica, but more than her film-making skills, it is her distribution and production talents that have helped her recover money, even from duds like Mississippi Masala and Kamasutra.

At the TiE meet, Nair said that her “vocation was very much a business”. She described raising funds for Salaam Bombay!, which she eventually managed “through a lot of scams”. The problem lay in convincing people to invest in a story about the survival of street children with very little glamour or sex appeal.

She was able to get her next film, Mississippi Masala, financed by a Hollywood studio, with the proviso that she would decide the final cut. Her third film, The Perez Family, was “a real exercise in how people make films on the West Coast, which is, through committee film-making,’’ according to Nair. “The tussle and the politics, which is really the essence of the studio world, led me to put that behind me and go back to my own independence.’’ She called Kama Sutra “an epic on a peanut, since we made a film that looked like $40 million for about $7 million’’. It was financed through prior sales to distributors in foreign markets.

She described her distribution system thus: “I preserve my independence by selling to four or five countries that would match the budget of the movie, then have the rest of the world to exploit, and share the equity of the rest of the world with the partners who have taken the risk of investing in it from inception.’’ Monsoon Wedding follows the same system.

Her candour at the TiE meet earned Nair a lot of admirers. It was the same bluntspeak that made her a hit at the Mercury Film and Television School in Cape Town, where Nair worked earlier. “I like to light fires under bums, so that people show, speak, create their own ideas,” she had said. In Cape Town, Nair had worked to help the nascent South African movie industry, by encouraging more independent, and less Eurocentric, thinking.

Outspoken, glamorous, and with a head for business — who says you need to be a Kurosawa to be a great filmmaker?



Incorrigible bullies

Sir — The recent Shiv Sena attack on the SunitiDevi Singhania hospital was in keeping with the party’s usual response to any incident which displeases it (“Singhania, Sena on warpath”, Sept 2). This time it was the death of their district leader at this hospital. Contrary to popular belief, the decision to “pulverize, vandalize and minimize” isn’t always instigated by Bal Thackeray’s editorials in Saamna. After all, it was made obvious that Thackeray’s foot-soldiers are capable of starting a local war at their own initiative. This incident only proves that there is no stopping Thackeray and his followers from carrying on their bullying tactics against anyone.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, via email

Crushing end

Sir — The recent stampede and the subsequent death of Dilip Bhattacharya outside the Fort William gates were most distressing (“Army job rush crushes youth”, Sept 4). The organizers are aware that the area surrounding the gates of Fort William, where the candidates assemble, is covered with big boulders. These boulders had been placed near the gate so that they act as an obstacle in case the candidates for the army recruitment try to rush into Fort William. While serving their purpose, the boulders also helped propel Bhattacharya to his death. Since a similar accident had occurred last year, the organizers should make sure that this event does not invariably have fatal consequences.

Yours faithfully,
Subhashish Majumdar, Sonarpur

Sir — The death of Dilip Bhattacharya in a stampede is shocking since neither the army officers nor the police force took sufficient precautions to control the 8,000 candidates seeking recruitment to the army. Had the candidate been given medical aid in time he might have survived. Both the army and the police are busy blaming each other for this accident, forgetting the victim’s family.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — The death of at Fort William brings a lot of things to light. It shows the hopelessness of the unemployed. The young people present at the recruitment had become so desperate in their urgency to secure a job that they were oblivious to somebody dying. We should also blame those from the army who neglected to attend to Bhattacharya.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Mankundu

Sir — The police have ordered an enquiry into Dilip Bhattacharya’s death and the army will probably offer his family some compensation as well. But money or a job cannot be fit compensation. At the heart of the matter lies the fact that a soldier has died even before donning a uniform.

Yours faithfully,
Nilanjan Biswas, Malda

History repeating

Sir — The Jews, once considered the largest oppressed community, are now perceived as equivalent to the Nazis by the Palestinians (“West Asia explodes”, Sept 10). Adolph Hitler’s rise to power indicated one aspect of the German collective psyche. The same can now be said of the Israelis, who unanimously voted to power Ariel Sharon, a man considered responsible for the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla. But as west Asia continues to be turbulent, India’s position on the crisis is unclear. Though Israel is an important ally, we cannot ignore the Palestinians’ plight. The issue here is not Judaism but Zionism, the political movement that rose out of it.

Besides the obvious myopic view of the right-wing Hindu parties who support Israel because of a perceived common Muslim “enemy”, I would like to know what our secular parties feel. None of them has yet arrived at a common opinion on contemporary Zionism. Just as the Palestinians must accept Israel as a geographical reality, specially after the realization that Jews are not safe without a nation of their own, it is time Israel realized that the war will continue until the illegal settlers are restricted and the occupied region is a free nation with it’s own army.

Yours faithfully,
Indrani Bhattacharya, Howrah

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