Editorial 1 / On the defensive
Editorial 2 / Veiled threat
Catching the public eye
Book Review / Freud among the savages
Book Review / Million year itch
Book Review / Love and other demons
Book Review / The poet’s fiction
Editor’s Choice / Sunrise on the Empire
Paperback Pickings/ Scavenging for salvation
Letters to the editor

Mr Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, will invite nobody’s envy by his current plight. Even his media savvy skills have deserted him. His address to the people of his country, televised live, on Wednesday, was, however, dismal in both style and substance. While the speech was clearly designed to win domestic support for his government’s policies in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC, Mr Musharraf appeared ill at ease, almost desperate as he articulated a confused message. Whether or not the bulk of the Pakistani people are convinced that their nation is safe in Mr Musharraf’s hands, remains to be seen, but his speech will do little to improve his standing in the region. It may also further dampen the hopes of many who believed that despite the failure of Agra, India-Pakistan relations were likely to improve under Mr Musharraf.

Mr Musharraf’s speech was a convoluted attempt at providing a justification for Islamabad’s decision to offer the United States support during any military action that it may carry out against the taliban regime, which has been harbouring Mr Osama bin Laden — the prime suspect in the terrorist attacks of September 11. On the one hand, Pakistan’s president claimed that because of the terrorist attacks, Pakistan was facing the worst crisis in its history since the 1971 war against India. And given the intensity of international public opinion against the acts of terrorism, Pakistan had no option but to cooperate with the US and distance itself from the taliban regime. However, most curiously, he seemed to suggest that the decision to cooperate was only tactical, and he compared Pakistan’s policy to Prophet Mohammad’s temporary alliance with his enemies in order to ensure a final victory. In other words, Mr Musharraf seemed to be signalling that there was no principled opposition to the forces of terror, but collaboration with the US was only a short-term tactic to protect Pakistan’s vital interests. On the other hand, Mr Musharraf used the opportunity to target India. He accused India of trying to exploit the situation caused by the acts of terrorism to attempt to isolate Pakistan and have it declared it a terrorist state. In a most un-president-like fashion, he warned India to “lay off”. It is clear that Mr Musharraf was attempting to take advantage of the anti- India sentiment prevalent within sections of Pakistani public opinion.

It is unlikely that Mr Musharraf’s speech will do much to subside the growing protests that have been seen on the streets of Pakistan’s major cities or improve Pakistan’s long-term relations with the outside world. Forces of extremism are unlikely to be convinced that the military regime was right in abandoning its closest ally, the taliban, for its short-term interests. While the US has welcomed Mr Musharraf’s “bold” speech, and would like to make most of Islamabad’s willingness to cooperate, there are few in Washington DC who see Pakistan as a dependable ally. In India, the reaction has been predictably negative, and it is now unlikely that there will be a breakthrough in bilateral relations under Mr Musharraf. For the nonce, Mr Musharraf has more to fear from the domestic repercussion of what will be perceived in Pakistan as a capitulation to the US.


Enemies of open society subvert freedom in many ways, one of which may be a perverse attempt at moral policing. An illustration of this was seen recently by a militant outfit’s fatwa on Muslim women in Kashmir to wear the burqa or face physical attacks. That the majority of the women had to surrender to the diktat out of fear did not detract from its criminality. The defiance of Manipuri women in the face of a similar threat from an insurgent group in the state therefore looks particularly laudable. The little-known Manipuri militant group may have seen this as a ploy to gain publicity and some mileage vis-a-vis other such outfits operating in the state. Not only have the women thwarted this design but have courageously challenged any organization’s right to order a dress code for them. Manipur’s women’s organizations are known to have played a crucial role in battling several social ills confronting large sections of the state’s youth. Their fight against drugs and AIDS has been as exemplary as their positions on human rights issues. They have shown the way again in their righteous indignation with the underground elements who threatened to shoot women unless they stopped wearing trousers, saris or salwar kameezes and returned to “traditional” dresses.

This, of course, is not the first time that militants in Manipur have sought to impose their code of social behaviour on the people. There have been issues such as bans on drinking and pornographic films that received some degree of public approval. But even this moral policing raises fundamental questions about individual rights and freedom of choice. Any attempt at forcing public morality, even if apparently well-intentioned, militates against this freedom. If this attempt is accompanied by threats of violence, it is clearly criminal by nature. Interestingly, even better-known insurgent groups like the Revolutionary People’s Front have not only condemned the threat but also vowed to punish those who issued it. While the women in Imphal have shown their courage, the state administration cannot shirk its responsibility of tracking down the culprits. It is necessary to tackle the problems of even the lunatic fringes of society. Unchecked, such madness may infringe on basic freedoms, as forcibly-veiled Kashmiri women must have realized to their deep anguish.


