Editorial 1 / Healthy move
Editorial 2 / Hard choice
Losing game
Book Review / To have a history of one’s own
Book Review / Ties that bind
Book Review / Creation myths and realities
Book Review / Dreams of socialism
Editor’s Choice / The name is a masterpiece
Paperback Pickings / Converts, cooks and Urdu couplets
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / HEALTHY MOVE 
 
 
 
 
This is only the beginning of a long lasting test. But it is a good beginning. The chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, ably assisted by the minister for health, Mr Surya Kanta Mishra, and the commerce and industry minister, Mr Nirupam Sen, has not only evolved a plan to “clean up” the healthcare system, but it also seems they are going to be successful in putting it into effect. The first phase, with the objectives of cleanliness and removal of some of the corruption, is already over. Illegal structures within the grounds of hospitals have been demolished, in spite of the fact that there was quite high-profile protest against it from Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led unions and the CPI(M) leader, Mr Lakshmi De. This was, if anything, a signal of determination from the state government. The arsenal of measures now being put into operation, which has provoked even more protest, have three primary goals. One of them is elimination of corruption, which includes everything from pure thievery and resale of medicines to extortion and negligence. Another is accountability, which begins from timely attendance and affects the entire staff of the hospitals, from the ward attendants to the most senior doctors. The most significant aspect of accountability — an aim that can be considered independently— is that of constant monitoring. On the one hand, this means the attentive monitoring of patients. On the other, it also means the monitoring of attendance times of all the members of staff and the way they discharge their duties, a task which the hospital superintendents may not find too pleasant.

The third goal, however ambitious it may sound now, seems at last possible. This is the building of “centres of excellence”, whether in the teaching hospitals or in hospitals with the wherewithal to deal with a particular family of diseases. The decline of healthcare in West Bengal did not take place in a few days, it is the result of years of bad work culture and habits of extortion and corruption. But the way things have begun shows that political will can work wonders. What the government is attacking is the habit of years. That perhaps is far more difficult than cracking a single corruption ring. It is the vision and the will to work towards it that might just make the difference. And Mr Bhattacharjee has started well, taking the city and districts within the sweep of the plan, putting in place the appropriate administrative and supervisory machinery. Success here will mean a satisfactory fulfilment of World Bank projects by 2002 and funding from Britain to create greater capacity. Beginning at the very sordid roots, like removing special attendants from the wards, the project promises some real improvement.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / HARD CHOICE 
 
 
 
 
A complacent government can do incalculable harm to the people and to itself. Jharkhand’s chief minister, Mr Babulal Marandi, must have been shocked into realizing this by Wednesday’s Naxalite ambush at Topchanchi which left at least 13 policemen dead. Only a day earlier, he boasted at a function in Ranchi that the rebels had been “on the run”, thanks to the government’s strategy. The ambush has not only blown Mr Marandi’s myth to pieces but also exposed the administration’s head-in-the-sands attitude to the menace. The chief minister’s complacency was all the more strange because the rebels had killed 11 men of the Central Reserve Police Force earlier in October in Hazaribagh district. For one thing, the murderous attacks have exposed the government’s inadequate knowledge of the Naxalites’ territorial strength. So far, it had identified areas like Palamau, Hazaribagh, Latehar, Gumla and Daltongunj as rebel strongholds. That they could strike so ruthlessly at Topchanchi shows that parts of Dhanbad district too are as vulnerable as their more notorious pockets of strength. It is possible that the areas of darkness are actually far wider than the government is aware of or prepared to admit. Second, and more important, the administration’s lackadaisical approach is bound to demoralize the police force after two major ambushes in a month. Obviously, the “long-range patrols” the government has been depending on to check the extremist onslaught are not yielding results.

To be more effective, the government has to first abandon its ostrich-like policy. Mr Marandi’s credibility will not suffer if he admits that far from being on the run, the Naxalites actually remain a major threat to law and order. Only then, he will be able to redraw his strategy to meet the challenge. Empty rhetoric on economic rehabilitation of surrendered rebels will not do either. The government has to take a tougher and more realistic stand in using law and law-enforcing agencies. Mr Marandi needs to cast all doubts away and bring in special laws he had earlier promised to meet the Naxalite challenge. This is necessary to boost the morale of both the police and the public as well as to instil confidence in them about the government’s sincerity of purpose and determination. Considering the forested and hilly terrain in which the ultras operate, Mr Marandi should do more to impress on the Centre the need for larger deployments of paramilitary forces in the affected areas. At the same time, the government must look more closely at the economic deprivation and exploitation that drives the poor tribals into the extremist fold. These people are left to fend for themselves against ruthless landlords and other interest groups in many remote areas of Jharkhand where the government simply does not exist. The fight against these land satraps could be as daunting. But Mr Marandi cannot hope to win his battle against the extremists unless he joins this other fight too.

