Editorial 1 / United front
Editorial 2 / Balancing act
Crusading is the idea
Book Review / Lessons from the last century
Book Review / Devil’s advocate for god
Book Review / Elementary, my dear Rebus
Book Review / Complete lack of direction
Bookwise / Making a business of books
Paperback Pickings / Historians, nerds and astrologer
Letters to the editor

In his address to the congress, Mr George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America had sagely declared that his country was not at war with Islam but with the taliban, who in the name of Islam use violence to kill innocent people. The fruits of such a statement are evident from the overwhelming support that US retaliatory action has received from all countries. Mr Bush must be particularly pleased with the reaction that has come from the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The OIC represents the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. In its communiqué, the OIC did not condemn the bombing of Afghanistan. There is no harm in assuming that in the context this is, in fact, a tacit approval of the strikes. What is equally significant is the complete silence in the document about the taliban. This suggests that the OIC is clearly distancing itself from the taliban. Following Mr Bush, the OIC is also demarcating between Islam and the taliban. This should not be interpreted to mean that the arrival of a position like this within the OIC was without obstacles. There were pressures from some quarters to condemn US action. But moderate opinion, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, finally prevailed. There is a recognition in the communiqué of the current configuration of power in the world.

There are signs that the US cannot take the support of the OIC for granted. There exists apprehension about the possibility of US action extending to other countries suspected of harbouring terrorists. The global coalition that has strengthened and added legitimacy to US action will inevitably come under review if and when the US decides to take the battle against terrorism beyond Afghanistan. There is a thorny problem here because Mr Bush has emphasized that bringing Mr Osama bin Laden to justice is only an immediate target. The real aim is the global eradication of terrorism. The US is looking forward to a new world order in which murder will be murder even when laced with ideology. Such a world order is dependent on the prior flushing out of terrorists from their havens. This will mean that present alliances, the current division of friends and foes, will be open to renegotiation. The US cannot be unaware of this. Its present military actions are underpinned by diplomatic initiatives which came in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. It can be expected that the next stages of the war against terrorism will also be preceded by meetings and new drawing of lines. The present coalition should not be taken as a point of arrival: it is a point of departure. The existence of such a coalition and the communiqué of the OIC can be read as signs of optimism. There is a growing recognition of the horror and the meaninglessness of terrorist attacks. The next round of the battle can be won on the table.


The Jharkhand chief minister, Mr Babulal Marandi, had to do a difficult balancing act in formulating the new state’s reservation policy. He had no choice but to reserve a large share of government jobs for the tribals to fulfil the aspirations of the indigenous population. At the same time, he could not afford to alienate other sections of the people like the scheduled castes and the other backward castes, not speak of the forward classes. It is not difficult to see why the reservation policy announced by Mr Marandi last month has not satisfied all segments of the state’s population. He has been accused of giving the tribals both too much and too little. The quota tally stands at 73 per cent, far above the Supreme Court’s prescription of a cap at 50 per cent. While 32 per cent of the government jobs have been reserved for tribals, 27 per cent have gone to the OBCs and 14 per cent to the SCs. Some tribal outfits like the Adivasi Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch are unhappy because they wanted 60 per cent of the jobs reserved for these people. Other critics are upset that the tribals , who comprise 27 per cent of the population, got more than their number deserved. Even some ministers in Mr Marandi’s cabinet have voiced concern over what they consider an unjust distribution of the job quota. But it seems certain that Mr Marandi would have faced a worse dilemma if he had earmarked a smaller quota for the tribals who, irrespective of the numerical argument, claim the state to be their own. He may not have to worry much over the public interest litigation cases filed in the Jharkhand high court because the Supreme Court judgment in this regard had kept provisions for “exceptional circumstances”. Caught between hard choices, Mr Marandi seems to have taken care to offer a less controversial compromise.

But the other major problem that confronted him — the division of assets and cadre between Jharkhand and its parent state, Bihar — is unlikely to be solved by the November 15 deadline. The commission set up to formalize the division has sought an extension. Present indications suggest that the task will be delayed by at least five more months. The Centre should expedite the process because the division is of crucial importance for putting the state’s proper administrative infrastructure in place. Instead of waiting for this to happen, Mr Marandi would do well to take greater help from the Centre in tackling the Naxalites who have grown bolder in recent weeks, threatening to kill even some superintendents of police. The extremist menace is sure to trouble the government even more when the panchayat polls are held. The decision to hold the elections by this year-end is a welcome step in decentralizing the administration. But it must prepare itself to successfully foil the Naxalites’ violent attempts to disrupt the polls in their strongholds.


