Editorial / State of the war
Two Trinidadians
This above all / Living with her memory
People / Abu Salem
Letters to the editor

A war, by definition, is unpredictable. It is impossible to foresee eventualities and the nature of resistance to aggression. Thus the best laid plans and the best conceived strategies go haywire in the course of a campaign. History is replete with such examples. The disaster that was Operation Barbarrosa — Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union — and the fighting power of the Vietnamese peasants surprised all commentators including the generals of the Third Reich in the Forties and the American soldiers in the Sixties. When the United States of America went on the offensive against the taliban in Afghanistan, it did so with a very well-formulated plan. The declaration of war against terrorism with Mr Osama bin Laden as the first and immediate target had the support of a global coalition which had within it most of the powerful nations of the world, including some of the Islamic ones. The US took time — from September 11, when the terrorist attacks took place, to October 7, when the first bombers flew over Afghan skies — to build up this coalition. The diplomatic initiatives of this longish, preparatory phase involved, inter alia, the brokering of a peace between Israel and Palestine, the winning over of Pakistan and the mustering of support from China and Russia. The diplomatic moves were capped by the moving in of the formidable US war machine into strategic positions in the region. One can only guess at the intelligence network that buttressed the offensive. The show of power was, to say the least, awesome.

The fruits of this display, however, belie expectations. The US planes won the battle of the sky in a matter of days. This was according to script. From then on, bombers have pounded Kabul, Kandahar and other places of strategic importance to the taliban. The expectation was that following such heavy bombing and the consequent devastation, US ground troops would move in to capture Mr bin Laden in a series of commando-type operations. Now, as winter is about to set in and Ramadan about to begin, such an operation appears unlikely. The war against the taliban seems to have entered a stalemate phase. The bombs appear to be purposeless, if not useless. Public opinion, which after the September 11 attacks was overwhelmingly in favour of a US intervention, is now ever so slowly turning and beginning to question the need for further bombing. The coalition, so deliberately and so painstakingly formed, is also feeling the strain. The peace in west Asia is over. Temperatures are rising on the India-Pakistan border. There is growing suspicion that the Pakistan government, despite Mr Pervez Musharraf’s protestations to the contrary, is not offering full cooperation. The present impasse in the campaign does not promise an early resolution of the war in Afghanistan.

It is true that Mr George W. Bush, the US president, has repeatedly emphasized that this is going to be a long and arduous war. Nobody doubts that the eradication of terrorism across the world will be a long and possibly, thankless task. But there is no explanation why the capture of Mr bin Laden, a very limited and short term goal, should take this long. There is no explanation why a campaign carried out by a superpower with the best military hardware and the most sophisticated technology at its disposal should produce such tardy results against an army whose sole strength is its faith. These are questions on the minds of everyone. Nobody likes a war, and a stalemate like the present one signals that the war will probably last even longer than what even Mr Bush expected. From an Indian point of view, all this means that the entire region will remain tense and prone to provocation for some time to come.


In 1938, the Trinidadian writer, C.L.R. James, published The Black Jacobins, a study of a successful uprising by Haitian slaves inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. Based on years of research in the French archives, written with an uncommon fluency of language, and centred around the compelling figure of the slave leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, the book became a classic of social history. The distinguished scholar of slavery, Robin Blackburn, wrote that the The Black Jacobins “proved, long before the mature work of Isaac Deutscher, Christopher Hill or Edward Thompson, that a Marxist historian could make excellent use of the archives and ally biography to the understanding of wider social and political contexts”. To this judgment an Indian can only add:long before the work of Subaltern Studies as well.

So influential did James’s book become that its title even became a separate entry in the Penguin Dictionary of Religions: denoting a black cult that combined political aspirations with spiritual values. When the book was reissued in 1963, the author added an epilogue entitled “From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro”. The Cuban revolution was but four years old, and its leader carried with him the energy and authenticity of youth. (In 1963 Castro was the boy who stood up to the Yankee bully; it would be years before he would be revealed as another Latin American dictator.) James’s own Trinidad had recently achieved independence, and he saw Fidel’s revolution and the emancipation of the British colonies as harbingers of a coming age of freedom for the Caribbean.