Terrorism has got for itself all the media coverage it could have wanted when the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed. That, in itself, must have given the brains behind it great cause to celebrate. To them the cost was nothing compared to what was achieved — what, they must be telling themselves, is 5,000 lives? Or the grief that thousands have suffered and will suffer because of their cold-blooded murder of so many innocent people? Going by their diseased set of values, not much. They would see as the true triumph of their cause the economic chaos that has followed the destruction and death they brought to the United States last week; and, perhaps highest in their list of triumphs, the media coverage, or, to be more accurate, the television coverage they succeeded in getting.

Television coverage is very very important to terrorists of all breeds. More than radio and newspaper reports, they want the pictures of their triumphs to be seen by the world. It is an essential part of their activity; deny them television coverage (and coverage by other media for good measure) and they would find it difficult to sustain their campaigns. When they destroyed the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon, they got it all — just as they wanted. The US economy, and that of the world, in turn, has been rocked, and it may be a while before it recovers, all of which was well reported with graphic pictures of dejected economic analysts and captains of industry; just as they wanted. It’s pure oxygen to them, all this coverage — to the Al Qaida, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, whatever their identity.

But what the wide coverage has also brought about is an unprecedented uniting of virtually every country in the world against terrorism. This has almost overnight become a great opportunity for concerted world-wide action against these evil people; an opportunity to harness the enormous power of the investigating agencies of most countries to pursue, identify and apprehend them. They got world-wide coverage, and also world-wide condemnation; where will they now take shelter?

If this harnessing can be effectively done, and given a specific direction, without riding roughshod over the sensibilities of people and governments, then much can be achieved. Specifically, the collaring of these scoundrels, whatever their breed, appearance or faith. And then, their exposure to world view — on apprehension, and as they are brought to justice. They, who used the media, must be placed before it for the vicious psychotics they are.

In other words, the media must be used against them, in a manner and at times when it can be most effective in doing the job it is to do. If this amounts to manipulation, so be it. No one is talking here of suppressing or distorting facts; but one is certainly talking of supplying the media with what would capture the complete attention of viewers, listeners and readers. Most of all viewers. As we said, pictures do much more talking than any words, spoken or printed. Consider how the major news networks kept showing the horrific shots of the plane crashing into the second World Trade Center tower — again, and again and again. With every showing, viewers’ horror escalated to intense grief and anger, which grew as more shots of the carnage were shown. This is not manipulation, in the strict sense of the term, but in a way it is.

Unfortunately it is always these shadowy amoral people with only one agenda, to kill and maim the innocent and spread terror among ordinary people, who know how to organize a media event. They do it through murder and carnage, and all that is given to the media as a counter are endless pictures of VIPs going into or coming out of meetings, and of various worthies saying brave things. So are we saying that we, too, should look to equally murderous images to shore up our media effort? Obviously not — but we are saying that we should get something about these creatures, and what they truly represent, on television.

They do not represent anyone, nor do they represent Islam; that at least we can hammer home. They are diseased people, a truth that cannot be covered over by the sympathetic clucking by one set of apologists whose arguments border on the criminal when they find — suddenly — much anguish in what they see as the years that these scoundrels have suffered injustice at the hands of an arrogant superpower.

This, sadly, tragically, is what we could easily have done in those parts of our country where similar murderers are breeding terror, infecting people with it, and drawing young people into their world of hate and bloodshed. We could have used the media to expose the truth, the cruelty of these so-called freedom fighters; instead we assumed that people were monumentally stupid and child-like, and fed them with absurd pieces of video footage which would have been laughable if they weren’t so dangerously wrong.

The security forces in Kashmir, the Northeast and elsewhere have had a consistently stupid attitude towards the media; that it is there to publicize what they want it to publicize. This is based on the equally idiotic premise that they, the security forces, are acting “in the public interest”, so they know what to show and what not to show. In the public interest, indeed. Yes, but not all the time, not always; and that, among other things, is what the media was and is prevented from covering.

So there are stories built up from accounts gathered from other sources, information is gathered secretly, from sources who dare not speak openly, and the end result is news stories in the media, printed and, increasingly, audio-visual, which are far from flattering to the security forces. Then angry denials follow, and, again acting on their basic, crude reasoning, a “press party” is sent to the forward areas and carefully shown what is considered “safe”. And so it goes on.