Circa fifty years ago, the United States of America was in the midst of a frenzy of patriotism: a general call to arms, Korea-ward ho, Syngman Rhee, the devil incarnate, had to be installed as that country’s absolute ruler. The poet, Robert Lowell, was however unstoppable. He dared to compose a doggerel which went as follows: “My ghosts have told me something new/I’m marching to Korea;/ I cannot tell you what I’ll do/ Crusading’s the idea / Yankee doodle do, Yankee doodle do.” Lowell was a Boston brahmin, and so out of the reach of the Joe McCarthys.

It was a different matter though with run-of-the-mill dissidents. They had the hardest possible time, and were looked down upon as pariahs. Crusading was the idea half a century ago, crusading is the idea now. George W. Bush has declared a crusade against terrorism; for good measure he has added, whoever are not with America are with the terrorists and richly deserve extermination. The taliban has not taken all this lying down; it has countered with the threat of a jihad.

Consult your dictionary. Crusade is the series of Christian wars fought to win back Palestine from the Muslims in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Similarly, jihad, the dictionary says, is a holy war fought by Muslims as a religious duty. So, thanks to the initiative of the American president and going by the dictionary; the white skinned ones have embarked on a religious war on the Muslims, and the Muslims are returning the compliment. Somewhat embarrassed by the global reaction, the US administration has backtracked a bit: why, what they said has no denominational context, they have merely proposed a collective war against terrorism wherever it exists.

When other people look up the dictionary to gauge the meaning of the expression, they are bound to latch on to the obvious one provided by the lexicon. At least the prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, has lost no time to elaborate upon what the honest Texan has in mind: the European civilization is way superior to the Islamic civilization; the moment has arrived to clinch the point. The poor taliban members are a semi-literate lot. They cannot be expected to consult too many dictionaries; they will take the Bush-Berlusconi statements at their face value. But those who consider themselves omnipotent are however practitioners of non-symmetrical logic: while they have the right to give the call for crusade, the wretched Islamic rabble has no business to declare jihad.

Going by the series of incidents taking place in both the US and Europe, large sections of the populace in the white-dominated countries have taken the cue from their leaders. Apart from stray shootings and killings, the coloured inhabitants — black, yellow, whitish, brown — resident over there are being hounded in several different ways, including harassment by policemen, espionage people and highway troopers; some private Rambos too have let themselves loose.

It is almost a repeat of the nightmarish days of the early Fifties: a red under every bed then, a terrorist on every plane or in every shrubbery or cave now. There is a difference however, or perhaps a couple of differences. First, the witch-hunting that took place under the prefectship of the senator, McCarthy, was a domestic phenomenon. In contrast, Bush has declared a global war. American agents have been told that, under their own country’s law, they are empowered to apprehend, and, if necessary, kill any person anywhere in this wide world in case they suspect him or her to be a terrorist. Who does not know that American law is as good as, or superior to, international laws and regulations?

The second difference between the situation obtaining fifty years ago and that in October 2001 has a contrary significance: dissent within the US is now far, far more vocal. It is not only the Islamic people in west Asia elsewhere who are ready to declare a jihad against the American establishment and its servitors; thousands and thousands of American citizens, young and old, men, women and children, are determined to oppose their government’s insane thirst for war; they have been joined by anti-war activists in Europe as well.

The rallies and campaigns sweeping American and European campuses, and towns and cities, big and small, should force the crusading brigade led by Don Quixote Bush and Sancho Panza Blair to think a while and pause. Perhaps they have paused. What is happening at the moment is much in the nature of a phoney war: a few volleys of bluster, accompanied by a few sporadic pin-pricks here and there.

Conceivably, the hesitation on the part of President Bush and his friends is also on account of the fear psychosis currently benumbing American minds. Suppose they go on a crusade and the riposte is a hail of attacks with biological and chemical weapons aimed at the heartland of the US? Cowards die many times before their death, god-fearing American citizens would like to die only once, in a comfortable bed in home or hospital. The rest of the world can only keep hoping that the homefront in the US maintains its pro-peace pressure on the wayward-inclined president.

