Editorial 1/ Moscow prospect
Editorial 2/ Change of track
Shadow on the free press
Book Review/ An empty blaze of sunburn
Book Review/ A New York state of mind
Book Review/ How the West won
Book Review/ More experiments with truth
Bookwise/ The expenses of being important
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ MOSCOW PROSPECT 
 
 
 
 
The enduring stability of IndoRussian relations has once again been demonstrated during the visit of India’s prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpay ee, to Russia. Not only did Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Mr Vajpayee, as was expected, sign a joint declaration on terrorism, but they also displayed a re markable convergence of views on several key issues. Given the common threat that both Russia and India face from terrorism, and the growing global consensus, after September 11, against groups and states that sponsor ter rorism, the Moscow Declaration comes as no surprise. The declaration calls for the .completion of negotiations under United Nations. auspices on the draft Comprehen sive Convention on International Terrorism and the Con vention for the suppression of acts of Nuclear Terror ism., which India helped draft and sponsor. There is a clear recognition that an early adoption of these conven tions will help in strengthening the international legal basis for effectively combating the global menace of ter rorism. This is not the first time that India and Russia have put forward a common stand on terrorism. It may be recalled that during Mr Putin’s visit to India, both coun tries had agreed to coordinate their strategies to deal with the new form of religious terrorism that is seeking to subvert secular,multiethnic, pluralistic countries, of which India and Russia are among the largest. But Mr Va jpayee’s visit to Russia acquires significance not just for the common stand adopted against international terror ism. Both countries share an interest in a truly multi polar world order, and this was reflected in a joint state ment. The statement called for the creation of .a new co operative security order.. that could become the basis for such a world order.

New Delhi will be happy with the gains made on sever al other significant issues as well. Most important, Rus sia has recognized that India must be involved in a reso lution of the Afghanistan crisis, even while maintaining the importance of the UNsponsored .sixplustwo mech anism. consisting of Afghanistan’s six neighbours to gether with the United States of America and Russia. No less significantly, the progress made on the issue of coop eration in the field of nuclear energy has begun to yield tangible results. India and Russia signed a memorandum for constructing two atomic power plants of 1,000 megawatt capacity each in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu at an estimated cost of Rs 14,000 crore. Construction of the reactors is expected to begin by May next year and while India will finance 46 per cent of the construction cost of about $ 3 billion, the rest is to be raised on credit from Russia. Recall that the first agreement offer for the construction of the 2x1000 mw nuclear power stations was signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Mr Mikhail Gor bachev in November 1988. A contract for the preparation of a detailed project report was signed in Moscow on July 20, 1998. While the progress has been slow, it is heartening that despite international pressure Moscow has stuck to its commitments.

Apprehensions that New Delhi’s growing proximity to Washington may weaken its relationship with Moscow were clearly misplaced. Despite the changes in bilateral ties after the end of the Cold War, there is a continued convergence of bilateral interests that makes it prof itable for both India and Russia to maintain close ties. A Russian foreign office spokesman, quite appropriately defined the relationship as .problem free., .selfsuffi cient., .intransient. and not dependent on either Moscow or New Delhi’s relations with third countries.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ CHANGE OF TRACK 
 
 
 
 
Even the concept of fast track courts had generated enthusiasm. Now that they are becoming a reality, not just in faraway Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, but actually in West Bengal, there is hope.West Bengal’s pile of pending cases is enough to scare off the most optimistic.With three lakh cases pending before the Calcutta high court, the state could never have met the threeyear deadline for clearing backlog set by the Cen tre. The new fast track courts, the first one of which has just started operating in the city, is a really positive step. According to the Centre’s plan, there will be 54 more such courts set up in the city and districts within the next five months. Given that the judges will be chosen from exist ing appointees with a good record of disposing of cases fast, and that the courts will be primarily housed in exist ing courthouses, the Rs 10 crore allocated to the state for the purpose does not seem too inadequate.

The state desperately needs a fast track system.West Bengal cannot be very proud of its justice system in any of its major aspects. Cases are delayed, often for the tan gled red tape that precedes hearing, sometimes for a delay in filling up judges. appointments, and for the gen eral lackadaisical manner of functioning.Then there are the inevitable delays while a case is in progress, for which a lack of accountability on all sides can be held partly re sponsible. On the incarceration side, undertrial prison ers suffer untold agonies: activists have uncovered shameful statistics of undertrial prisoners held for years without a hearing. Neither is the state famed for its ten der treatment of prisoners. The coming of fast track courts can only be seen as a kind of boon. According to the Centre, these courts are most likely to benefit poor people, and also force moneyed people to continue with cases when they would rather delay them.Maybe it is not just poor people, but also litigants from the middle class es who will find fast track courts of enormous help.