   

 
 
LOSING GAME  
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
As the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, embarks on his visits to Russia, the United States of America and the United Nations, nearly a month after the world’s most high profile terrorist action, he will have the quiet satisfaction of knowing that India is a definite winner as a result of the war on terror, which the American president, George W. Bush, has proclaimed. For nearly two years, administration officials in Washington — previous and current — have been telling their Indian counterparts that action against terrorist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad is in the pipeline.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has been engaged in violence in Jammu and Kashmir, would never have faced punitive US action if it had not been for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Nor would have the assets of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen been frozen had the hijacking of four American planes not taken place at the behest of Osama bin Laden.

For more than a year there has been talk in Washington about the “imminent” lifting of sanctions imposed on India for its nuclear tests in 1998. More stories have been written in the Indian media in the last year and a half on the about-to-be-lifted sanctions than on any other aspect of India-US engagement.

It is doubtful if the sanctions would have been lifted so soon had not the Bush administration and the congress felt compelled to bail out Pakistan which was also under similar — and more severe — sanctions when the terrorists struck at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The situation in which Vajpayee finds himself is reminiscent of the post-Kuwait war scenario soon after the emirate’s liberation from Saddam Hussein’s brief occupation. On a visit to the emirate, this columnist was told by several Kuwaitis that before the Iraqi occupation “we only knew we could get foreigners to work for us. Now we know we can even get foreigners to fight for us”.

There is merit in the view shared by most of South Block that if the Americans are prepared to do — or at least share — the dirty work which India cannot afford not to do, this is something that the Indians ought to encourage.

Some others in South Block put it more crudely. They argue that if Pakistan is being forced by the US, Britain and others to clean “our toilet” — meaning the terrorist camps for militants in Kashmir and the fundamentalist outfits which spread hatred in south Asia — what is there for India to complain about? The 35 Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militants who were killed in the US air attack on a safe house in Kabul last week is the single biggest known casualty of terrorists since the US bombardment of Afghanistan began.

It is also the biggest casualty in one incident of terrorists who have vowed to snatch Kashmir away from India. New Delhi could never have hoped to decimate so many jihadis, leave alone in a single incident without suffering any loss of life on the part of the Indian army or Indian para-military forces.

On his first stop in a journey that will take Vajpayee halfway across the world, the prime minister will meet another definite winner on account of the US’s war against bin Laden: that other winner is the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Before September 11, Russia, like India, has been under siege. The Chechen separatists, funded and armed by Pakistan and al Qaida, have been bleeding Russia slowly, just as the Kashmiri militants have been bleeding India. In addition, Russia has been dangerously exposed to creeping Islamic radicalism from its “near-abroad” in central Asia.

Just as the Americans encouraged the taliban in early to mid-Nineties to the point of almost recognizing its regime after it captured Kabul, the US has been tacitly supporting Islamic opposition to Putin as a way of tying down Russia and preventing its resurgence.

For many people in Washington and other Western countries, Chechen terrorists have been freedom fighters whose human rights Putin was cruelly trampling upon. But no more so after September 11. The Western pressure on Russia as Putin attempts to prevent a break up of his country is already easing. In part, it is the price which Moscow is demanding for its role in the anti-terror coalition under Washington’s leadership. Also, within the US administration, the Chechens and their ilk in Russia are also increasingly seen for what they really represent.

It is not as if Vajpayee and Putin are runaway winners in their long struggle against terrorism because of the way things have so far shaped up after September 11.

A third winner of the same variety is the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin. There have been sporadic reports about executions of religious extremists in China’s Xinjiang province ever since US declared that it wanted bin Laden “dead or alive”. And not a murmur of protest in Washington against the executions by Beijing.

It was said of the Bush-Jiang meeting in Shanghai last month that there was very little warmth between the two leaders. But what is important from Jiang’s point of view is that the usual American homilies to China on human rights were absent. Nor were there the usual threats about Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation.

Indeed, just before Bush travelled to Shanghai, the administration floated a trial balloon on withdrawing sanctions imposed against China for being a proliferator. There was surprisingly little opposition even from China-baiters in Washington.

Too much has been written about how Pakistan has benefited from its new alliance of convenience with forces opposed to terrorism to bear repetition.

But one episode is illuminating. A senior Pakistani army officer posted abroad recently told an Indian official with whom he has shared a long working relationship that Pakistan would squeeze everything possible out of the US at this time when Washington badly needed Islamabad’s support. “You will see,” the army officer told the stupefied Indian. “Then we will do what we please.”