A number of further observations are called for. The present crisis would not have arisen at all had the world not earned the dubious distinction, in the course of the past two decades, of providing the base to just one superpower. With no competition, the superpower has run amok. The taliban was in the first place its creation; it has, besides, been the consistent patron of reactionary forces of all hues in continent after continent. The superpower nurses a megalomania which puts it beyond the pale of reason: even if you slightly disagree with its point of view, off with your head. The inevitable outcome is an aura of dis-equilibrium and instability, as are being witnessed at the moment.

There could be no worse fate for humanity, we are now realizing, than a unipolar world. To be fair, it will not do to place the entire blame for the developing circumstances on the US alone. Till at least the early Eighties, the Soviet Union and the east European republics had acted as a ballast to the maraudings planned by the American administration. The Soviet Union chose to liquidate itself. In the process, the Soviet leaders not just betrayed their own people; by what they did to themselves, they also added to the haughtiness of the American establishment: they not destroyed the “evil empire”, they are not prepared any more to listen to silly homilies from every Tom, Dick or Harry. Look at the plight of this particular Dick, or is it Harry, the government of India. Once the proud vanguard of the non-aligned movement, it is now the principal hanger-on of the world’s only superpower.

Only Americans can therefore save the American nation — and the world.


By John McNeill,
Allen Lane, $ 60

The twentieth century was notable for its wars and uphea- vals, for revolutions of technology and culture. But as McNeill’s magisterial account reminds us, it also saw humans collectively leave a deeper imprint on the planet and its manifold life forms and landscapes than all the centuries preceding it.

One hundred times more energy was used in a hundred years than in the entire millennium ending in 1900 AD. It was not merely a question of the growth in numbers of people, critical as this was. Changes that took place as a consequence of the intensification of production were more far-reaching in their myriad impact than ever before.

So too were efforts to redress and negative consequences of runaway development. Not all these were a success, but by the year 2000 many developed countries had invested considerable amounts in cleaning their air and water, reforesting and the land. Salmon again swam the river Thames and fish restocked Japan’s Minamata Bay. The eastern United States had more forest cover and deer than in the times of the first white settlers.

Not all the going was so good. In the developing countries, as a whole, labour to land ratios were still too high and productivity too low to enable the shift that took place in much of Europe and North America. In general, investment in pollution abatement and water purification lagged way behind in much of the developing world. Economic pressures combined with real politik to postpone many such measures.

What is notable is the sheer sweep of the story told by McNeill. He divides the earth into spheres that are physical: the hydrosphere and the atmosphere for instance. Yet, complex scientific facts are worked seamlessly into the narrative. Instances and examples range from the well known to the obscure. Even more startling is the global spread of the story: it does justice in geographical terms.

Individuals do count even in a global account like this one. Thomas Midgley who worked for General Motors corporation was perhaps the one who, as much as Einstein and Leo Szilard,changed our equations with our environment. The latter harnessed the power in the atom. The former worked out how to use lead in gasoline; he also pioneered the use of chlorofluorocarbons.

One was to profoundly influence the impact of automobiles on the atmosphere locally, especially in the era of cheap energy in the post World War II epoch. The other was to help corrode the ozone layer, its impact multiplying as the use of refrigerators did. Such unintended effects can only be understood over time, and it is fortuitous that fuel efficiency and air quality began to matter in time to check such impacts.

Politics and social fissures played a critical role in reshaping the environment in the last century. Ecological warfare was known to Julius Caesar, but the use of defoliants to denude whole stretches of hills was a new development. Coal was used in cities in Song era China, but fossil fuels came into their own only in the twentieth century. Agricultural settlement was not new, but it spread to the tropics after 1960 to an extent that deforestation menaced whole eco-regions. A world integrated economically also enabled some countries to pass on their costs to others.

What is notable is the array of voices that combine the concern for renewal with seeking out solutions. These are not always easy, but they often engage the minds of decision-makers at various levels. By and large the issues that move politics, business and militaries have been oblivious to environmental concerns even as they have had major consequences for the earth.