   

 
 
SHADOW ON THE FREE PRESS 
 
 
ACHIN VANAIK
 
 
These are strange times. Wrong becomes right and evil becomes virtue. Septem ber 11 is, of course, terror ism, but killing people in Afghanistan who have no responsibility for what happened then, is not terror ism, just .unfortunate. deaths in pur suit of a just cause. After all, the govern ment of the United States of America does not intend to kill civilians though it does intend to carry out actions which it knows will kill civilians and even ration alizes this away beforehand.

Whatever happened to that elemen tary principle of justice whereby it is not permissible to endanger or kill inno cents in pursuit of those who are guilty, let alone those simply suspected of being guilty? Political terrorism is, at the very minimum, the pursuit of political inter ests through actions that threaten to kill or actually kill civilians and therefore describes the behaviour of the US state as well as of al Qaida.

But the attempt at double standards does not stop here. The US remains un punished for, and unrepentant about, using nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has the worst record of most frequently resorting to attempted nuclear blackmail against nonnuclear states. It has built an .overkill. stockpile that no sane notion of nuclear deter rence can possibly justify. It now wishes to nuclearize and militarize space through a new Star Wars programme.

It refuses to specifically outlaw the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Afghanistan (indeed rightwing con gressmen are calling for its actual use to set a precedent) and feels free to prepare contingency plans for knocking out an other country’s nuclear arsenal on the grounds of suspected .irrationality. of its opponents. But, it seems, the US is somehow a responsible nuclear power unlike fundamentalist Islamic groups who might come to power in Pakistan.

On the whole, with the exception of a small dissident minority, the electronic and print media in the democracies have promoted, rather than contested, such double standards. The CNN’s top hierarchy not only censors the pictures from the al Jazeera network but tells its newscasters to slant their messages by restricting coverage of civilian deaths and pushing the blame for this not on American bombings which do the actual killings, but on the taliban who are supposed to be responsi ble for September 11 and thereby for all evil that happens in its aftermath.

Even if evidence about links between certain taliban leaders and the culprits behind the September 11 attacks were provided, it would still not justify these attacks on a sovereign country. But even this evidence hasn.t been provided and still nobody is raising any embarrassing queries about the illegality or arbitrari ness of the US reaction. Number 10, Downing Street in the United Kingdom calls a meeting of newspaper and broad casting executives asking them not to print or voice statements by Osama bin Laden and not to show pictures of dead or wounded civilians in Afghanistan. A few media workers are appalled at this attempted censorship but most are pre pared to go along.

This is a disgraceful state of affairs. However, there is always the tried and tested .relativist. formula for deflecting criticism and condemnation on this score . after all, the Western democra cies still have the freest press compared to all other countries. But the fact is that mainstream journalism (which is over whelmingly the dominant form of pub lic discourse) even in the democracies, remains decisively shaped by the powers that be. When the most crucial tests of integrity are posed by world events, the vast majority of media profession als/workers adopt the role of the faithful servitors of power, not of speaking truth to power.

In this respect they are no different from the bulk of the intelligentsia, some thing that we are constantly reminded of by Noam Chomsky, currently in India and soon to visit Calcutta. The funda mental, if often unspoken, rationale for adopting this posture is the presumption that when the chips are down the media must, above all, serve the .national interest..

We do not have to go far afield to find confirmation of this. Look at our own media. The English language dailies can never seriously influence voting pat terns but they enjoy a very significant and disproportionate influence at two levels. First, the Central government rec ognizes their impact on the Indian elite and therefore takes them very seriously when it comes to seeking legitimization and endorsement of policies. Second, the nonEnglish language press sees this .national. media as the source of the most serious and sophisticated discus sion on issues of national and interna tional import,which then shapes its own editorial perspectives and discursive output.

In this context, what three editors of English language dailies and a former editorturnedgovernment minister have had to say on television and in print about the US’s war on Afghanistan and about the general role and responsibility of journalists and journalism become both important and revealing. One such editor in his weekly Sunday column in sists that the US war is just and contemp tuously dismisses views to the contrary. But he provides no support for his posi tion in terms of international law, evi dentiary arguments pertaining to the culpability of those responsible for the September 11 actions, nor serious moral reasoning. Another editor refers on tele vision to the unavoidable .collateral damage. that will have to accompany the just retribution being meted out by the US.

The minister talked admiringly of how the journalists of a super power like the US were showing such solid support for its actions. In other words, they were not raising un comfortable objections to its human rights record. If only Indian journalists would show a similar sense of national ism. It hardly comes as a surprise that this same minister should also publicly support the prevention of terrorism or dinance as a way to establishing a strong state.