If only the loud-talking, table-thumping commanders of the army, border security force and central reserve police force gave the media the sort of importance that it deserved, and recognized it as a reflector of what the ground situation was, the story in Kashmir would have been different from what it is today. K.P.S. Gill saw the value of this on Operation Black Thunder, when he flushed militants out from the Golden Temple without damaging the structure in any way; he encouraged and facilitated a live coverage of what was going on, besides briefing the media every day personally. This paid handsome dividends; there was not only no backlash, there was instead widespread support and appreciation for what he and the Black Cats did. The media attention the terrorists sought when they seized the Golden Temple was deftly turned against them.

But to return to the catastrophe in New York. Here, for once, the media are eager to report what steps are being taken, and are trying to find out on their own what they aren’t being told. This is where it is essential to establish a close link with them, and this is when it is possible to do so. Sadly, no one either in the US or anywhere else has done anything about it so far, and time is running out.

Somewhere someone must recognize the crucial role that the media can play in this tragedy and its aftermath, and in tracking down, identifying and exposing the perpetrators; if it is left to the media to ferret out what is being done, the inevitable impression of avoidable secrecy and cloak-and-dagger consultations will only mystify, baffle and finally infuriate an already bewildered and angry world. That would be a tragedy which would, in the final analysis be just as catastrophic as the one being faced today.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


By Christiane Hartnack,
Oxford, Rs 495

In 1931, on his 75th birthday, Sigmund Freud received a marble image of Vishnu as a gift from the Indian Psychoanalytical Society. A few years later, he entered, almost prophetically, in his journal, “Can the god, being used to Calcutta, not stand the climate in Vienna?” The sandalwood base of the image had developed cracks.

Psychoanalysis arrived in India at the beginning of the 20th century, amid ambivalence and conflict. British psychiatrists suddenly found themselves treating an increasing number of European patients, mostly British officers. Psychoanalysis, in their hands, proved more than a mere therapeutic tool.

The European Mental Hospital in Ranchi opened in 1918 and Owen Berkeley-Hill took charge as its head in 1919. Three years later, he was one of the 15 founding members when the Indian Psychoanalytical Society came into being. Berkeley-Hill alone represented the Society at the International Psychoanalytical Congresses in Berlin and Oxford in the Twenties. This is important if one considers his views on the Hindu psyche in his essays. He suggested a “flatus complex” in the Brahmanical notion of the atman, in Hindu liturgical chants, and in the breathing exercises of hatha yoga, concluding that “Hindus do not have a psychological disposition for leadership”.

Another important figure in Hartnack’s book is C.D. Daly. He was with the Indian army fighting in France in 1916 when forced into analysis because of a severe nervous breakdown. While practising psychoanalysis in Vienna after retirement, he published two papers dealing with India — “Hindu Mythology and Castration Complex” (1927), and “The Psychology of Revolutionary Tendencies” (1930). In his opinion, the Hindus suffer from “collective compulsions”, have “childlike and feminine character traits”, and “thrive only under very firm and kindly administration”. He emphasized the “vast responsibility of the British officers in educating the childlike Indians”.

According to Hartnack’s historical framework, colonial India was caught between “identifying with the aggressor” and the threat of Western science swallowing up the “indigenous intellectual traditions” of the East. In 1915, Narendra N. Sengupta established the department of psychology at Calcutta University. Among his first students was Girindrasekhar Bose, the “doyen of psychoanalysis in India”.

Bose was a curious combination of science, nationalism and neurosis, who washed the goat to be eaten at his daughter’s wedding with antiseptic lotion. After graduating from the Medical College in Calcutta in 1910, Bose continued his research in experimental psychology. When the Indian Psychoanalytical Society was formed in 1922, the venue was 14 Parsibagan Lane, Bose’s north Calcutta residence.

In 1935, Bose published his “Opposite Fantasies in the Release of Repression”, where he rejected some of the fundamentals of Freudian psychoanalysis. He even replaced the classic couch with a deck chair in his consulting room. In his many essays, published in the Society’s journal, Samiksa, he invoked the psychological wisdom contained in the Hindu shastras. But he still explained miracles through science. Hartnack’s account of the Indian psychoanalysts suggests a lack of co-ordination of ideas amongst them. There were also wide generalizations based on limited experience. Bose was an exception, and yet today, it is difficult to obtain his works in English or Bengali.