The last century was the one when Prometheus was truly unbound. Yet, the fires stoked wider concerns and the challenge will be in unlearning old lessons as much as in garnering fresh insights. In this, McNeill’s book is a fine guide to how we got to where we are.


By Peter Conrad
Faber, £10.99

Australia-born Peter Conrad was hooked by Alfred Hitchcock while he was still in his early teens. He now teaches at Oxford’s Christ Church, but the obsession persists. This book can be alternately interpreted as an attempt at catharsis or as plain homage, or both.

As Hitchcock developed his oeuvre, he migrated into being God Almighty. God stands way above the human genus, and guides its destiny. He plays roughshod over the life and living of each individual being. Man, woman or child proposes, God disposes. Hitchcock had a magnum-sized ego; he considered himself, justifiable enough, as creator and destroyer of the characters inhabiting his films. He was cruel to the core and could be quite remorseless. He not only played God; he loved to foster the impression that he was God. God is unpredictable in his decision making; so was Hitchcock in charting the twists and turns of his plots. And why not? Was he not the creator and destroyer of all he espied, of course in part by the courtesy and indulgence of the David O. Selzniks of the world. It was idiosyncrasy versus idiosyncrasy. Most of the time, Hitchcock won the battle though, for he was God Almighty in another sense too; he shaped the fortunes of the box office.

Conrad goes to great length to explain the purpose Hitchcock deployed his omnipotence for. His objective was to administer pain as well as shock. The pain is the outcome of a feeling of terror. The audiences are frozen by fear; at the same time, they are shocked beyond endurance. Conrad scans the plot formulations indulged in by Hitchcock from the days of the silent film till his last creation, Family Plot. It is heartlessness which shows up, a heartlessness, which is spliced with sudden, abrupt bombardment of surprise: pain and suspense co-exist, and are soon succeeded by release from suspense. Every time he hit the jackpot because he was a despot. He trampled on the susceptibilities of script- writers, cameramen, actors and actresses, editors, and those in charge of mixing. His success, Conrad implies, was critically dependent on his bloody-minded attitude. The masochism dormant in each of us is exploited to the hilt. Human beings, according to Hitchcock’s edict, deserve to be hurt and shocked simultaneously; the pain and the shock together are the providers of pleasure; his finished products give us intense pain even as they dispense divine pleasure.

Let there be no mistaking, Hitchcock was so extraordinarily good as a director because he was so extraordinarily cynical. He was bereft of any reverence for the sanctity of human relationships. That made him almost anti-religious. Consider the ambivalence of Montgomery Clift in I Confess; the priest has to listen to the confession of the murderer, but he himself is a sinner too. In Rear Window, James Stewart is the sleuth and the investigator who, through his camera lens, espies on a wife-killer. In the climax of the plot, the murderer turns upon Stewart, and accuses him of voyeurism and breach of privacy. Hitchcock, the skunk, leaves us in two minds, and he does so deliberately: we honestly do not know where his, and our, final sympathy lies. And yet, one cannot but hurl the accusation: Hitchcock, on top of his obsession to play God, was also devil incarnate. He often contradicted himself. In Notorious, Cary Grant is full of love, ardour and kindness for a shell-shocked Ingrid Bergman. The structure of the plot does not make it absolutely necessary that Grant should play the role of a love-lorn knight. But damn the plot, Hitchcock is the master of all he surveys, he inserts a sub-sub-plot to the story.

A final question nonetheless remains. Even the devil of a despot has a certain code of ethics, or, if you will, non-ethics. Did Hitchcock have any? Although Conrad has a long section on the Religion of Murder, his verdict would seem to be somewhat indeterminate. Did Hitchcock’s Catholic upbringing influence his philosophy; does not Christianity of the orthodox type bestow mercy on both the sinner and the sinned? On occasion, such as, in The Trouble with Harry, murder is almost a frivolous sport. The duality of morals is equally revealing in To Catch a Thief or, for the matter, Frenzy. Perhaps, in such instances Hitchcock’s ego persuaded him not to show his hand in the final round: suspense, after all, is the sovereign goal and let religion go to hell.