The state is no longer meant to pre serve or strengthen democracy but dem ocratic rights must be sacrificed to serve the state. When the TV anchorperson suggested to the minister that the jour nalist’s primary responsibility could not be .national loyalty. but accuracy and balance in reportage and analysis, the editor with him came to the rescue. He stated that there was no such conflict and that one could be both patriotic and accurately fulfil one’s professional re sponsibilities. Indeed, in crunch situa tions, such as a war like Kargil,when In dians are dying, patriotism must guide one’s journalistic responsibilities. By that token we can expect the journalists belonging to nations in conflict between themselves tailor their accounts of the same war to support their respective governments. So where do we go from here?

There is a central issue raised by war for journalists and journalism. Can there be an objective position from which one seeks to report and analyse such situations? The answer to this is no. In the very selection of facts and in their presentation there will always be an in terpretive framework which shows bias. But if complete absence of bias is never possible it is also vital to understand that not all biases are equal, that there is more and less error, more and less objec tivity, even if there can never be perfect objectivity.

What then is the interpretive framework that must guide the journalist? The finest, most ho nourable tradition of democratic, hon est journalism demands that the pre mier commitment of journalists be to universal principles of human rights and justice which by their very nature must cut across all national loyalties. If this basic injunction of the classical En lightenment concept of journalism and of the role of the intelligentsia was being observed,what we would be reading, see ing and hearing about September 11 and its aftermath would have been very dif ferent indeed from what we have had and are likely to continue having.

The author has recently coauthored the book,South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ AN EMPTY BLAZE OF SUNBURN 
 
 
CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
 
HOTEL HONOLULU
By Paul Theroux,
Hamish Hamilton, £ 10.99

A 49yearold author has heaved himself off to Hawaii in search of a new life, having lost wives, money, houses, land, books, and suffering from an ad vanced stage of the writer’s block. He is appointed manager of Hotel Honolulu, a lurid cliché of a coconut paradise. Actually it is 80 rooms nib bled by rats, as seedy, as debauched and as full of life as Buddy, the hotel’s owner, .a reckless millionaire with the values of a delinquent., .a rascal in the Pacific..

So the selfexiled author of Paul Theroux’s novel, Hotel Honolulu, who is also the narrator, feels that in settling down in Hawaii and not writ ing, he is making some vital connec tion with life. But it’s not so easy . a writer’s and a mainlander’s condi tioning is deep. He cannot turn his back fully . he has to keep his nose buried in Anna Karenina .for oxy gen.. .Hawaii was a sunny, lovely place, but for an alien like me it was no more than an empty blaze of sun burn until I found love.. Therefore, he quickly finds himself a wife, a pretty woman who is the product of a onenightstand between the hotel’s resident hooker and, er, President Kennedy.

But then the hotel starts acting on him, like a slow, heady cocktail, with just the right amount of tang, and before he knows, he is hit. Because .nothing to me is so erotic as a hotel room, and therefore so penetrated with life and death.. As the hotel man ager, he becomes the keeper of many lives; forced to see them from very close, like bedroom se crets revealed through a keyhole.

There’s Buddy, the biggest story. He is a dirty old man like Falstaff not only with his appetites (.Mas turbation takes points off your IQ each time.Hey, I could have been a genius.) . but also in his refusal to die.He spreads the rumour of his own death and bounces back, to die finally.

There’s Madam Ma, the society columnist,who, it turns out, had made a sexslave out of her own son. Then there’s Royce Lionberg,who starts off in Hawaii as the happiest man in the world, but falls in love. The Lionberg episode is like a bril liant short story,which cuts like Katherine Mansfield.s The Fly with its subtlety, precision and danger.

The stories help our writer.As they unfold all around him, they save him with their curious intimacy, known to be a good cure for writers afflicted with blocks. So predictably, he learns to write again.

Theroux writes lavishly and voluptuously . there’s more sex in the book than in Baywatch.He writes generously, too. It is difficult to believe that the same man had written The Great Railway Bazaar,where the travellerwriter, writing as himself (or somewhat like his erstwhile mentor Sir Vidia), would take immense pains to point out that in visiting a country he was under no obligation to be polite about it.

In this novel, Theroux the sharp shooting traveller is gone; a veteran of 20odd books now, Theroux the novelist writes with compassion of a man in search of a home. Like al ways, though, he writes coarsely, grainily, leaving a raw taste in the mouth. But one wishes he didn.t in dulge his love for paradoxes so much.

A writer getting to write again after abdicating authorial responsi bility is all right, but what about this? The writer is on the beach, look ing at women. .I found myself star ing at the small tidy panel between the women’s legs, staring in fact at nothing but space, for there was nothing to see, nothing specific, just a wrinkle, a labial smile in the smoothness, for a bikini bottom was both a vortex and a vanishing point.. Really.