This book deals with the British and the Indian psychoanalysts in two separate parts, giving a structural symmetry to the argument and reflecting the divisions in the reception of psychoanalysis in British India. Hartnack’s account also helps to locate the preoccupations of modern commentators on the “Indian psyche”, like Sudhir Kakar and Ashis Nandy, within a history. Her objectives are “to present information that is difficult to obtain, to integrate scattered material into an argument, and to contribute to an ongoing discussion”. In the lucidity of her prose, her thorough archival research and in her exhaustive bibliography, Hartnack has achieved these objectives to an impressive extent.


By Felipe Fernández-Armesto,
Free Press, $28.50

In a seminar at the University of Toronto last year, Felipe Fernández-Armesto told a gathering of fellow historians that when he sits down to write a book of history, he sets out “consciously to create a work of art”, and that to him “is as important as conveying information”. If these are ambitious goals then his latest work proves that he is also capable of achieving them. For Civilizations is both a treasure chest of knowledge and a great, inspiring work of art.

Fernández-Armesto presents a strikingly original theory of civilization. Civilization, he argues, is a neutral term, not signifying a higher state of existence, but an inevitable process. The degree to which a society or people can be considered civilized is determined by the extent to which it has been able to tame, modify and distance itself from raw nature. “A society is civilized,” he states, “in direct proportion to its distance, its difference from the unmodified natural environment.” But this ability to civilize is not determined by racial superiority as most Eurocentric theories propagate in Western history books, but by geographical and climatic advantages. All societies, without exception, are driven by the urge, or what the author calls, “the itch to civilize”. And it is refreshing to see that by this logic his list of civilized societies includes those who have traditionally been relegated to the “subhuman” categories of “savage” and “barbarian”. Civilizations chronicles the relentless endeavour of all these groups of people to tame and control nature.

To depict this “itch to civilize”, Fernández-Armesto cites the example of Amalia’s room from J. Mármol’s 1851 novel: “The wallpaper was heavily flocked with velvet, the windows hung with double sets of curtains. More drapes enclosed the bed...Amalia’s Italian carpet was so thick that your foot felt cushioned. The air was scented. On every side, light was excluded.”

But then Amalia’s is a room in fiction where hyperbole can shut out the faintest hint of nature. How far is his theory applicable in real life?

To show us just how real, Fernández-Armesto takes us on a persuasive, roller-coaster journey of the earth, to its every nook and corner, introducing us to strange peoples, their habits, their lives and their times. And in the process he dazzles us with his knowledge and understanding of people and places spanning epochs. And he charms us with his sensitive portrayal of characters far removed from us — and him — in time and space.

We visit the tundra people of Ice Age Europe, whose “women eat their fattest lice like candies” to survive. We arrive at the sand deserts of Arizona with the first settlers and try to farm and “civilize patches of dust”. Or “feel small and insignificant”, “and smothered by the sand” at Sahara, “which inspires resignation”. We sweep through “intractable” grasslands of the African Sahel, like the wind which whispers words of civilizing wisdom into the ears of its cowed inhabitants trying to “adjust to a limited diet in an arid land”.

But we also visit the blessed valley by the Indus River, the gradual decline of whose lofty civilization is linked, says Fernández-Armesto, to “the climate” which was “getting drier”, and to “tectonic convulsions” which were “shifting river beds”. We see how Mesopotamian and other maritime “civilizations shaped by the sea” prosper. We are told about island people whose “normal pattern is to look out to the sea and cull it for riches”.

We see that indeed “the itch” is a reality even in bleak “deserts of ice” which “freeze our every impulse”, and in “regions of perpetual snow” and “frozen soil” where “suicide grips unaccustomed minds”. Even in such “inhospitable regions” as the tundras of Europe and west Asia, where “lemmings are perhaps the only joyous feature of the country” and where “in the deep layers of permafrost that make cultivation impossible but ideal breeding grounds for plagues of mosquitoes” the itch happens, and societies scratch to civilize themselves.

Fernández-Armesto uses an interesting narrative technique. The telling of facts is not only interspersed with his own comments, but enriched by the voices of others: accounts of expeditioners, of archaeologists and anthropologists; he evokes legends and myths surrounding particular peoples and places and works of fiction and non-fiction, sprinkling his work with a wealth of literary allusions. Though his chronicle never confuses fact with mythology, the different voices blend beautifully to create vivid impressions.

Sensory responses too are evoked. We can almost smell the “swinish people” who “slept with dogs” and stank “of fish”.