The Hitchcock Murders is an enjoyable book and will handsomely add to the fear and the pleasure Hitchcock devotee’s expectantly look forward to. There is only one issue on which one would like to enter a caveat. Hitchcock, Conrad claims, was both a prude and a voyeur. The inhibitions nurtured by a Catholic childhood prevented him from being a practising philanderer. But frustration must be let out. Several times Hitchcock reportedly bullied his heroes and heroines into playing out his own sexual fantasies in the films. Conrad cites a number of examples. He also alludes to the gossip that Hitchcock cut out Tippi Hedren from his favours since she refused to enact an overtly amorous scene in Marnie. He also refers to Grace Kelly’s polite letter to Hitchcock declining to portray the role of Marnie before it was offered to Hedren: Kelly was now married to royalty, and she had heard rumours of Hitchcock’s intention to play some dirty jokes with Marnie’s undertakings.

But does not all this too testify to Hitchcock’s naughty godliness?


By Ian Rankin
Orion, £16.99

The Falls is a crime novel by a novelist who has managed to establish his name in this particular genre. The publisher does not miss pointing out that Ian Rankin’s earlier publications have attracted the attentions of reviewers. Rankin is young and the novel under review keeps pace with the times by giving significant importance to the role of laptops and the internet in the fast developing plot. If you are on the lookout for a thriller that can engage your attention on a lazy afternoon or a crime fiction whose various leads of plot (without much regard for their resolution) may make you forget the boring hours of long journey, then Rankin’s latest book may be a good choice.

Like all good crime fiction, The Falls has a strong story line. It starts with a bang totally in keeping with the book of rules. The theme and tone for the novel is set right from the beginning by the prime suspect, in the eyes of Inspector Rebus, David Costello when he says, “You think I killed her, don’t you?”. Although Rankin takes more than a third of the book to prove that a murder has already been committed, the reader can sense it from the first line itself. What follows is the chase and final capture of the killer. The story undoubtedly grabs your attention from the start.

The daughter of an influential banker suddenly goes missing in Edinburgh. There is nothing remarkably strange about Philippa Balfour’s disappearance except when Rebus and his compatriots in the police force find two leads pointing in two different directions during the course of their investigations. The first lead is a wooden doll in a six inch coffin left near a tourist spot. The other is the cracking of the password to Phillipa’s laptop by the lady cop, Siobhan, which leads the latter to stumble onto a web of puzzles sent to Phillipa by someone called the Quizmaster. While Rebus pursues the first lead and Siobhan the second, what follows are complications in the plot and a series of wild goose chases until we finally arrive at the end of the book.

Rankin seems to have a knack for adding new twists to the storyline. The additions of the doll coffin and the Quizmaster add new dimensions to the ever increasing intricate patterns that Rankin goes on weaving from the outset. His own sub-plots generate such interest that at times even Rankin seems to come under their influence. He has a fascination for a wide range of characters, obviously not content with a few.

Unlike other thrillers where the most significant role is played by the detective, The Falls is peopled by more than half a dozen police personnel, of which a significant number are women. Rebus is deliberately sketched in an unflattering manner. He is so down to earth and guileless that his straightforward behaviour and actions earn him a temporary suspension. But his charm lies in his unsophisticated simplicity. With a few more appearances in other novels Rebus might soon find a berth alongside other unforgettable characters from English detective novels.

Rankin’s shortcomings as a novelist are more or less the shortcomings of his time. The complete disregard for fleshing out of characters is symptomatic of most English writers and Rankin may easily be forgiven his flat characters. The Falls takes the reader from the discovery of a body to the exposure of the murderer in such a short span of time that it seems that one has barely sat down before the book ends. But if, like a discerning reader, you are looking for other aspects of a novel, such as interesting characters or situations, you will be left feeling frustrated upon completing the novel.


By Suranjan Das,
K.P. Bagchi, Rs 380

There is somewhere, perhaps in the stratosphere, a place called cloud cuckoo land which is inhabited by a particular kind of social scientist. To know what they say, one could cite, as a representative example, a couple of sentences from the concluding paragraph of Suranjan Das’s book. “What we require,’’ Das writes in full flight, “is not the much trumpeted call for national integration propagated by the ruling authorities in the two countries, but an enrichment of common Indian and Pakistani nationhood based on an extension of democracy to the grass-roots, abolition of socio-economic discriminations and creation of an equitable political order.’’ What a splendid set of ideas!