Theroux also gets a bit too ram bling at times, introducing charac ters more than once. It doesn.t seem to be by design . it looks like he just forgot. Such small things aside, Hotel Honolulu is a delicious spread. It’s a laidback treat, to be savoured slowly, under a beach umbrella, or any where.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND 
 
 
SUPRIYA CHAUDHURI
 
 
FURY
By Salman Rushdie,
Jonathan Cape, Rs 395

The cover of Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Fury, shows storm clouds massed over the New York skyline, sym bolically represented by that great 20th century icon, the Empire State Building. The taller twin towers of the World Trade Center can not be seen from the photographer’s perspective. It is possible that the photograph was itself taken from one of the towers, which would then constitute the space outside the frame which makes the perspective possible. But in the few months since the book’s release those towers have disappeared, effaced from the Manhattan skyline as suddenly and violently as if they had been struck by a fury greater than anything Rushdie could imagine. The horror of that event casts a shadow of an unforeseen kind over a novel in which Rushdie’s imagination seems also to have failed him.

This is a novel of midlife crisis. Its hero, Pro fessor Malik Solanka, philosopher and doll maker, is a thinlydisguised version of Rushdie himself.Overtaken, in the midst of apparent suc cess and fulfilment, by dark impulses towards vi olence and destruction (the Furies of the title), Professor Solanka leaves his loving wife and child and flees to New York to renew his life. There he embarks on successive relationships with two women, the first drawing out a new vein of fantasy in him which makes him a hugely suc cessful cyberfabulist, the second an improbably beautiful mediaperson of Indian origin from a South Sea island (clearly a version of Rushdie’s present love, Padma Lakshmi). Meanwhile, the Furies continue to assail him: he has blackouts during which he fears he may be responsible for a series of terrible murders, he feels guilt and longing for his abandoned son, and he recovers distressing memories of his early childhood in Bombay. Imperceptibly, too, he is drawn into the fantasyworlds he has created, both through the dollprotagonists of his past, and the cyberhe roes of his present fictions. His personal rela tionships collapse into bathos and betrayal, his life is again overtaken by disaster.

Love itself, it finally appears, is the Fury that drives Malik Solanka to extremities of suffering and want. Perhaps this is what Rushdie wants to tell us about his own life, but the message is over laid by many others. As a result, this is the most insistently allegorical of Rushdie’s novels, never missing an opportunity to drive home the sym bolism of dolls, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, sex or race.New York dominates its cultural con sciousness. Rushdie appears still to be suffering the touristy intoxication with the news, gossip, speed, crowds, vigour and exhibitionism of his new home which he celebrated in The Ground Beneath her Feet, though now there is an acrid edge to his enjoyment, as though he had crunched his teeth on the worm in the Big Apple.

Unsettlingly,what is finally memorable about the novel is its portrayal of Solanka’s broken marriage, of the disturbing upsurge of senti ment that draws him to his son, of the cruelty that he shows to his wife. This is unexpected, for Rushdie has always used fantasy as escape and consolation. The pain of realist representation, of which he is also capable, is usually subsumed into the impersonal terrors and satisfactions of fable and allegory. Normally, the brilliance of his writing and of his imaginative transformation of categories of knowledge is sufficient to hold our attention, to divert us from the still unre solved problems at the heart of his fiction. Fury, too, is compulsively readable, though flagging somewhat in its second half. But its problems are all on the surface: there is no longer any recess in which they might have been hidden. As a thera peutic exercise this may be admirable: as a novel it does not work.

There is much here that is frankly embar rassing: the overdone dollsymbolism; the Elian ClintonMonica gossip; New York’s social life; the quasiincestuous relationship Solanka em barks on with his admirer Mila Milo, an animat ed version of his dollcreation Little Brain; the nobrainish hyperboles of Solanka’s infatuation with the beautiful Neela Mahendra; the techno futurist success of his cybercreation, the Puppet Kings site; and the conflation of Neela’s wished for revolution (on her native island) with the re volt of Solanka’s imagined cyborgs. Moreover, there is a wearying effort to include everything that has recently been in the news: Star Wars, Fiji, Yugoslavia, the American presidential elec tion, serial killers. Over this insistently contem porary panorama broods the outdated, some what fussy personality of Solanka, still attached by a tenuous umbilical cord to that very same Methwold’s Estate in Bombay which produced the legendary Saleem Sinai of Midnight’s Children.