There is an extremely educative discussion in the introductory chapter about existing theories of civilization, noteworthy for the insight it offers into the ongoing debate among historians about the nature of civilization, and an even more fascinating rebuttal by Fernández-Armesto rejecting a better part of them.

And he substantiates his theory with proof of indisputable facts, ingenious observations. If the architecture of some societies is greater or longer lasting than others, it is because “you can carve ice, but it will weather back to a form sculpted by nature. You can pile up sand but the wind will scatter it. No radical refashion- ing of the landscape is easily imaginable where skin tents and igloos blend into the background.”

If one is forced to ferret out a flaw from Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s epic it would be his obvious bias in favour of those whom histories of civilizations have more or less treated with contempt, though he distances himself from advocates of Rousseauistic noble-savage theories. His chapters on the traditionally less-documented are more interesting, more lively and more energetic than those on the traditional favourites. The chapter on the Atlantic civilizations, for instance, though informative, is drier and less passionate. But this is a self-confessed crime: “There is more here on Aztecs”, writes Fernández-Armesto, “than on Athens”.

Though “not all people who aim to be civilized cocoon themselves so deeply, shutter their rooms so thoroughly, and separate nature so decisively,” the author goes on to say about Amalia’s room, they try their best to do so. And it is this deep human desire to surmount the most insuper-able of odds that Felipe Fernández-Armesto celebrates in Civilizations.

Bold, erudite, thought-provoking, grand and gripping, Civilizations is not just a work of art, it is a masterpiece.


By Badri Narayan Tiwari,
IIAS, Rs 250

Although history is generally written by victors, Badri Narayan Tiwari in Documenting Dissent writes it from the other side of the fence. The book with its subaltern methodology moves away from the dominant tradition of history and narrates the “story” of marginalized groups in Indian society. According to Tiwari, the story has a liberating spirit enabling marginalized people to enter the meaningful domain of knowledge, identity creation and the invention of the past through a constant dialogue with the present.

In Documenting Dissent, Tiwari documents the story of Chuharmal, a hero of the Dusadh community belonging to the Dalit caste of Mokama in south Bihar. It is a story of the love of Chuharmal, a chivalrous hero, and Rani Reshma, the beautiful daughter of the local raja, who is of Bhumihar caste.

A social text like rumour, gossip, myth and folklore could multiply manifold. The tale of Reshma and Chuharmal is an instance of a text multiplying itself. Each new text contains a peculiar social meaning and manifests particular political positions. The multiplicity of the text indicates the manifold character of collective remembrance, which is not a mechanical act but a product of creative imagination. That remembrance as a social phenomenon is based on selective memory, a memory which is not an innocent, univocal and unified domain, is made clear through this book.

According to Tiwari, the story of Reshma and Chuharmal has as many as 11 versions. These versions are of two types. One related by various ethnographers at different points of time. The other is the rendition of the popular legend through the oral history of the people.

All the versions reflect additions, alterations and contesting at the level of popular narrative. The story has at least three dominant versions. One is related by the lower castes including the Dusadhs who glorify the legend of Chuharmal as a victory over the Bhumihars. Another version is by the Dusadhs of a different region who view Chuharmal as an anti-hero killed by the Sahles.

The third is that of the Bhumihars and other forward castes who feel that the story has been created in order to insult and malign them. This popular tale is now a bone of contention, an issue of violence and conflict between Bhumihars and the lower castes of the region. Caste riots centering around the story have also occurred from time to time.

The sudden rise of the Dalits over the last few decades and their attempt to create a counter-culture to the Brahmanical culture has had a strong impact on electoral politics in India. The story of Chuharmal itself has become an object of political contesting and appropriation. In Bihar, the contest between Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan for capturing the time, space and symbolic power latent in this myth of Chuharmal has become extremely blatant. Both politi- cal leaders compete over the right to inaugurate the annual Chuharmal festival.

Tiwari shows us that the Chuharmal myth is not confined to the limits of oral culture and political contesting. Efforts to publish the myth in the form of booklets is aimed at increasing awareness among the lower castes and is directly linked with the emergence of Dalit politics at the national level. Documenting Dissent is a well researched attempt at capturing the systematic construction of a counter-hegemonic socio-cultural history.


Edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri,
Oxford, Rs 475

It was only in the late 19th century that the European model of short story writing was introduced into Bengali literature. Rabindranath Tagore was not only a precursor of this genre in Bengali literature but also one of its major exponents. He took a fancy to this form of fictional prose — which was to become his distinctive style in later days — redefined it and turned it into an expression of his lyrical imagination. The Oxford edition of his selected short stories provides readers with a wonderful collection of Tagore’s fictional prose. The edition contains 26 stories which are carefully chosen to represent major phases in Tagore’s career as a short story writer. They also demonstrate the poet’s diverse treatment his varied subject matter.