The question is logical. If all these countries are winners in the war that Bush has launched against terrorism, are there any losers? The only loser so far is the US.

Even Britain has gained from the US’s new war. It has enabled Tony Blair to strut on the world stage and pretend that the the United Kingdom is a global power, which it ceased to be a very long time ago. Except for the special forces operation inside Afghanistan about a fortnight ago, the US has very little to show for its three-week plus military activities against one of the poorest nations in the world.

The inability of the Northern Alliance to seize Mazar-e-Sharif has raised serious doubts about the viability of the anti-taliban opposition, which was crucial to American plans for the day when Omar’s forces would be routed by the global, anti-terrorist coalition. This, combined with the capture and execution of the anti-Soviet mujahid, Abdul Haq, raises serious questions about American strategy in the war against bin Laden.

The inability of Bush and the Northern Alliance to engineer any worthwhile defections from the taliban, despite the “student” militia’s extreme adversity, ought to make the Americans sit up and reconsider their strategy in Afghanistan.

That the taliban has not lost an inch of territory since the start of the American bombardment is a telling comment on how the White House and the state department may have needlessly raised popular expectations on the vulnerability of the mullahs of Kandahar.

But what should worry the White House most is the way US-led attempts to bring back the king, Zahir Shah, to Afghanistan’s political centrestage have failed. That failure reflects poorly on the US’s understanding of Afghans and their society. Without that understanding the US cannot win the war against terrorists who are now said to have scattered among the population of Afghanistan.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / TO HAVE A HISTORY OF ONE’S OWN 
 
 
BY BISWARUP SEN
 
 
PROVINCIALIZING EUROPE: POSTCOLONIAL THOUGHT AND HISTORICAL DIFFERENCES
By Dipesh Chakrabarty,
Princeton, $ 16.95

How does one write the history of Indian modernity? The answer seems obvious, we write about the events and processes which have contributed to the shaping of modern India as we know it: the Bengal Renaissance, the policies of the raj, the nationalist movement, Gandhi and independence. Yet, as Dipesh Chakrabarty points out in his fascinating new book, such a project is extremely problematic. The discipline called “history” is fundamentally European: its concepts, theories and methods were fashioned during and after the Enlightenment, and it still bears the stamp of its origin. To deploy this discipline on our past is to invite epistemological violence upon ourselves.

European historiography is not kind to us. It tends to “read Indian history in terms of a lack, an absence, or an incompleteness”. Historicism asserts that history happens first in the West, and only then (if at all) elsewhere. This line of thinking not only prioritizes European history but universalizes it as well. A particular, in this case a mythologized particular, called “Europe”, cannot be universal.

Postcolonial theorists must therefore undertake the task of re-reading history in order to expose this false premise. But the project of “provincializing Europe” cannot be based on pure negation. Concepts like democracy, secularism or egalitarianism are indispensable for thinking about modernity. The right approach would be to demonstrate that “modernity” is not exhausted by its instantiation in Western history. Provincializing Europe is an attempt to write history without historicism, to probe the question of “how we create conjoint and disjunctive genealogies for European categories of political modernity as we contemplate the necessarily fragmented histories of human belonging”.

The first section of the book, “Historicism and the Narration of Modernity”, explores how even progressive historiography has lapsed into historicist explanation. When the rebellious Santhal claims, “I did as my god told me to do”, the temptation is to read the statement as “backward”, with “Santhal” representing an anterior stage of historical consciousness. Chakrabarty’s strategy is to call into question two central assumptions: the notion that humans exist in a single, secular time frame which envelopes all other time; and the idea that only humans are singular and gods and spirits are epiphenomenal “social facts”. Rather than being stagist and reductionistic , we must try to see the Santhal as exemplifying another equally valid way of life. Translation, not transition, becomes the key issue here: we don’t calculate how long it will take the Santhal to become like the rest of us, we try to interpret what his world could be like.

While few readers will take exception to this stance, they may feel distanced by the text’s formalism and a certain remoteness of its style. The overly academic tone has a lot to do with the nature of the arguments, most of which are directed at Marxist and subaltern historians, at times even at his own work. Chakrabarty’s voice acquires more grace and power in the second section of the book. Entitled “Histories of Belonging”, these chapters constitute an “affective history” of an elite fraction of the Bengali bhadralok classes. These forays into Bengali subjectivity point to an irreducible “heterotemporality”, where different strands of time braid into a complex contemporary selfhood. Attempts to read a westernized subject through the body of the Bengali widow are problematized by notions of atmiyata or kinship, and the construction of a prosaic and revolutionary consciousness in post-Tagorean literature is subverted by the eruption of darshan or divine sight.