Since I have now summarized virtually the entire novel, it may be asked whether its reader is constantly squirming in discomfort. Not quite: there is a certain power in Rushdie’s compulsive exhibitionism, even in his selfindulgence. As a character, Malik Solanka lacks charm: but his predicament is genuinely painful, often direly comic. The bathos of his sexual misadventures comes through with unexpected honesty. In his linen suit and straw Panama, he is a Prufrockian figure, though with fewer inhibitions. His career, moreover, brings him into contact with many other parodic types. Notable among these is his Cambridge friend Krysztof, or Dubdub, con ceived in an Old Etonian and John le Carreish idiom. It is Dubdub who, early in the story, pro poses to write either a Kafkaesque novel that might be called .Fury., or a commercial success entitled .Valley of the Dollybirds..

It would be quite unfair to Rushdie to suggest that his own novel combines Kafka with Jacque line Susann.That the possibility occurred to him is a reminder of his ironic capacity to see beyond the limits of his creations.Even Fury, with all its flaws, is marked by a kind of genius. That its strength lies more in sentiment than in inven tion might indicate a new possibility for Rushdie, after the fury of midlife crisis has passed.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ HOW THE WEST WON 
 
 
KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
WAR: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
By Jeremy Black,
Sutton, £ 20

The rise in the military presence of the West in the AfroAsian world is a much studied theme. The publication of Geoffrey Parker’s The Military Revolution in 1988 start ed the trend. Parker and his followers argue that infantry equipped with firearms and supported by artillery enabled Europe to extend its influence outside the continent from the early modern age.

However, there is a caveat. Since 1450, the so called Western way of war fare has failed repeatedly in China, Vietnam, Afghanistan and in large parts of Africa. Jeremy Black exam ines the limits of Western warfare. He challenges the assumptions of struc turalists like Parker who believe that social, cultural and institutional char acteristics of the Europeans that left their imprint on their technologyori ented society and capitalist economy gave the people a military superiority in the long run. For Black, Western military supremacy was not absolute and given, but ad hoc and episodic.

One way of looking at it is to exam ine the Western techniques of con ducting warfare. PostRenaissance Europe witnessed the emergence of volley firing in line formation. It meant that all the infantry soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder fired si multaneously. And this concentrated firepower wiped out the firepower de ficient AfroAsian armies.

However, during 1900, the British army in South Africa found out that volley firing in line formation was useless against the mounted Boer commandos who fought in a dispersed manner. Since the Boers, armed with rifles, emphasized individual mark manship, they were able to pick up a large number of British officers. Fac ing defeat, the British army absorbed the nonEuropean technique of indi vidual firing. And during the two world wars, the European infantry, armed with rifles, focussed on individ ual markmanship while fighting in a scattered manner. Thus, writes Black, .Western warfare. was able to survive and rejuvenate itself by judi ciously absorbing nonWestern tacti cal formulas.

Black further challenges the con cept of military revolution as devel oped by Michael Roberts and Parker. The core of their thesis is the superi ority of Western technology, that is, gunpowder weaponry is seen as the key factor behind Western mili tary success in the nonWestern world. However, Black’s case study of British imperial warfare in India during the 18th and early 19th cen turies point out that the East India Company’s military success was mainly due to the induction of the subcontinent’s military manpower as sepoys and the hiring of light Muslim cavalry.

Following Parker’s line, Western military theorists towards the end of the 20th century coined the term .rev olution. in military affairs to explain the American armed forces. acquisi tion of latest war technologies, espe cially in the fields of software and in formation technology.

However, rightly warns Black, the American way of warfare is not om nipotent. Even in the case of a mili tary armed with hitech weapons sys tems, human casualties are bound to occur, especially since combating in surgencies require protracted ground operations involving many casualties. But, the Western societies are unable and unwilling to accept the burden of maintaining large armies and accept human casualties. Conscription has been abolished in most European countries. The sizes of the standing armies are getting smaller. In fact, it was the fear of body bags that discour aged the Americans from deploying ground troops in Kosovo, 1998.

Black concludes by saying that the principal failure of Western warfare lies at the conceptual level. Western military theory regards war as a con flict between the standing armies of two states. But this Clausewitzian def inition fails to account for the low in tensity operations conducted by the stateless marginal groups. Hence, the American military technology geared for conventional war will fail to meet low intensity threats that will become common in the near future.

Black’s survey of more than a half millennium enrich our understand ing of the evolution of warfare and its future.He rightly points out that West ern military expansion has been hap hazard and limited. And it would be so in the future.This was recently proved in Kosovo and might be proved again in Afghanistan.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ MORE EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH 
 
 
RUPA BAJWA
 
 
GANDHIíS PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
By Glyn Richards,
Oxford, Rs 295

The literature available on Gand hi is vast and exhaustive. There are all sorts of it . the analyti cal, the critical, the eulogizing, the dryly academic, and the completely uncritically accepting. Unfortunately, this book is a cross between the last two.