The introduction to the book, written by Tapobrata Ghosh, connects the main motifs in Tagore’s short stories to various events and experiences in the writer’s life. For example, Ghosh traces the origin of the fairy tale motifs, which are present in A Fanciful Story, The Inheritance and The Golden Deer, to Tagore’s childhood which was dominated by household servants who mostly hailed from East Bengal. These servants provided Tagore with an inexhaustible treasure-trove of tales and legends which left an indelible impression on his mind. The motif of the ghat used in The Ghat’s story has been traced back to Tagore’s stay in the French colony of Chandernagore, where he used to take frequent boat rides with his brother, Jyotirindranath, and the latter’s wife, Kadambari Devi.

Ghosh also analyzes the background of the stories of social criticism such as Ramkanai’s Folly and points out the reason behind the adverse critical reaction that these stories invited by quoting Tagore. “Perhaps the stories did not succeed because it was the age of Bankim: they lacked the romance that the times judged necessary.”

The lucid introduction to the stories keeps in mind readers who belong to a cultural and linguistic heritage other than Bengali. Surprisingly, Ghosh pays the least attention to Tagore’s narrative style, nor does he show any interest in the discussion on Tagore’s use of language. This is where William Radice’s introduction in his edition of Tagore’s short stories scores over the one by Ghosh. Radice’s introduction highlights some of the polarities present in Tagore’s stories and points out “the vulnerability” of Tagore’s language. Radice’s analysis of Tagore’s “originality” is also interesting. Although these issues are open to debate, nobody can deny the originality of Radice’s insights.

The stories in this edition are so varied in taste and mood that they hardly allow the reader’s attention to flag. Some of the well-known stories have been juxtaposed with less familiar ones and, expectedly, in some cases the sequence calls for an abrupt change of mood. For example, a supernatural story, The Hungry Stone, is preceded by a social satire, Grandfather, and followed by a romantic story, The Visitor.

The translators of the stories have done a commendable job, banking largely on the “inspired ad hocism” which the general editor speaks of in the preface. Some of the stories in this book are the same as those in Radice’s edition and a pari passu reading of the translations of these stories in both editions can turn out to be quite an enjoyable exercise.


By David Armitage,
Cambridge, £12.95

The famous 19th century historian John Seeley will be remembered for two remarkable aphorisms. In the more famous of the two, he wrote that the British Empire was acquired in “a fit of absentmindedness”. In the other, he commented, that “the history of England is not in England but in America and Asia.” David Armitage’s book, lucid in style and solid in research, argues against the first aphorism to uphold the second one.

If, as Armitage so persuasively demonstrates, the British Empire had ideological underpinnings, it could not have been a mindless exercise. It had behind it an intellectual apparatus that propelled it forward and also justified it. The Empire moulded developments within Great Britain. Without the overseas developments, many of the developments within Britain cannot be adequately comprehended. The history of England (read Britain) is thus inextricably linked to events in the colonies.

Armitage begins his analysis by correcting the conventional view of the British Empire. According to this view, the British Empire dates from a fortuitous military victory in a field in the village of Plassey in Bengal (June 1757). The spate of military conquest continued till the first two decades of the 19th century and resumed again during the European “scramble for Africa”. The endgame of empire began after World War II. In Armitage’s words, “William Pitt was its [empire’s] midwife, Lord Mountbatten its sexton and Winston Churchill its chief mourner in Britain.’’ This, as Armitage rightly notes, was the “second” British Empire. The first empire refers to British dominions in the Americas. This empire was a maritime empire of trade and settlement and not of conquest. Armitage sees the division between the first and the second ones as being too simple and one that has encouraged the divorce between British imperial history and British history.

Armitage analyses the ideology of the first empire: it was an ideology of trade and commerce, of maritime power; it was also an ideology that was emphatically Protestant and free. It was an ideology whose location was the Atlantic seaboard. These features were in sharp contrast to the ideology of the second empire buttressed as it was by military force, economic exploitation and racial subjection. Some of the ideology of the first empire lingered on in the first, “vestigially but reassuringly”, Armitage adds as an important qualification.