Where historicism posited lack, we are pointed here to the plenitude and surplus thrown up by subjected cultures as they negotiated the universalistic imperatives of modernity. Chakrabarty makes us aware that the minute intricacies of particular life-worlds are as constitutive of present modernity as the categories of grand Eurocentric narratives. His book offers us a blueprint for a new and richer historiography.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / TIES THAT BIND 
 
 
BY DEBJANI BANERJEE
 
 
HINDU WIFE , HINDU NATION: COMMUNITY, RELIGION AND CULTURAL NATIONALISM
By Tanika Sarkar,
Permanent Black, Rs 575

My three-year-old comes back from school on August 14 and tells me that they have to go to school the next day and sing Vande Mataram. “Jana Gana Mana”, I correct him, gently, but he persists. This trivial incident helped me develop a perspective on Tanika Sarkar’s book, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. Her discussion of the origins of Vande Mataram and the recent attempts by Hindutva supporters to use this song as a substitute of the national anthem resonated with the issue at hand. One of the most compelling aspects of her book is the links she forges between 19th century devotional patterns and the consolidation of contemporary militant rhetoric in the name of religion. There are reasons why Vande Mataram is more appealing to current proponents of Hindutva thought — it has more mobilizing potential.

The allusiveness and the evocative powers of Vande Mataram can be used to exhort patriotism, fetishize the motherland and point fingers at defined enemies. The belligerent overtones of the lyrics can support a violent ethics with much more conviction than the almost pacifist, unificatory rhetoric of Jana Gana Mana. The national anthem, Hindutva advocating groups will contend, is symbolic of the vacuous secular ideals that have enervated the Indian (read Hindu) psyche which needs to be substituted by aggressive identity/religious politics.

Through her literary and rhetorical analysis of Vande Mataram and the novel, Anandamath, in which Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay later inserted the song, Sarkar successfully demonstrates that the peaceful and the violent strains of Hinduism have co-existed since the 19th century. In Anandamath, Bankimchandra provides a powerful visual image of a communal violence and gives this the status of an apocalyptic holy war. Thus, Sarkar argues, we cannot talk about a simple transition into a violent Hinduism in the current political scenario. Protecting the sacred place or “motherland” through militant combat is a history that had been played out in the colonial theatre of the 19th century.

Sarkar traces Bankimchandra’s evolution from the balanced Hindu-Muslim encounters of Durgeshnandini to the more violent Hindu agenda of Anandamath. The move from liberal reformism to Hindu revivalism within the Bengali intelligentsia in the 19th century is paralleled, in Bankimchandra’s works, by a departure from the powerful, progressive stance in Samya to a loud, monolithic definition of Hindu nationhood in Anandamath.

In her attempts to explain the disjunction between the liberal reformism and the resurgence of Hindu orthodoxy, Sarkar does not limit herself to cultural icons like Bankimchandra. She examines the ideological manoeuvres in the works of Rashsundari Debi, whose Amar Jiban is one of the earliest examples of women’s writing in Bengali. She also delves deep into the discourses and contestations of 19th century colonial India to examine the consequences of Permanent Settlement, the offerings of the print media, plays, scandal literature and even rumours in order to understand the cultural codes by which women’s identities were defined and re-defined. The majority of the chapters focus on the complex processes by which women’s bodies were made to speak for nationalist identities and as an ostensible locus of purity. Critiquing the totalizing framework of Edward Said’s theories of Western power-knowledge, Sarkar demonstrates that colonial structures of power, often complicit with indigenous patriarchy, gave rise to a multi-faceted nationalism that ensured the continuous dispossession of the woman.

At the centre of the conceptual grid of the book is Sarkar’s thesis that the ideas of Hindu conjugality are inextricably linked with the rise and fall of militant nationalism. She substantiates this claim with a palimpsest of legislative discourses, particularly the debates regarding the age of consent of marriage. Here she moves from a study of local incidents to an exploration of its larger implications. This segues into a lively and comprehensive discussion about individual and communitarian identity that draws on Seyla Benhabib, and Martha Nussbaum, among others.

The majority of Tanika Sarkar’s recent writing has moved along two trajectories — her scholarship in 19th century cultural studies and her exploration of aspects of contemporary Hindutva thought within the larger framework of communalism. This latter theme which runs as a leitmotif throughout the chapters but receives full-fledged attention only in the last could have been given more space.

What she achieves in this chapter is remarkable, its impact being further heightened by the brutal acts of destruction of September 11, when terrorist attacks based on religious fundamentalism have changed the contours of geographical landscape as we knew it. Two of Sarkar’s thematic suggestions are linked to the nature of extremist military action. These may be roughly articulated as the significance of space in the mindscape of the religious militant as well as the deadly repercussions of political violence that can express itself as a religious cause.