In this hopeful future, writers would walk alongside political leaders. The West Indian national identity, suggested James, was to be found in the novels of Vic Reid, George Lamming, and Wilson Harris, in the poetry of Derek Walcott and Aime Césaire, and in the work of V.S. Naipaul. These writers “have discovered the West Indies and West Indians, a people of the middle of our disturbed century, concerned with the discovery of themselves, determined to discover themselves, but without hatred and malice against the foreigner, even the bitter imperialist past”. James remarked of Naipaul’s early masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas, that in its pages “the East Indian has become as West Indian as all the other expatriates”.

In the same year, 1963, was also published the first edition of James’s remarkable study of cricket, Beyond a Boundary. One of the book’s reviewers was the aforementioned Naipaul. Writing in Encounter magazine, he celebrated the “originality and rightness of Mr James’s book”, its deft handling of social history and its suggestive linking of cricket with political developments.

Like Nirad Chaudhuri’s autobiography, James’s work was “part of the cultural boomerang from the former colonies, delayed and still imperfectly understood”. “Let us rejoice over what he has given us,” said Naipaul, for “Beyond a Boundary is one of the finest and most finished books to come out of the West Indies, important to England, important to the West Indies. It has a further value: it gives a base and solidity to West Indian literary endeavour.”

Beyond a Boundary was splendidly timed, its publication coinciding with a successful tour of England by a West Indian cricket side led by Frank Worrell, the first black man appointed to the post. Notably, James and Naipaul watched the Edgbaston and Lord’s tests together. At the time, Naipaul was content to be counted as part of a West Indian community of writers, able to see himself with James and Harris and Walcott as constituting the “cultural boomerang from the former colonies”.

Years later, James’s devoted assistant, Anna Grimshaw, brought out a collection of his essays on cricket. This book also printed letters written by the sage to such well known cricket writers as Jack Fingleton, John Arlott, and Rowland Bowen. Also published here are some letters from James to Naipaul.

They deal, for the most part, with Beyond a Boundary. But one letter of September 1963 strays into the wider domain of cultural studies. James had been reading Naipaul’s periodical essays on India, the anticipations of what was to become An Area of Darkness. Those essays, said the older man, were “very fine”. But, he added, “Effective as we are in stripping the wrappings from the underdeveloped countries, we will be more effective if…we are ready to strip or have already stripped the wrappings from Western civilization itself.”

“I believe,” insisted James, that “we have an immense amount to say about Western civilization which we more than all other writers from the underdeveloped peoples can say. We not only open ourselves but we open them up too.”

James is here speaking, decades before such talk became fashionable, of the importance of a non-Western understanding of the West. Once, white people wrote with confidence of what brown and black people were all about. Later, a generation of brown and black scholars wrote about their own societies, in the process challenging or upturning analyses originating in the metropolis. But as early as 1963, James looked forward to a third stage, where writers from the former colonies would be able to speak with insight and authority about their former masters.

That is the general import of these remarks, but they also carry a specific charge, this directed at the letter’s recipient. You, says James to Naipaul, you with your special gifts of listening and interpretation, with your sophisticated understanding of culture and history — you must now turn your attention to the critical study of the West. This, alas, was a piece of advice that Naipaul chose to disregard. Having documented his distaste for India, he went on to write about Africa and Islam, in books marked by a close attention to detail and an immaculate prose style, but disfigured by a sometimes unreasoning prejudice towards their subjects. Meanwhile, the “West” remains a part of the world that has escaped his sceptical and questioning eye.

In the early Sixties, V.S. Naipaul and C.L.R. James were friendly acquaintances; they wrote to one another, and they watched cricket matches together. Later, they drew apart, as one man stayed where he was, politically speaking, whereas the other man moved steadily towards the right. James died in 1989; five years later, he reappeared in fictional disguise as the character Lebrun in Naipaul’s book, A Way in the World. This is a profoundly unsympathetic portrait, a post-Cold War reviling of the left wing thinker as an admirer of Stalin, a supporter of East Germany and, from his safe haven in the West, an amoral instigator of the guileless young.