In a telling line, which Armitage quotes, the master historian, Marc Bloch warned, “In popular usage, an origin is a beginning which explains. Worse still, a beginning which is a complete explanation. There lies the ambiguity, there the danger!” Armitage’s work does not offer an explanation of the British Empire. It traces how the idea developed in intellectual and political discourse. He shows how the evolution of the idea of *empire was related closely to state formation in Britain. The idea reflected the gradual and even imperfect development of the state.

The ultimate justification of *Empire for Britons was the notion that it had served to civilize large parts of the world by imparting the gifts of western education, rule of law and so on. This is what gave to Britain its self-esteem. An ideology, Armitage notes, became an identity.


By Mulk Raj Anand
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable is an attractive Indian reprint of a classic novel which was first published in 1935. Anand’s Bakha is “a young man of eighteen, strong and able-bodied, the son of Lakha, the Jemadar of all the sweepers in the town and the cantonment, and officially in charge of the three rows of public latrines which lined the extremest end of the colony, by the brookside”. Anand recreates a day in Bakha’s life, ending in the “brief Indian twilight”, with Bakha recalling Gandhi’s strangely ambivalent words: “May God give you the strength to work out your soul’s salvation to the end.” Bakha asks himself, “Did he mean, then, that I should go on scavenging?” E.M. Forster’s short preface to the novel is a gem: “No god is needed to rescue the Untouchables, no vows of self-sacrifice and abnegation on the part of more fortunate Indians, but simply and solely — the flush system. Introduce water-closets and main-drainage throughout India, and all this wicked rubbish about untouchability will disappear.”

Edited by Makarand Paranjape
(Indialog, Rs 350)

Makarand Paranjape’s In Diaspora: Theories, Histories, Texts collects a large number of conference papers on the culture (literary, cinematic, political) of the Indian diaspora from “Surinam to Singapore, from Canada to Australia”. A wide range of theoretical, historicist and interpretive approaches attempt to take diasporas out of what Vijay Mishra calls their “impossible mourning”. Anything goes in Cultural Studies, and we therefore have essays on Amitav Ghosh’s novels, Deepa Mehta’s films, the Fiji crisis and the Pax Electronica. “The study of diaspora has become a more open-ended field of enquiry, less clear-cut and no longer principally based on the Jewish paradigm of expulsion and return.” This could be a stimulating book for those with a strong stomach for heavy theory.

By A. Jeyaratnam Wilson
(Penguin, Rs 250)

A. Jeyaratnam Wilson’s Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins And Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries seeks to explain and analyse the rise of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka from a movement to safeguard cultural identity to a political struggle for a separate state. The militarization of this conflict began in the Seventies. Wilson, who used to be late President Jayawardene’s adviser on Tamil affairs, examines the social and caste structure of the Sri Lankan Tamils and their linguistic, cultural and literary heritage. He also looks at the history and roles of such bodies as the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, the Tamil Federal Party, and the United Tamil Liberation Front. He works his narrative right up to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi leading to the current deadlock. He ends with a vision of the future as “full of uncertainties”.



A dove for my dead brothers

Sir — There has been no dearth of condolence gestures and messages following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. A week after Terrible Tuesday, India too tried to express its solidarity with the Americans in their moment of grief. But as it turned out, most of even urban India was not aware of the proposed two-minute standstill at 10.30 am. Contrast this with the dove mimed by Bayern Munich’s Brazilian footballer, Giovane Elber, after scoring a goal against SC Freiburg four days after the tragedy (“Sport finds expression in Elber dove”, Sept 18). This indeed was one of the most beautiful tributes to those killed in the disaster, and far more touching in its sheer spontaneity than people across a country grudgingly stopping on the streets on their way to work for two minutes. Perhaps only a Brazilian could conceive of such a wonderful way of conveying a message of peace. Elber’s dove is not merely a symbol of shared grief, but also shows why Brazilians are a class apart in world football.

Yours faithfully,
Somak Biswas, via email


Sir — I read with great interest Ashok Mitra’s reminder to the American people about their past atrocities, as if to justify his own ill-disguised pleasure at seeing his comrades (hasn’t the cause of Arabs always been championed by our Indian communists?) destroying the lives of thousands of people and adversely affecting the global economy. The occasional sympathetic tone couldn’t hide the fact that his writing has been inspired by a perverse feeling of enmity towards things American. Such a feeling, of course, has its source in his unquestioned devotion towards his ideological compass. To him the world and the history are always fiercely divided in black and white.

