Editotial 1/ Storm in trade cup
Editorial 2/ Last trick
Natural allies in the making
Book Review/ Look into the nest of vipers
Book Review/ Brahminís bluff
Book Review/ A musical revolution
Book Review/ Universal themes in literature
Editorís choice/ Spy who came in from the embassy
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

The fight in Doha is over. Negotiations (the word round is not used) will begin in January 2002 and conclude in January 2005, with a fifth ministerial conference taking stock in between. Negotiations on dispute settlement will however conclude in May 2003. If Indiaís initial stance of opposing negotiations is taken at face value and not interpreted as public posturing, disaster has struck. However, in the fallback position, India switched to the more sensible position of not opposing talks per se, but opposing specific items for inclusion in the agenda. Among contentious issues in Doha were implementation, trade-related intellectual property rights, agriculture, environment, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation, investment and competition policy, apart from the sense of developing countries and less developed countries being bypassed in the World Trade Organizationís decision making processes. On the last, there is now a sentence in the ministerial, stating that the WTO processes will become more transparent. Implementation means implementation problems faced by developing countries and LDCs, as well as denial of market access (promised in the Uruguay Round) by developed countries. To address the concerns of developing countries and LDCs, the ministerial conference has adopted a decision on implementation. So far as market access is concerned, there will be negotiations on industrial tariffs, agriculture, services and TRIPs.

Given the furore over AIDS and the South African and Brazilian cases, this dilution was expected.With impending elections in France, the French were understandably upset about liberalizing agriculture in general and phasing out agricultural export subsidies in particular.While agricultural negotiations and liberalization have been agreed to, the European Union has insisted on the quid pro quo of negotiations on environment. This is not an outcome developing countries will be happy with. Labour standards are not on anyoneís agenda now. But resistance to environmental negotiations and the sense that environmental standards act as a guise for protectionism cut across all developing countries. On the positive side, developing countries should be happy that transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation, investment and competition policy have been kept out. These will be considered at the fifth ministerial conference, after which negotiations are almost certain.

While Mr Murasoli Maran will come back to much acclaim at having succeeded in keeping these four areas out (qualified by the inclusion of environment), there is the point that negotiations and externally imposed commitments in these areas would have been good for India. For instance, transparency in government procurement will help to limit several procurement-related scandals, and competition policy is desirable from the point of view of small-sized Indian firms that have to face competition from large-scale multinationals that sometimes indulge in unfair and restrictive business practices, not to speak of cross-border mergers and acquisitions.However, with the present economic malaise in India, the WTO is a favourite whipping boy, even though most economic problems have nothing to do with the WTO. One fear is that the WTO agenda might fall a victim to the elections in Uttar Pradesh. In India, politics always overrides economic sense.


It has long been a truism of Indian politics that the national and the provincial pull in different political directions. The Bharatiya Janata Party is at the head of the National Democratic Alliance, the coalition which rules India. But it would appear that in Uttar Pradesh, Indiaís largest state and soon to go to the polls, the BJP will not stay with its allies and with the commitments that hold the NDA together. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had decided not to issue a separate manifesto; it had preferred to work with a common minimum programme agreed upon by the NDA. One consequence of such a consensus was the dropping of divisive issues like the Ram mandir, the uniform civil code and the abrogation of Article 376. But in UP, in the run-up to the elections, the BJP has decided that it will not work within the discipline of the NDA. It has decided to announce its own manifesto, and the BJP chief in UP, Mr Kalraj Mishra, has been assigned the responsibility of forming a manifesto committee. This presages a decision within the BJP to fight the elections alone or to form alliances and understandings with political parties which are not members of the NDA.

In UP, the BJP electorally is not in a very happy position. It has been somewhat sidelined by the emergence of caste based political parties in the state.The determining players in elections in UP, and therefore in the stateís politics, are the Samajwadi Party of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Ms Mayavati.The BJP with its predominantly upper caste vote base fights for the third or the fourth place with the Congress.At the national level, thanks to the initiative of the prime minister,Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the pressures of maintaining a broad-based coalition, the BJP has moved away from the politics of Hindutva and the influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. One fallout of this is the loss of the BJPís unique ideological identity. This has further diminished the BJPís support base. One way it can regain some of its lost base is by resurrecting the Hindutva card. The partyís decision to have its own manifesto may be read as a sign that it is irrevocably moving in that direction.