Naipaul has since admitted to Faroukh Dhondy that Lebrun was in part modelled on James. As Dhondy points out, James was actually a bitter opponent of Stalin and the regimes he created in eastern Europe. Novelists are free, of course, to take characters out of the real world and embellish them any way they like. What I find unsettling is that Naipaul waited until James died before casting him in one of his books. This shows spite as well as a certain cowardice — to caricature a man only after making sure that he is not there to answer back.

A clue to the changing nature of Naipaul’s relationship to James can be found in an essay by Derek Walcott written in 1987, before either Walcott or Naipaul had been dignified by the Nobel prize. Walcott remarks here that the “myth of Naipaul as a phenomenon, as a singular contradictory genius who survived the cane fields and the bush at great cost, has long been a farce”. He provides a list of creative artists from the West Indies: historians like C.L.R. James, novelists like Lamming, Harris, Samuel Selvon, Jean Rhys, and Jamaica Kincaid, poets, short story writers and “a few hundred calypsonians” of the quality of Bob Marley and Lord Kitchener.

But Naipaul, says Walcott, must pretend these people never existed, for “how weak (his) struggle would seem if it were communal; if his dedication was seen to be shared; if what he felt in his youth was held to be felt in common by thousands of young…writers from all the former provinces of the empire.…”

Till the early Sixties, Naipaul saw himself as West Indian. The islands had provided the character and context for his first, marvellously evocative works of fiction. Nor, as his review of Beyond the Boundary demonstrates, did he feel uncomfortable with being seen as contributing to a general renaissance of Caribbean writing. But as time went on he recast himself as the lonely exception, the self-aware and superior man who alone saw through the horrors of life in the third world. In this process of distancing, he had necessarily to dump C.L.R. James, as a friend, and then to dump on C.L.R. James, in his fiction. His treatment of James is of a piece with his treatment of the Caribbean, the homeland he chose not to mention in his statement accepting the Nobel prize, in an unhappy manifestation of what Derek Walcott once called “the peevish sixth-grader still contained in an almost great writer”.

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She died in the early hour of Friday, October 19. She was in the intensive care unit of the Apollo Hospital, for over a month; so her end did not come as a surprise. What sustained a little hope in my mind was that women like Dharma did not die; they faded out of memory like a lost dream. She was seventy-three. She was more animated than any woman I have ever met. I write about her because all of us have someone or the other in our lives who means more to us than we care to admit till after they are gone.

It must be over fifty years ago when I first met her and her husband, Lavraj Kumar, at a large luncheon party in a garden. He was an executive in Burma Shell; she was working on her doctoral thesis at Cambridge University. She was the centre of attraction, sparkling with wit and humour and mimicking celebrities. She had everyone in splits with laughter. I was completely bowled over. For the next few days I spoke about her to everyone I knew and tried to get as much information about her and her husband as I could.

Lavraj Kumar was from Uttar Pradesh, the only child of a well known and rich family. He was also a very bright student. He won the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Dharma was a Tamilian brahmin and only child of a well-known scientist, Dr Venkatraman, head of the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune. They met in England and got married. Lavraj answered all that Dharma wanted of a man. She had exaggerated respect for academics; almost all her cousins had gained firsts in Oxford or Cambridge; Lavraj had bettered them. She married him because he was brighter than any other of her many suitors. What she did not like was Lavraj joining Burma Shell and becoming a boxwallah and having to take orders from the white sahibs. Lavraj was a soft-spoken and self-effacing man.

Dharma was outgoing, garrulous and revelled in admiration. She was not the kind of woman I usually fell for. Her features were passable; she used no make-up or perfume. It was her animation which I found irresistible. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke: Come to think of it, the only reason she responded to my overtures was that she was overwhelmed by my adoration. It was an entirely one-sided affair. I dedicated my second novel, I shall not hear the Nightingale, to her. I don’t think she bothered to read it.

Her favourite put-downers were about a cousin, Raghavan Aiyar. Like others of the family he was a topper: first in MA (philosophy) from Madras; first class first in Cambridge and elected president of the Cambridge Union. While in the university he acquired a group of admirers who assembled in his room periodically to hear him speak. He told them that the source of all human frailties was the ego. Unless one conquered one’s ego there could be no peace of mind. One day a lady admirer asked “I agree with all you say about the ego, but how does one conquer the ego?”