With a communist’s obsessive search for order, Mitra looks for “symmetry in human affairs”, though one would think that the greatest lesson of history is that there is no semblance of symmetry or order in human affairs. This absence is exploited by fundamentalist leaders, in the name of religion or ideology, to drive a mass towards fanaticism and terror. To those leaders terror is just a way of operating their business. To attempt to rationalize that terror by “quantum of anger and hatred that has welled up in the hearts and minds of millions and millions of men and women across the continents” is simply beyond comprehension.

Mitra has overlooked a very basic role of the United States in the world today, a role that goes beyond its ruthless capitalism and its often-flawed world policing, a role that is also proudly shared by India and a handful of other countries including Britain. The US, with all its follies, still represents modern democracy at its best. People come here from all over the world to learn, live and work. If one can accept the fact that there is no absolute freedom for the individual and that freedom should be judged subjectively, the US undoubtedly offers greatest freedom to its residents and that is why it attracts such a diverse range of people. A terrorist attack of this magnitude represents a threat to a free and democratic way of life.

Mitra should propose a comprehensible and realistic solution to the problem of terrorism instead of raising hue and cry about the result of an anticipated attack against a state that by all evidence nurtures terrorists and amuses itself by blowing away statues of great artistic, historical and religious significance; statues worshipping the founder of a religion that has been preaching peace and tolerance. Its most respected current leader, the dalai lama, has made a statement requesting the US government to think about the inappropriateness of an immediate retaliatory attack driven solely by vengeance. A message similar to Mitra’s, but one which resonates with wisdom, empathy and a sincere understanding of the situation. Not the bitter sarcasm and the partisanship of Mitra’s tirade.

Yours faithfully,
Atanu Neogi, Boston, US

Sir — In his article, “Pipe Down, America”, Ashok Mitra hits the nail on the head. It is easy to fall prey, emotionally, to the pictures and commentaries beamed into our living rooms. One wonders whether the West would feel the same emotions and outrage if its population was shown pictures of vast numbers of starving and dying men, women and children in the west Asian countries, especially given that its west Asia policy, its hostile attitude and economic sanctions have a lot to do with what the pictures show. Is the United States now, perhaps, reaping the harvest of seeds that it had sown?

Yours faithfully,
Richard Saviel, Perth

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article is good to read, scores debating points, but fails to address some fundamental points. Lax security and complacency on the part of the US are in part responsible for the tragedy of September 11. But the transparency and freedom that the system guarantees must be admired.

The question is — what is the ideal system of governance? Totalitarian and socialistic patterns have been historically less successful than democracy. In a democracy, there is room for dissent, criticism and organized opposition. But violent dissent by a small minority against the vast majority, which is one of the characteristics of terrorism, has to be condemned and eradicated. India should support the US in its war if only because we too live in a democracy and have suffered at the hands of terrorists.

Yours faithfully,
Shyam Mata Calcutta

Rail against them

Sir — The recent Central Bureau of Investigation raid on the Palace-on-Wheels will hopefully expose some of the skeletons in the cupboards of political parties (“Political row over luxury train raid”, Sept 10). The way this raid discovered several ticketless passengers, comprising of government officials, their clients and family members, outnumbering the paying travellers, was shameful. The train has been refurbished at the taxpayers’ expense. Being state owned, profit is the least of the concerns of the authorities.

Bureaucrats seem to be milking the establishment dry. This also explains why privatization in this country is such a painfully slow process. All the public sector undertakings deliver a host of privileges to the state’s clients. No private company would gift tickets worth lakhs of rupees since its primary goal is to maximize profits.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — The report, “ Luxury train raid draws tourist ire” (Sept 10, Guwahati edition), should act as an eyeopener for the Indian Railways. The smooth running of the railways has always been hampered by the problem of fake passengers. But the fact that 57 passengers were travelling without tickets on the Palace-on-Wheels, the costliest train in the country, is indeed astounding. An interesting aspect of the high drama that ensued following the CBI raid, was the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation chairman’s flashing of the Rs 5.77 crore profit of the Palace-on-Wheels. As if that somehow validated the free ride of the 57 passengers.

Yours faithfully,
K. Karmakar, Santiniketan

Simple answer

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said that instead of worrying about stability, he would like to govern now. I remember, when the British parliament was worrying its head about how to govern India, Punch had asked the same question and asked readers to look for the answer in the next Sunday edition. The edition was over-sold. Its front page said readers had to turn to pages 6 and 7 for the answer. The pages were blank except for the words, “Govern it or get out”. That was what the British did.

Yours faithfully,
N.B. Grant, Pune

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