In the context of communalism in India, Sarkar delineates the theme of the spatialization of the object of devotion; she also underscores the need to recognize the power and charge of Hindutva thought. Religious fundamentalist outfits across nations follow some of the same paths. The choice of the World Trade Center, the icon of modern capitalism, as the target of terrorist attacks is proof of the importance of the site to those who wage these wars of passion. As the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 had indicated, spaces are invested with extreme emotional valency. Another interesting fallout of the terrorist attacks is the increased willingness amongst Americans to know more about west Asian religions and politics — an area of indistinguishable “darkness” for the average American. Clearly, it is important to know and not underestimate the potential of religious zeal.

Sarkar gestures towards these issues in her writings on cultural nationalism but wraps up the discussion rather quickly. Readers are made aware of the non-innocent implications of using religious rhetoric to sanction militant actions but it would have been a valuable addition to the book, if she had substantiated the compressed elements of the last chapter. These structural quarrels apart, the quality of the intellectual endeavour is impressive. The depth that she brings to her analysis and the heterogeneity of cultural texts that she covers is the key to the success of Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / CREATION MYTHS AND REALITIES 
 
 
BY ARUNJYOTI BASU
 
 
THE PROCEDURE
By Harry Mulisch,
Viking, £ 16.99

Harry Mulisch’s new novel is an extremely cerebral one, albeit a little daunting in the beginning. To begin with, Mulisch is one of the lesser-read authors in English — there are very few English translations of his works — though he is immensely popular in the rest of Europe, particularly his native Netherlands and Germany. Paul Vincent’s translation possesses the rare quality of making the reader forget that the work was originally written in another language.

Mulisch’s novels have always dealt with questions of life and death, and the condition of man. In The Procedure, the novelist explores the mystery of life through the experiences of the hero, Victor Werker. Werker is a brilliant scientist and a not-so-brilliant father. The events leading to his birth are invested with Mulisch’s brilliant sense of humour, although the description of the actual birth is deeply disturbing.

The “procedure” in The Procedure refers to the creation of a golem by Rabbi Löw Ben Bezalel in 1592 in Prague, for the emperor. In Jewish mythology, a golem is created from flesh and blood accompanied by ritualistic incantations of the Hebrew alphabet. But the golem has no soul. The emperor promised Rabbi Löw that he would leave the Jews of Prague alone if the golem could be created. This is at the core of the novel.

Victor Werker is the modern Rabbi Löw, the brilliant scientist who works with the four-letter word of the DNA string and manipulates DNA to produce a blob. For his experiments, Werker is both derided and lauded. He, however, is so satisfied that he carries his cellular telephone everywhere, expecting that call from the Swedish Academy. But the reader never does find out if that Nobel Prize-awarding body makes the call.

Predictably, the scientist’s own life is an unfortunate affair with a perpetual air of uncertainty about it. He experiences the first blow when his wife, Clara, leaves him without warning after their child dies in her womb. It is possible that along with the call from the Nobel Prize authorities, Victor unconsciously expects a call from Clara on the cell phone.

The high order of Mulisch’s craft is revealed in Werker’s letters to his daughter. The reader reads on for a while before realizing that the daughter has died in her mother’s womb. Werker never comes to terms with his daughter’s death and perhaps it is this personal tragedy that drives him to create life in his laboratory.

The book begins with a quotation from Ovid’s Metamorphosis and ends with one too — Werker reads the passage on Pygmalion. It is impossible to miss the significance of this. By the time the author reaches this stage, he has all but turned The Procedure into a thriller. The ending thus comes as a shock. But then it should not — life and creation belong to that realm of profundity whose equilibrium is disturbed by the attempts to alter DNA structures.

The Procedure is not an easy read. Indeed, some of the initial chapters are “difficult”. The author calls these chapters “documents”.

Mulisch is a master of his craft and his writing is powerful throughout, compelling the reader to read on till the end. He weaves his tale with the effortless ease of a born storyteller. He has broached a difficult theme involving serious moral issues and yet, has never opted for the easy way out. More important, despite the complexities of the theme, Mulisch never runs out of humour. The novel can find its way to a reader’s bookshelf simply for this one virtue.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / DREAMS OF SOCIALISM 
 
 
BY PIYUS GANGULY
 
 
JAYAPRAKASH NARAYAN: SELECTED WORKS, VOLUME TWO (1936-1939)
Manohar, Rs 595

Centenary thoughts on Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979) may well revolve around his dauntless crusade against Indira Gandhi’s fierce authoritarianism. But he is no less remembered as an honest, committed socialist who did not just swear by socialist shibboleths. The second volume of his selected works carries statements, articles, speeches, letters and the lengthy treatise, Why Socialism?, which is a clear, comprehensive enunciation of his cherished concept of socialism.