“Good question!” replied Raghavan Aiyar. “You will appreciate it poses a bigger problem for me than it does for you. For myself I have evolved a formula for self-extinction. Everyday I sit in padma asana (lotus pose), shut my eyes and repeat: “I am not Raghavan Aiyar who got a first class from Madras University; I am not Raghavan Aiyar who got a first class first from Cambridge University; I am not Raghavan Aiyar the most brilliant philosopher of the East. I am merely a vehicle of the mahatmas, a spark of the Divine.”

According to Dharma, when Raghavan Aiyar stood for presidentship of the union, he did not bother to canvass for himself but left it to his admirers. After the counting of votes they rushed to his room to break the good news. They found him seated in padma asana on his carpet with his eyes shut: “You’ve won! You’ve won!” they shouted triumphantly, Raghavan Aiyar raised one hand with his finger pointing to the roof and exclaimed: “Victory’s thine, O Lord!”

Dharma got her doctorate in economics. She became a professor in the Delhi School of Economics and wrote a couple of books, which were very well received by economists. Her husband left Burma Shell to become secretary of the petroleum ministry of the Central government. She was happy that she was no longer the wife of a boxwallah. But even as the wife of a much respected bureaucrat, she refused to entertain ministers or befriend their wives.

Undeterred by her indifference I continued to long for her company. The break came unexpectedly. Lavraj had invited her closest friends for dinner to celebrate her invitation for a lecture tour abroad. Very light-heartedly I asked, “Dharma, how did you wangle it?” She went pale with anger and burst out: “I don’t like that kind of insinuation. I am not a wangler.” The outburst of anger took everyone unawares. An uneasy silence descended. The party was ruined.

The one thing I could not forgive or forget is people losing their temper with me. I swore to have nothing more to do with Dharma. She was the victim of uncontrollable temper, I, of being unable to forgive. She did her best to make amends but something within me had snapped which I could not join together. After some months our families began to see each other again. But I was never relaxed in her company. I transferred my affection to her husband and even more to her daughter, Radha.

When her husband died suddenly, I went to the crematorium expecting to meet Dharma and wipe out the uneasiness that had come between us. She was not there. I condoled Radha and Lavraj’s uncle, Dharamvira (ex-governor,Punjab and Bengal). I told him, “Dharma had all the gifts anyone would wish for except the gift of friendship.” He agreed.

None of us who cherished Dharma realized that her fits of temper may have been due to things going wrong inside her. She developed a brain tumour and had to be flown to London for surgery. It did not help. Another tumour developed. Then another. The only one left to look after her was her 94-year old mother-in-law. She told everyone, “Dharma is not my bahu but my beti.” She was with her to the last.

It is hard for me to accept the fact that Dharma was a mortal. I will not see Dharma any more. She may not have cared for me but I will cherish her memory for the years left to me.

Saying it wrong with flowers

A florist had to send to bouquets — one to a new site of a business and the other to a funeral. But he mixed up the messages attached to the flowers.

“Rest in peace” was written on the card with the bouquet, received by the business on its inauguration of new site. Obviously the owner was furious and asked for an explanation. The florist apologized profusely and remarked, “I wonder how the bereaved family at the funeral will feel because the card I have mistakenly sent them, reads “Congratulations on your new location”./p>

(Contributed by Roshni Johar, Shimla)



The heart of a goof

Bollywood refers to him as “captain”. He is the voice on the phone that meddles with multi-crore blockbusters, decides casts, pours in money, pumps out profits, gets two-bit starlets big roles and reduces macho superheroes to gibbering puppets.

Mumbai Police think differently. They refer to him as “lukka bhai”, the petty pretender to Dawood Ibrahim’s bhaidom. His empire of terror is run purely on the power of fear and little else. His operations are tackily planned and botched up by greenhorns who do not know how to hold a gun steady. His last hit ended in a disaster when the “boys” sent to assassinate the Lagaan team — Amir Khan, Ashutosh Gowarikar and Jhamu Sugandh –– were killed in an encounter.