The problem is that they are empty and banal. Banal because nobody, except those belonging to the reactionary loony fringe, will disagree with any of it; and empty because there is no suggestion about how the noble goals are to be achieved. Extension of democracy, end of discrimination and equity, have been the expressed aims and ideals of the Indian state for the last 50 years, irrespective of who has led the government of the day. Is India anywhere near the goals? If the problem in India is so complicated, one can imagine the situation in Pakistan where democratic traditions have no roots. To be taken seriously Das must suggest some directions.

Das is by training a historian. His book on communal riots has already become a standard reference on the subject. The strength of Das’s training is obvious from this book. The research is good and the book is empirically grounded. But unfortunately, this is not just a work of history. It is a book on contemporary matters and Das’s position is that of both analyst and critic. Thereby falls on him the responsibility to suggest alternative policy formulations. These formulations may not be blueprints but at least they should suggest directions of policy.

Embedded in Das’s analysis is a critique of Indian democracy and of the nation that the process has built. When he advocates that democracy should be extended to the grassroots, he should tell readers how this can be done in a country which already has universal adult suffrage. The point is important because Das’s is not criticizing the quality of the democracy. From such a criticism could flow the argument that extension of education would improve the quality of the democracy because then the poor would be more aware. But extension to the grassroots is another kind of argument altogether. What is Das advocating, panchayati raj or something similar? Unless clarified, it remains at the level of an anodyne recommendation.

All this is not to belittle Das’s book on a very complex and difficult subject. He analyzes problems afflicting Kashmir and Sindh His overall hypothesis is that of distorted nation- building. But he is unwilling to yield ground to arguments that predicate the inevitable breakup of India to the distorted nation building hypothesis. Das is thus somewhat of a shamefaced supporter of national integration. Some readers may be a bit mystified by Das’s reference to “appropriate methods of nation-building’’ that he says will resolve the problems in Kashmir and Sindh. Appropriate for who? And who is going to initiate such methods and implement them?

Das is comfortable when he attempts to historicize contemporary issues, but weak and trite when making prescriptions. The fault may not lie in him but in his training and in the choice of his terrain. He has rushed in where angels fear to tread.



Hardly any business has a longer, deeper tradition of pessimism than the Indian book trade. Ask any publisher-bookseller (often they are one and the same here) and he or she will invariably sigh and tell you that things couldn’t possibly carry on like this for long — people aren’t reading any more; the trade is dominated by sharks who are deciding whether to either pack up or diversify into fast foods and coffee parlours.

Yet come October, planeloads of publishers and wholesalers are headed for the Frankfurt Book Fair and London with one simple objective — to shop around. But what is the Frankfurt Book Fair and what do we go shopping for? Frankfurt is the largest book fair in the world, established in 1968, held in October every year. Every major publisher in the world is represented there, including non-English publishers, with their books, software packages and state-of-the-art print technology.

The fair’s basic purpose is to exhibit the latest as well as forthcoming books, audio-visual cassettes, DVDs, computer software packages and so on in the communication industries. These products are sold in bulk; or alternatively, the rights to reproduce them against royalties are sold. In many ways, the fair could be described as a rights bazaar.

So what do those who make the journey do in a world that is totally strange to most of them? They simply concentrate on old and tested titles that can be picked up at ridiculously high discounts. Negotiations on titles, the quantities required, and discount and credit terms are finalized in Frankfurt and despatch instructions sent to publishing offices in London.

The Indian contingent does not much care for either new or forthcoming books.This is because first, they are not sure how the Indian market will accept these and not willing to take the risk. Second, the discounts on new titles are not enough to leave our distributors with a decent profit at the end of the day. But quite simply our publishers cannot “connect” the titles to their market because they do not have either the experience or the educational background necessary to do so: they simply look upon books as “products” and treat every book as such. This pat formula works in the West, but here every book has to be treated in relation to its special niche market. This is the basic reason why new titles are not seen in the Indian market or only appear against specific orders and therefore in driblets.

Of course apart from the sure-shot sellers, there are many non-books — celeb books and packaged soap operas that promise glitz, sex, romance. Here discounts are highly flexible and depend substantially on the quantities picked up and credit terms. For a cash-strapped business, this makes sense. It may be a bit much to say that Frankfurt and London are the conduit for the whole lot of remainders which find their way into our markets at the expense of the new and more serious and relevant titles. The real question is whether anything can be done to stop or at least reduce the inflow of such titles. The honest answer is: precious little.