The first chapter begins with the line, .To understand Gandhi’s think ing on education, or any other aspect of his philosophy, it is necessary to be aware of what he means by Truth.. The rest of the chapter, and in fact all the following chapters, continue to talk about Gandhi’s philosophy in a painstakingly thorough manner, which often becomes repetitive. The tone remains mildly, monotonously appreciative, making for a slightly boring read.

Glyn Richards holds forth on Gandhi’s ideas at length,and how they are connected to his views on educa tion.He then goes on to mention other social and educational reformers of Gandhi’s time . Tagore, Tilak, Gokhale . and tries to relate their views to Gandhi’s philosophy. So far, so good. The problem lies in the fact that instead of a historical insight into the interaction and exchange between reformers and intellectuals of the time, what comes across is an attempt to project Gandhi’s max ims on almost everything and every one.

Richards even makes sweeping statements, especially about Tagore’s connection with Gandhi. He quotes Tagore as saying, .In the history of man, moments have come when we have heard the music of God’s life touching man’s life in perfect harmo ny.. Then he goes on to explain how this tenuous abstraction, which can have just about any meaning for any individual, .is in line with Gandhi’s teachings!.

The two did share a vision of free dom, they did have a robust intellectu al exchange, but they also questioned each other. In October 1921, Tagore published The Call of Truth in The Modern Review, in which he ex pressed his doubts about some of Gandhi’s ideas. These differences be tween the two always remained, and their exchange was made all the more important by these differences and by this questioning. Tagore was never in complete, unconditional agreement with everything that Gandhi said, as Richards seem to imply.

Surprisingly, Richards has not tried to relate Gandhi’s philosophy of education to the present educational system in India and the social reality it reflects. the rigid educational sys tem, the obsession with high marks, the lack of enquiry, the privileged position of the English language in education. Especially the last, about which Gandhi had plenty to say. To explore the tangled links between edu cation, philosophy, politics and lan guage is very important today.

An unquestioning acceptance and endorsement of everything that Gandhi said about education is basi cally what this book does. It is neither a critique of his philosophy, nor does it address the present educational situation in India.

In which case, the whole exercise of taking a closer look at the issue be comes futile and inwardlooking. It be comes a list of Gandhi’s rules and ser mons and reads like a rambling pontif ication on truth, labour, religion, sar vodaya, swaraj and all those motifs that usually occur in any text about Gandhi. There are no relevant com ments, no confrontation or negotia tion with the theories as they stand today. Richards just deepens the di vide between the past and the present.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE/ THE EXPENSES OF BEING IMPORTANT 
 
 
RAVI VYAS
 
 
Once upon a time, you first wrote a worthwhile book before being crowned a celebrity. Going by the num ber of .celeb. books now, the proce dure seems to have been reversed. First celebrity, then the book.Why else do you suppose Bill Clinton receives an advance of $10 million for a mem oir that even his publisher and any discerning reader knows will be a long and smiling lie including ( to borrow Mary McCarthy’s description of Lil lian Hellman’s writing) .and. and .the.. But there is no point cribbing about it because publishers will al ways accept .celeb. books, the press will always report juicy bits of what Madonna has to say about the Brazil ian rain forest or Brigitte Bardot on the secret language of dogs. And a gullible public will think that the pub lisher has made another killing. But does he make money or even break even? And if he does not, why does he accept time and again?

When you give an advance of $10 million or even a tenth of that amount, there is simply no way a pub lisher can make money if the sums are done right. Look at the itemized breakdown of costs. First, the print ing has to be of the order of 250,000 copies, instead of a modest 100,000 copies to begin with. Second, the inter est on the advance would have to be added on to the manufacturing costs which would be reflected in the in creased price of the book.Third,ware housing costs would have to be fac tored in because storage costs have gone up enormously in recent years.

Whichever way you look at it, pub lishers are up against preposterous odds. Despite the .wellknownness. of the author, book buyers know that what a celebrity has to say is of less consequence than what they could find on the editorial pages of the na tional press. Besides, the sheer num ber of books on offer and the efforts of other publishers to push their own en sure that sales won.t come easy.With inadequate physical space in book shops competition has also become that much stiffer now.