Narayan makes the point that “in discussions on socialism there is always a tendency to get lost in details and ignore the central point — the elimination of private ownership of the means of production in favour of social ownership.”

He argues that “the first thing to remember about socialism is that it is a system of social reconstruction. Again no party in the world of today can build up socialism unless it has the machinery of the state in its hands...As a corollary to this, a party in power can always establish socialism provided it has sufficient powers of coercion to put down resistance or sufficient popular support to deal with opposition.

“The fact of (diverse) inequalities, with all its brood of social consequences, is the central problem of our society. The socialist’s (unique) approach to this problem is like that of the physician to disease. He seeks to discover the root cause of the malady. He does not take the fact of inequalities for granted, and then proceeds to level them up.”

According to Narayan, socialism in agriculture, or cooperative and collective farming, is essential for the success of any attempt to recast Indian life on a socialist basis. While pleading for peasant proprietorship, Narayan also admits that full socialism cannot be established in a country till it is fully industrialized.

Narayan quotes Gandhi to explode the oft-repeated myth that Gandhism is true socialism: “I shall be no party to dispossessing the propertied classes of their private property without just cause. My objective is to reach your hearts and convert you so that you may hold all your private property in trust for your tenants and use it primarily for their welfare…The Ramrajya of my dream ensures the right alike of the prince and the pauper.” He concludes that Gandhism is a dangerous doctrine because it hushes up the real issues and sets out to remove the evils of society by pious wishes.

The role of Narayan and his Congress Socialist Party vis-à-vis the Gandhi-Subhas Chandra Bose controversy was crucial. Their ideological affinity — the leftist Bose shared Narayan’s socialist convictions — goaded Narayan to support Bose in his bid for re-election as the Congress president against the wishes of Gandhi. Narayan also strongly disapproved the resignation of the pro-Gandhi members of the Congress working committee and their decision not to join it under Bose’s presidentship. But the CSP gradually veered away from Bose. His proposal for an immediate ultimatum to the British for complete independence did not find a place in the resolution on “national demand” moved by Narayan.

But the unkindest cut of all was the Pant resolution which prescribed that the Congress president should nominate the new working committee in accordance with the wishes of Gandhi. Much to Bose’s disappointment, the CSP abstained from voting on the resolution and it was finally passed. Bose resigned and Narayan failed to make him withdraw the resignation.

In defence, Narayan said that “the action we took was prompted entirely by considerations of unity…and the necessity of Gandhiji in playing his due and unique role in the Congress.”

In the last chapter of the book, Narayan roundly condemns the stern disciplinary action taken by the Congress working committee against Bose in August, 1939.

Hopefully the third volume of the series will carry the secret letter that Narayan sent to Bose from prison late in 1940. Addressing Bose as “dear comrade”, he criticized himself and his party colleagues for their obsession with Congress unity and sought Bose’s cooperation in founding an independent, revolutionary underground party based on Marxism-Leninism. But Bose had by then almost finalized his plans to escape and launch the struggle from abroad, and hence history as we know it.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE / THE NAME IS A MASTERPIECE 
 
 
 
 
MY NAME IS RED
By Orhan Pamuk,
Faber, £ 6.50

Orhan Pamuk is Turkey’s best known novelist. This novel was published in Turkey in 1998 and sold 160,000 copies. One can see why from this translation. It is a tour de force as a novel. It is also an extraordinarily intelligent discourse on the use of perspective in painting. Pamuk wraps this in a murder story which, Roshomon-like, is presented in many voices to readers.

The story is set in Istanbul in the first half of the 1590s. Turkey is under the rule of the Ottoman sultan, Murat III, who was a well known patron of miniatures and books. He had many famous books produced and illustrated. The most important miniaturist of the time,Osman, is a character in the novel.

In Pamuk’s fiction, the sultan secretly commissions a book to be illustrated and illuminated by the leading artists of Istanbul. But the illustrations are to be in the European manner. Istanbul in the 1590s is caught in the frenzy of Islamic fundamentalism and therefore such a book is a dangerous proposition. Any work of representational art is a transgression of the tenets of Islam. The dangers involved become manifest reality when one of the artists first disappears and then is found murdered. The next to go is the Master illuminator himself. The plot is thus set for a whodunit.

The mode of narration Pamuk adopts is very distinct. He lets each of the main characters speak in his or her own voice. There are no authorial statements. There are chapters entitled “I am called Black”, “I am Esther”, “I Shekure”, and even some called “I will be called a murderer”. Thus different perspectives are introduced. Readers hear the murderer’s voice but they do not know his identity. The novel begins startlingly with a chapter called “I am a corpse”, in which a murdered man speaks directly and describes his wretched condition.