“He is himself a man on the run. If Bollywood cooperates, we can easily contain his operations here,” says a police officer of a suburban anti-extortion cell dismissively. Filmdom, however, begs to differ. Such is the psychosis his name generates that when news broke of Abu Salem’s arrest in Sharjah, the first to celebrate were harried producers, besieged stars and bullied directors.

As it turned out, it was a sigh of relief too soon. While the state police and the centre wrangle over the circumstances that led to Salem’s release, it is back to telephone terror for Bollywood in this happy season of mega hits. And after two futile arrests in seven years, Salem is now claiming invincibility.

“But he has numbed the industry with such terror that if a car backfires a mile away, they think they are being hit,” says an officer of a suburban anti-extortion cell. He has a recording of a Salem extortion threat for reference. The man, he says, does not sound even remotely menacing. “Most of the extortion calls reported from Salem, in fact, are fakes –– first-timers using his name to make stars cough up big money. It is only recently that targets from the film industry have started approaching us. Earlier, they would grab the first ‘agent’ and pay up,” says the officer.

Bollywood has always been Salem’s favourite haunt. His brother introduced him to tinseltown and he nurtured it as his area of specialisation. In fact, Salem’s earliest link to the film industry was through actor Sanjay Dutt, who he allegedly supplied AK 47s to in the run-up to the 1993 blasts. That was Salem in his earliest criminal avataar as Abu “Samaan”, the man who ran errands and guns for the D-Company. He had just risen from anonymity as a roadside hawker in the downmarket Crawford Road shopping area. In fact, unlike other big dons, there is little about the man in the dossiers before the 1993 blast.

He then fled to Dubai with the rest of the D-Company from which he later broke away to join Bahrain-based duo of Ali Budeshi and Subhash Singh Thakur. Since then, he has been shuttling between the US, UK, Nairobi and the Middle-East. And it was from these far shores that his grip on the film industry grew. It is a fact that buttresses the police theory that he has an iron grip within the industry. The police allege that he has some very willing informers inside Bollywood who keep him supplied with all the facts and figures needed for his operations. “For all their whining, many of them have a direct line to Salem,” say the police.

Aji Dewani, star secretary to names like Manisha Koirala and Aftab Shivdasani, was said to be Salem’s mole when he was shot dead by rival gangs. Bit-role starlet Monica Bedi, who police claim is his peripatetic girlfriend, was allegedly another link. Bedi starred in David Dhawan’s hit comedy Jodi No.1 along with Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan and Rajiv Rai’s flop musical Pyaar, Ishq aur Mohabbat. Both roles allegedly came to her as a result of active recommendation from Salem.

His deep knowledge of and grip on the filmi terrain is a matter of envy for other big gangsters like Dawood and Shakeel. In fact, he was among the first to cotton on to the riches buried in the overseas distribution rights of NRI-oriented movies like Pardes and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Yash Chopra who produced the latter and Yash Johar who made Kuch Kuch Hota Hai were among those to whom he has issued threats for not parting with overseas rights.

After a point, Salem had obviously garnered enough clout, territory and ideas to break with his mentors. He broke from Dawood after his most notorious and brazen killing, the murder of Gulshan Kumar in 1997. That execution was reportedly organised without sufficient permission from Dawood. It was a brazen act, and it took Salem’s novice “boys” 17 bullets to gun down the tycoon in a rundown galli in suburban Andheri.

This is what galls the city police about Salem’s operations –– they are inefficient but they strike where it hurts the most. Salem may have learnt at the feet of mastermind criminals but he has evolved his own strategies. His moves are inefficiently planned and executed but they terrorise nevertheless. Unlike other gangs, he has no base in the city –– no network of lieutenants or dedicated sharpshooters since the killing four years ago of his men Salim Haddi and Rajesh Igwe.

The recruits come from the poor villages of UP, particularly from the impoverished Azamgarh area where he belongs. Job over, he offers them no security or base –– they either get killed or caught in encounters or escape back to anonymity in UP.

“At a time, he may hand over a lakh or so to one of his recruiting agents who will then scout around for impoverished youth who are desperate enough to kill for a pittance like Rs 2,500. They are given fancy imported guns and told, ‘paas jao aur goli maro’ (go close and shoot). Most of them don’t even know how to use a gun,” says a mafia crack team member.