Sadly, despite repeated failures, publishers have not quite realized that there are more celebrities today than ever before. There are two basic rea sons for this. First, the rise of mass media has generated a whole clutch of them . names and faces are needed to fill the maws of the new media and keep audiences interested. Film stars, athletes, artists, journalists and so cialites are seized up and exploited. Images are required but images are disposable and therefore new images shunt old images aside. Second, no matter how deeply they are stuck in our consciousness, time will always unstick them. All our heroes of the Eighties and early Nineties are no more than cultural footnotes now. If all this is common sense or can be learned within a few months of enter ing the profession, why do publishers persist in getting celebrities, who, sooner or later, are bound to bomb? The basic reason is that there is not such a great amount of intellectual talent floating around in the world. This is as true of India as of the West; publishers have to make do with what is available. Celebrities, almost all of whom have their books ghostwritten, are a relatively easy source to tap. Some celebrity publishers also believe that their reputations could be made by the advances they pay and the num ber of times they are reported in the press and not on the solid achieve ment of sales. Of course this doesn.t make sense but that’s the way some people think!

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Middle age, murder and mutiny

DANGERLOK
By Eunice de Souza
(Penguin, Rs 150)

Dangerlok by Eunice de Souza is a quietly readable novel. It is a slim, ìslice of lifeî fantasia, mixing several forms of writing ó third person narrative, monologue, letters, poems ó to represent the inner and outer lives of a single and middleaged EngLit lecturer living in Mumbai. In this, Rina Ferreira is a reasonably successful cross between Bridget Jones and Clarissa Dalloway, musing (with cigarettes and jungli tea) on life, poetry, the corner of the city she loves to hate and on the eponymous ìdangerlokî, her baiís favourite word: ìItís a word sheís made up and covers all occasions. Dangerous people, tiresome people, people she doesnít like.î Rina also writes regularly to an old flame, David, in America who calls up to talk about his girlfriends when sober and to profess his love for her when half drunk. Rueful and amusing, de Souza achieves an odd serenity without lapsing into feelgood. ¦

MURDER IN THE PETTAH
By Jeanne Cambrai
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Murder in the Pettah by Jeanne Cambrai is a potentially stylish whodunit set in contemporary Sri Lanka. It should have been cut to about half its size. The Pettah is one of the oldest sections of Colombo and ìno stranger to murderî. The body of a young English girl is found here, and her unsavoury father offers ìCVî the job of uncovering the layers of deceit and lies to get to the murderer.

AWADH IN REVOLT, 1857 1858: A STUDY OF POPULAR RESISTANCE
By Rudrangshu Mukherjee
(Permanent Black, Rs 295)

Awadh in Revolt, 1857 1858: A study of popular resistance by Rudrangshu Mukherjee is the first paperback edition of the authoritative reference on the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Mukherjeeís 1984 monograph had taken the historiography of the uprising beyond the ìmental crampî of descriptive categorizing toward ìquestions of social composition and material backgroundî. He chooses Awadh because it brings out most dramatically the popular character of the revolt: ìIt was a remarkable feature of the uprising in Awadh that the people as a whole rose in arms against the British raj...Prince, talukdar, peasant and sepoy, their many worlds and their many histories were brought together in 1857.î In studying the ìmany overlapping strands, the emotive intensity, and the interconnectionsî underlying this struggle, Mukherjee acknowledges two ìformative intellectual influencesî: the writings of Eric Stokes and the ìhistory from belowî approach of E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill and others. His new introduction to this edition lucidly sketches in the perspectives opened up subsequently by the work of the subaltern historian, Ranajit Guha, on peasant insurgency in colonial India. A valuable book, elegantly designed, although the original jacket designed by Satyajit Ray is missed here. Perhaps the bibliography could have been updated as well.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

With god on its side

Sir . With the assembly polls approaching in Uttar Pradesh, dif ferent parties are desperate to rope in voters (.Sonia stalwarts go shrinehopping., Nov 5). In this race, the lead has been taken by the Samajwadi Party, which will have the charismatic personality of Amitabh Bachchan campaigning for the party. Unfortunately, the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi,was left with no other option and is depending on the experience of a person such as Zainul Abideen.But the Congress certainly understands the intricacies of party politics much better than the rest. Keeping an eye on the vote bank of the minorities in the state, party stalwarts like Ghulam Nabi Azad are hopping from one dargah to another.Winning over the Mus lim support may give an added advantage to the Congress. As expected, Gandhi did not forget about the nonBharatiya Janata Party Hindu faction and is pinning her hopes on them.The Congress might just sweep the UP polls especially with god on its side.
Yours faithfully,
R. Sharma, Calcutta

Terror in a democracy

Sir . The decision of the Indian gov ernment to go ahead with the prevention of terrorism ordinance is disappointing. It seems from reports that the POTO is more dangerous than the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. The alarming part of the new ordinance is that even the media is not being spared (.Terror ordinance gag on freedom of ex pression., Oct 26). The reporters of vari ous news agencies could be detained under POTO if they fail to disclose the whereabouts of the terrorist organiza tions. This is a violation of individual rights and should not be implemented in a democracy.