The importance of perspective is writ large throughout the novel but is elaborated but by the Master illuminator in his dying declamation before his murderer: “They [the Venetian masters] don’t paint the world as seen from the balcony of a minaret, ignoring what they call perspective; they depict what’s seen at street level, or from the inside of a prince’s room, taking in his bed, quilt, desk, mirror, his tiger, his daughter and his coins. They include it all…Attempting to imitate the world directly through painting seems dishonourable to me. I resent it. But there’s an undeniable allure to the paintings they make by those new methods. They depict what the eye sees just as the eye sees it. Indeed, they paint what they see, whereas we paint what we look at.”

By adopting the voices and viewpoints of the different characters, Pamuk successfully tells a story or rather he makes others tell the story from their own perspectives. The author does not occupy an unspecified and undefined site from which he sees a series of events unfolding. The novel has no centre unless one takes the two murders and a certain preoccupation with painting as the centrepoints of the tale.

In the manner of medieval manuscripts and illustrations, the novel is redolent with details about Istanbul, its various areas and social customs; it is full of allusions to other stories and histories. It unfolds an unknown and different world. Pamuk’s research and powers of ornamentation are breathtaking. As a bonus there is tucked into all this a tender love story.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS / CONVERTS, COOKS AND URDU COUPLETS 
 
 
 
 
BEYOND BELIEF: ISLAMIC EXCURSIONS AMONG THE CONVERTED PEOPLES
By V.S. Naipaul
(Penguin, Rs 350)

V.S. Naipaul’s Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples is a set of “stories” collected during five months of travel in 1995 in Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia. Naipaul describes these as “four non-Arab Muslim countries”, and that is the point of stringing them together. He returns to these countries after his first visit in 1979, which produced the book, Among the Believers. He claims to have known little about Islam then and was primarily interested in “the details of faith” and in Islam’s “capacity for religion”. Beyond Belief is about the human experience of conversion, and in this, it is a book about “people” and not “opinions”. Naipaul’s definition of a convert is simple: “Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert.” And his stories explore Islam’s “imperial demands” and their effects on particular lives, societies and histories: “The convert has to turn away from everything that is his...People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.” This Naipaul is not the “manager of narrative”, but “a discoverer of people, a finder-out of stories”; the writer “steadily retreats” and the “people of the country come to the front”. Conversion, for Naipaul, is also “a kind of crossover from old beliefs”, but in plotting the “steady grinding down of the old world” in these stories, he promises his readers not “conclusions” but “complexities”. This is a difficult and provocative book, beautiful to read, and resistant to predictable indignations.

EATING OUT AT HOME
By Mona Verma
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Mona Verma’s Eating Out At Home is a recipe book that attempts to capture the flavour of street food — ragda pattis, papdi chaat, pani puri and Mumbai bhel. But there are also snacks, main course dishes, chutneys, pickles, chocolates, cakes and traditional Indian desserts. All this from a cook who experiments with recipes “like children playing with toys” and comes up with something like macaroni and mushroom chaat

THE LIGHTNING SHOULD HAVE FALLEN ON GHALIB: SELECTED POEMS OF GHALIB
Translated By Robert Bly and Sunil Dutta
(Rupa, Rs 150)

Translated By Robert Bly and Sunil Dutta’s The Lightning Should Have Fallen On Ghalib: Selected Poems Of Ghalib is a useful, but disappointing, trilingual parallel edition of an excellent Urdu poet, who was born in 1797 and lived till he was seventy-two. The book lacks scholarly scruple, and there is a tendency to prettify. Bly’s introduction is dreamy and lugubrious, but Dutta’s appended biographical note provides more historical information. The real assets of this book are the Urdu and Hindi texts of the ghazals. The translations are caught halfway between accuracy and poetic “transcreation”, and come nowhere near the versions prepared by the poet, Aijaz Ahmed, in the Sixties.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Compelled by fear

Sir — Thanks to the intervention of the International Cricket Council and the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Jagmohan Dalmiya, it has been decided that the England tour in November will take place according to schedule (“BCCI sets Monday deadline for ECB”, Oct 30). The England and Wales Cricket Board, of course, may have agreed to the tour out of the fear that they would otherwise be fined by the ICC and also be penalized by the BCCI, as Dalmiya had promised to do if the tour was cancelled at this stage. The ECB has claimed that they are not sure whether adequate security will be provided during the England tour. The ECB may be concerned about the safety of its players, but it must be kept in mind that tournaments have taken place in countries like Sri Lanka, which has been victim to regular attacks from terrorists, without any harm to players. The ECB should realize that in light of the currrent terrorist threat, very few countries, including England, are safe to live in, let alone visit.