Salem’s “games”, as they are labelled by the cops, in fact are so ludicrously put together that most times they flop. His failures are legion. Producers Rakesh Roshan, Rajiv Rai, Subhash Ghai, Manmohan Shetty and Anil Thadani are all men who owe their second lives to his messy techniques. Rai’s bodyguards saved his life and Roshan’s quick thinking foiled the assassins’ plans. However, Rai was terrified enough to move bag and baggage to the UK.

But Salem’s rootless style of functioning also makes it difficult to pin down the man and curb his operations. This is the second time that Salem has cocked a nook at law enforcement agencies in India. Back in 1997, he had been arrested by the Dubai police but had stalled extradition. His strategy is to get himself booked for some relatively small offence like forgery or cheating so that he has to be tried locally.

The city police hate giving the man credit for his criminal triumphs. “He is a small timer who will kill for any small sum. But we have sent all the others scurrying for cover. Salem is not going to last much longer,” says an officer. Bollywood can’t wait for the happy day.



Move ahead, not always left

Sir — “Buddha sacrifice to fight Delhi” (Oct 31) once again proves that old habits die hard, especially hard if it has to do with the leftist babus’ dealings with the mighty Centre. So after having set his state in order (really?), Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seems to have taken his potshot at the old enemy by vowing to make his own anti-crime ordinance far more soft than the Central ordinance on terrorism. Bravo! But will this do any good to West Bengal which is now milling with extremists? The month of November began with the killing of a leftist in Midnapore by suspected Naxalites. With the alleged grouping of Naxalites with the Trinamool Congress in the state, will a soft crime-buster legislation help our babus?

Yours faithfully,
J. Sen Sharma, Calcutta

The condemned

Sir — The killing of 16 Christians who were offering prayers in a church in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, is an example of the unrest that is being caused by the American air strikes on Afghanistan as well as Pervez Musharraf’s consistent doubletalk (“War swallows silent spectators”, Oct 29). On the one hand, Musharraf claims that there are no terrorists in Pakistan while on the other, he admits that the church killings were the work of terrorists.

His statement that “Islam provides full security to minorities and no Muslim can commit this crime” does not hold water. As the report points out, this is not the first time Christians have been attacked in Pakistan. There were widespread attacks against Christians in 1997 in the Punjab district. Perhaps to save face, Musharraf has also declined identifying the terrorists or the organization responsible for the carnage. By saying the attacks were intended to create disharmony in Pakistan, Musharraf has made a veiled reference to the probability of India sponsoring the attack. But he must realize that he cannot always change his tune to suit his purpose.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The church attacks in Pakistan are a direct outcome of the United States of America’s war against terrorism. Ironically, the war is taking too long without producing too many results. Muslims in Afghanistan and their brethren elsewhere quite justifiably feel that they are being punished for crimes committed by others. Just as Asians are being attacked abroad, there are bound to be attacks on foreigners by Asians. Or among Asians themselves, as the attacks on Christians indicate. Christians have been attacked because they are seen to symbolize US interests. The logic, though faulty, cannot be rectified. What can be done instead is to bring this war to an end as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,
M. Kumar, New Delhi

Sir — The immediate reaction of the Indian press to the attacks in Pakistan was to criticize Pervez Musharraf for his policies with regard to terrorism. Instead of focussing attention on Musharraf, we should concentrate on the persecution of people in a place of worship. Indians should also think before they point a finger at Pakistan. Only a few years ago, Graham Staines and his sons were mercilessly killed here.

Yours faithfully,
Dipannita Goswami, Calcutta

Organ failure

Sir — The report, “Two die a week after vasectomy” (Oct 19), talks about a disaster following the sterilizations conducted on 140 women at a camp in Cooch Behar. The procedure is known as tubectomy and not vasectomy as mentioned, the former being an operation on the fallopian tubes of the female internal genitalia, while the latter relates to the litigation of the vas deferens, a tubular structure that transports the seminal fluid in males. The vas is a male organ and is anatomically absent in females.

Yours faithfully,
A.B. Majumdar, Calcutta

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