The margins on new books after providing for discounts to libraries (the individual buyer has almost disappeared) are not enough even to cover overhead costs. These costs and a decent profit for further growth can only come from deals in Frankfurt and London. These deals have now become the norm and as long as they remain, the trade has no reason to complain.


By Geoffrey Blainey
(Penguin, Rs 395)

Geoffrey Blainey’s A Sshort History Of The World finishes with the sentence, “In human history, almost nothing is preordained.” History-writing could do without this sort of sage pseudo-profundity. Blainey’s sweep is, expectedly, large, but the writing is flimsy and bland. He makes an attempt to write a “world history that is not too voluminous”, but substance may not be as dispensable as volume. Blainey’s history has few particular points of interest, the foremost being the evolution of technology and skills. He also looks at the rise of the major religions and at what he calls “geographical factors”. But this last interest takes the book towards unilluminating dodginess, particularly in the chapter entitled “The Dome of Night”, in which he looks at “the intense power of the moon, the stars and the night sky on human experience and on the ways in which the universe was seen”. Blainey is unabashed in his choice of significant moments, which range from the burials in the Danish bogs to the death of Tchai-kovsky. There is a slight uneasiness with the 20th century, “a reluctance to permit that century to be as significant, indeed as self-important, as every century seems to those who live in it”. This is an uninspiring book, offering a great deal of information, but rudimentary in its intellectual foundations.

By Giri Pickbrain Balasubrama-niam
(Macmillan, Rs 106)

Giri Pickbrain Balasubrama-niam’s Know It Better is the first comprehensive quiz book on information technology in India, covering the entire gamut of IT’s history and applications. It sets out, in the most entertaining manner possible, to break two IT myths in India: first, that IT is all about computers and programming and second, that the “IT-inclined mindset” is an urban phenomenon. The book targets rural youngsters as much as their big-city peers. “Question: Which word, used in the IT context as well, was coined by Dr Seuss in the book, If I Ran the Zoo? Answer: Nerd.”

By Mary Coleman
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Mary Coleman’s success signs: using the sun signs to succeed in life, love and business is yet another sad evidence of this reputed publishing house’s current investment in mindlessness. Together with the expanding numbers on vaastu, feng shui and other forms of pseudo-spiritual self-improvement, this silly book augments Penguin’s burgeoning list of occult nothings. Coleman’s concerns are nothing less than existential — “do you know who you really are, exactly what you want out of life and how to get it?” The tone is relentlessly feel-good: “You can change and you can make it — and when you do you’ll have the last laugh on those who said you’d never get there. This is one of life’s most pleasurable moments.” Personality, compatibility and other essentials of life suddenly become crystal clear and achievable, “instantly and precisely”.



Mysterious release

Sir — On the one hand the taliban has risked international ostracism and is being “bombed back to the Stone Age” by the US for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden. On the other, it released British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was detained upon being found in disguise in Afghanistan despite all foreigners, especially the press, being asked to leave the country (“Taliban release British reporter”, Oct 9). Two aspects of the Ridley incident are important. First, it is indeed commendable that a female reporter was willing to risk her life by entering Afghanistan, a country not known for its tolerance toward women in the best of times, at a time when all foreigners in the country were at risk. Second, it is intriguing how and why the taliban agreed to release her although she was in Afghanistan against the taliban’s orders. Why the taliban agreed to release Ridley who could have been used as a pawn in the war will never be known and it seems that this unexpectedly humane act will always remain mysterious.

Yours faithfully,
Meera Chandra, Calcutta

Quite the wrong assembly

Sir — It is true that the attack, allegedly by the Jaish-e-Mohammad on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly proved that it was a fallacy to conclude that the war in Afghanistan would lead to a decrease in militant activity in Kashmir (“Terror revisited”, Oct 3). The Jaish-e-Mohammad is a Pakistani militant group. The Jammu and Kashmir attack could be a message from the so-called jihadis, implying that Pervez Musharraf can claim that terrorism is unacceptable to Pakistan, but the jihadis will carry on with their fight for Kashmir and with other militant activities. It could also be seen as a warning to India against joining a globar war against terrorism.