Yours faithfully,
Ratan Saha, via email

Unneighbourly acts

Sir— The fear that once Begum Khaleda Zia assumed the office of prime minister in Bangladesh Hindus in the country would be harassed has proved to be true. This fear was based on the fact that Khaleda Zia’s four-party alliance includes Islamic fundamentalist outfits such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote, which are known for their anti-Hindu stand. During and after the elections Hindus have been intimidated by Khaleda Zia’s supporters.

Earlier also, such inhumanities had been reported when the mutilated bodies of border security force personnel were returned to India. One must not forget that the latter atrocity occurred during the rule of Sheikh Hasina Wajed whose Awami League is considered pro-India. The reason given for the latest attack on the Hindus is unbelievable. It was stated that the Hindus were targeted because of their support for Sheikh Hasina during the recent general elections and the attacks were aimed at keeping the minority voters away from polling stations.

India should not take this anti-Hindu stand lightly. Just as we stand up for minorities in India, the Centre should make it clear to Khaleda Zia that it is important to improve the status of minorities in Bangladesh. Maybe the next time the prime minister’s principal adviser, Brajesh Mishra, visits Bangladesh he could take some time out from discussing natural gas imports to India from Bangladesh and discuss the persecution of minorities (“Zia claims minority attack jitters”, Oct 28). But then again, that depends on what is more important to our government, gas or people?

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, via email

Sir— The recent reports about atrocities being systematically perpetrated on Hindus living in Bangladesh and the smashing of Durga idols has brought out the double standards of people, especially politicians, in India (“Bangla minorities harassed”, Oct 17). I wonder where the champions of secularism, who cry themselves hoarse when an Islamic terrorist outfit is banned by the government, or hold a city hostage with processions protesting the action being taken by one foreign country against another known to encourage and propagate terrorism, or burn effigies of heads of states who condemn and call for united action against terrorism, have vanished?

Many secular leaders like Sonia Gandhi of the Congress, Jyoti Basu of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party had condemned the bombing of Afghanistan by the United States of America. Their anti-American stand was aimed mainly at pleasing the Muslims of India and in the hope of reaping the benefits during election time.

How is it that the Muslim “liberals” who jump at every imagined slur on Muslims choose to keep quiet when people of other religions are oppressed in Bangla- desh and East Timor? This double talk which is indulged in by both secular activists as well as Islamic fundamentalists is the reason why India is being polarized on communal lines.

Yours faithfully,
Sushanta Mukherjee, via email

Sir— The daily reports of attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh is slowly becoming a national issue for India. It has taken the prime minister a long time to comment on the improvement of the conditions in Bangladesh in regard to the minority Hindus. Atal Bihari Vajpayee should try and rectify or at least improve the anti-Hindu atmosphere in Bangladesh.

A friendly approach should be adopted to counter this persecution problem which has caused a great panic among the Hindus living in Bangladesh. For a long time India has been trying to maintain relations with Bangladesh, but in light of the continued attacks against minorities in Bangladesh, the Indian government needs to think more positively and pragmatically and take into consideration Indian communities living outside India while determining foreign policy.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir— In spite of the attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh in West Bengal, Durga Puja was celebrated as usual with great enthusiasm without any sense of solidarity with those living in the neighbouring country. This is a perfect example of the total indifference that is often shown by the so-called Bengali intellectuals and the CPI (Marxist)-led government in West Bengal. The West Bengal government must realize that if adequate support is not shown for the Hindus across the border, the harassment against them will not stop. This can soon develop into a refugee problem (“Bangla exodus after assault on women”, Oct 22).

Yours faithfully,
Neeraj Kumar, Ranchi

Sir— Are Indians turning a blind eye to what is happening to the minorities in Bangladesh because unlike the US, Bangladesh seems too unimportant a country for us to spare a thought for its people?

Yours faithfully,
Upasana Dua, New Delhi

Sir— That minorities would have to bear the brunt of any communal tension is as true in India as it is in Bangladesh or Pakistan. That, however, does not mean India should embitter its already endangered relations with Bangladesh. Which, in other words, means it should not follow the example of Pakistan which has not spared a thought for its Muslim brethren in India while causing the bad blood with it.

Yours faithfully,
J. Dutta, Calcutta

A correction

Sir— The document, “Policies to reduce poverty and accelerate sustainable development”, carried by The Telegraph on page 11 from October 30 to November 1 as an excerpt from the WHO report, 2000, is actually a World Bank report on “India: policies to reduce poverty and accelerate sustainable development”, 2000. The error is regretted.
— The editor.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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