The problem of terrorism has a more complex history and the mere passing of an ordinance would not strike at the very base of the menace.

Yours faithfully,
Sachindra Nath Mitra, Calcutta

Sir . All freedom of expression would go for a toss if POTO is made into a law. Besides granting unlimited freedom to the police, POTO would prevent the jour nalists to publish a proterrorist view point. The only exception to this strict law would be the lawyers, engaged in the defence of terrorists. Surprisingly, the In dian press has not opposed POTO.

There has been a scurry of protest against the .strong. Central ordinance not only from the opposition but also from the allies. The interesting exception to this has been the Trinamool Congress leader,Mamata Banerjee (.Tadabaiter Mamata sees little harm in clone., Oct 30). Earlier, she was the most vocal against TADA but has now chosen to ex tend her support to the Bharatiya Janata Partyled government. This leads one to suspect that she does not want to figure in the bad books of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. More so after the fi asco revolving around her return to the National Democratic Alliance.

Although, the proponents of the law promise to be careful with its implemen tation, they fail to thwart fears on the misuse of the ordinance. This issue needs some serious thinking by the legal authorities before its actual implementation.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyani Bhattacharya, via email

Sir . With regard to POTO, the Centre seems to have no idea of the root causes of insurgency in India. First, a thorough research should be undertaken to pin point the circumstances which turn an an individual into a terrorist. This would make it easier for the authorities to find solutions and properly rehabilitate the militants. Second, instead of arming it self with an ordinance, the government needs to revalue its policies for Kashmir and the Northeast. Governments in the past are also equally responsible for the rise of insurgency in India.A better un derstanding of the grievances of the mil itants would do the government more good than introducing a draconian law like POTO.

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Ray, Calcutta

Lazy liberals

Sir . The article, .Under God’s Yoke.(Oct 20), is a fine testimony to what wellmeaning, but uncritical, liberalism might lead to: a premature evaluation of a given situation. In this case, religion is the issue that is being discussed and Prat ap Bhanu Mehta’s two central premises . that religion breeds abstract passions and abstraction leads to selfsurrender . betray a gross simplification, both histor ically and philosophically. Religion, both in the West and in India, has often been successfully utilized for social purposes. One figure that comes to mind is that of Gerrard Winstanley, the early modern English materialmystic,who envisaged a social setup based on a nondestructive millenarian vision.

Religious philosophy and phenome nology, peasant studies, anthropology or the whole microhistory tradition will tes tify to a similar liberal, yet material, tra dition. In India and in central America . even in the 20th century . not all mil lenarian movements germinated from .collective narcissism.. Indeed, religion has often been used for the wrong rea sons. But the halfhearted liberal tenden cy to club religion willynilly with right ist motivations is lazy and unscholarly.

Yours faithfully,
G. Singh, via email

Sir . Pratap Bhanu Mehta has made a glaringly faulty generalization in assum ing that the Enlightenment hope was just to give religion, ritual and such other .nonrational. tendencies a .residual space.. This is a myth that has long been exploded. Enlightenment, or for that mat ter, any period in history, is no more seen as an .episteme. that acts to fulfill its Zeitgeist. Mehta’s conclusion that reli gion has been increasingly privatized has no historical basis.

Yours faithfully,
M.O. Gambo, via email

Lame excuses

Sir . The imbroglio about the reported detention of the Mumbai don, Abu Salem, in a Sharjah hotel, turned out to be a farce (.Delhi stirs out of Salem diplomatic slumber., Oct 30). This was essentially because of the inept and cal lous handling of the situation by both the Centre and the Maharashtra govern ment. In the wake of the ongoing war against global terrorism by the United States of America, India made a lot of noise about how it would deal with the situation. The Abu Salem episode shows a different picture altogether. The Centre was unable to make out a case against Salem and also failed miserably on the diplomatic front. To make matters worse, the Central Bureau of Investigation, in an attempt to cover up its own failure, de nied the news of the arrest. After all this, the Indian government should not even think of declaring its undying support to fight terrorism in the international arena.A lot remains to be done to put its own house in order.
Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Durgapur

Sir . The Indian home ministry is hav ing a tough time handling a sensitive issue like terrorism. Not only is it facing difficulty in passing the new ordinance at home, the ministry has bungled up the extradition case involving Salem, wanted for crimes such as the Mumbai blast. The funny part of the story is that it was the American investigators who tapped the call Abu Salem apparently made to dema nd international rights for an Aamir Khan film. The efficiency of the US offi cials has raised questions regarding the competence of their Indian counterparts. This has found an embarrassed governm ent making lame excuses.

Yours faithfully,
P. Maitra, Calcutta

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