Musharraf is undeniably trapped in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma ever since he pledged support to the United States of America in its strikes against Afghanistan. Therefore he also needs to pacify the jihadis and demonstrate his commitment to the fight for Kashmir.

The Vajpayee government must move with caution in dealing with the terrorist attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, especially since the US has made it clear that it has enough on its hands with-out getting into India’s problems with terrorism.

Yours faithfully,
Ajmal Hussain, Titagarh

Sir — The editorial, “Terror revisited” (Oct 3), rightly pointed out that on one hand the Pakistan government has shown its interest in fighting against terrorism while on the other, it is playing a different game by encouraging militancy and terrorist activities in Kashmir in the name of jihad. This can be seen after the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. The time is right for the Indian government to bring the Pakistan government’s double standards to the attention of the international community.

It is the jingoistic policy adopted by Pakistan and certain other Islamic countries like Afghanistan which has threatened to make south Asia one of the most dangerous places in the world. Even though the US seems to be finally listening to the Indian government’s demands for the condemnation of militant activity in Kashmir as a result of international pressure, it obviously does not want to get embroiled in the problem. This can be seen by the US refusal to meet India’s demand to ban the Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit. Without depending on international powers, India should follow the policy of the US, as pointed out by the report, “India to the US: if you can, so can we” (Oct 3).

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Sir — The Jaish-e-Mohammad has proudly taken full responsibility for the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. Despite the freezing of accounts of certain militant groups, including the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen of which the Jaish-e-Mohammad is an offshoot, funds are obviously still available to these outfits. It is high time the US warns Pakistan of the consequences if it continues to aid terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Whether Pakistan is helping the US in its war against Afghanistan or not, the US should not turn a blind eye to terrorist activities supported by Pakistan. After all, if the US wants to smoke out every militant group in the world, it cannot leave Pakistan out of the hunt.

Yours faithfully,
Neha Chowdhury, Chandannagore

Sir — The militant attack on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, which led to the death of 40 people, proved Pakistan’s hand in terrorist activities yet again. Now that India has evidence that the Jaish-e-Mohammad (which was allegedly behind the attack) is a Pakistani terrorist organization receiving full support from Pakistan, one wonders what restrains India from exercising some form of a military offensive against Pakistan.

This apathy of the Indian government towards the Kashmir issue reveals the government’s insincerity regarding the wiping out of militant activity in India. There is a difference between India and countries like Israel and the US. They retaliate when there is even a single killing. India wants to be perceived by the world as a peaceful country whereas the former countries want to be seen as military powers. The government must put everything at stake, even international opinion, to save Kashmir and its people from militant attacks.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjeev Purkait, Ranchi

No home away from home

Sir — The editorial, “Unsettling event” (Oct 8), painted an accurate picture of the politics of the Tolly’s nullah eviction drive. Equating Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan movement with the eviction of the squatters at Tolly’s nullah is far-fetched, to say the least.

Although the present and past governments of the state were aware that illegal squatters were living around the nullah no move was made by the governments to either remove these squatters or control the influx of more squatters into this area.

The population of the squatters has now reached an unmanageable number. The sudden eviction of these squatters in an attempt to clear the nullah area is understandably unnerving for the settlers who feel they are being uprooted from their homes and are being offered no alternative living arrangements.

While the squatters are illegally living around the nullah, the government should not treat them with such disregard that they are evicted without any form of rehabilitation. This will be the only aspect of the eviction which can be seen as similar to the eviction at Narmada. There too, the state governments are refusing to rehabilitate the villagers around the river even though they have been evicted from their homes, much like the West Bengal government.

Yours faithfully,
B.K. Sarkar, Calcutta

Sir — Since the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ministers provide accommodation for their followers and goons in public properties like stadiums and hospital premises, they should not make such a fuss about Mamata Banerjee trying to protect the people living around the Tolly’s nullah.

Yours faithfully,
S.M. Fernandes, via email

Sir — Political parties should indeed desist from activities that thwart development in the state. Instead, they should encourage the rejuvenation of the state’s economy. The editorial, “Long delayed task” (Sept 25), makes this point. The extension of the Metro railway and escalation of the Ganga project are urgently required for Calcutta’s improvement. The city has become so over-populated that some action to clean up the city must be taken immediately.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

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