An unfortunate aspect of Atal Bihari Vajpayeeís justconcluded visit to Washington was the relatively low public profile of the prime ministerís day-long activities in Capitol Hill on the first day of his stay in Americaís capital.

It is perhaps inevitable that when a meeting with the president of the United States of America tops the prime ministerís agenda, followed by a joint press conference covered live by the major television networks around the world, Vajpayeeís meetings with American lawmakers naturally receives less attention and publicity.

It would be a mistake if such a low profile deflected attention either at Raisina Hill or at the Indian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue from the importance . more than ever now . for India of actively engaging the US congress.

Capitol Hill provides important pointers to where US policies, be it domestic or external, are headed. More often than not, discussions and hearings at committees of the senate and the house of representatives reveal what the White House and the rest of the administration are trying to hide.

In the current, post-September 11 context of fighting terrorism, it is sometimes forgotten that it was the congress which last year exposed efforts by the administration to placate the taliban and cut deals with the militiaís reclusive leadership, including Mohammed Omar. Again, it was on Capitol Hill that the administrationís efforts in 1996 to virtually recognize the Pakistan-sponsored student militia as the legitimate government in Afghanistan was seriously and successfully challenged.

A detailed analysis of congressional activity on the day Vajpayee arrived in Washington provide straws in the wind about the controversy which erupted last week over an American proposal for a .military alliance. with India.

When the story about the proposal broke on the day Vajpayee met the American president, George W. Bush, the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, described it as nothing less than .pure fiction..

And yet, records of discussions in the house of representatives on the day Vajpayee met congressional leaders and members of the India Caucus suggest that Singh may have been attempting to mislead the public on the whole episode.

The impression that there can be no smoke without fire was reinforced when the defence minister, George Fernandes, more or less contradicted his interim replacement in the defence ministry until a few weeks ago and talked of the possibilities of greater military cooperation with the US in future.

The American congress came into the picture when Benjamin Gilman, the Republican congressman from New York spoke on a resolution in the house of representatives on November 8, welcoming Vajpayee to the US.

Six congressmen from both parties took part in the debate on the resolution which expressed the Ďsense of the Congress. on relations with India. Towards the end of his address,moving the resolution, Gilman spoke of the meeting between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, in summer this year when they signed a friendship treaty and followed it up with the creation of the Shanghai pact. The friendship treaty and the Shanghai pact of likeminded states in the former communist bloc were widely seen as a response to the Bush administrationís pre-September 11 unilateralist policies and its planned expansion of military might. Obviously concerned about the growing closeness between Moscow and Beijing, Gilman said on record on November 8 that .we., that is, the US, .are now embarking on a similar friendship with India and prime minister Vajpayee..

Other congressmen picked up the theme, some spoke obliquely, others were more forthright and direct. Frank Pallone, the Democrat from New Jersey and one of the more active members of the India caucus, dissected Indo-US relations while speaking in support of the resolution.

Pallone argued that .more important right now, I think, is the importance of the defence relationship, and we understand that some of the conversations and talks that are taking place between the prime minister and president Bush relate to that defence relationship..

He continued: .I have been a long advocate of the need to increase our defence relationship, whether that means supplying military equipment or doing more military exercises with India..

Ed Royce, the Republican from California, who is also co-chair of the India Caucus, spoke of the recent international fleet review in Mumbai, which he attended.

American naval ships took part in this fleet review although military sanctions against India were in force at the time the event was taking place.

Royce quoted the statements of the secretary of state, Colin Powell, on Indiaís role in maintaining peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and its periphery. What all this demonstrates clearly is that the US proposal for a military alliance with India is not the fevered imagination of some overactive journalist. The discussion in the house of representatives shows that not only is there some two-way dialogue on the course of a military relationship between Washington and New Delhi, but also that American lawmakers have been briefed about it by the administration.

There is no other explanation for congressmen discussing the contours of an alliance which last weekendís media scoop in New Delhi exposed. American lawmakers spoke about it, obviously unaware of its domestic fallout in India a day before the Indian media uncovered it.The discussion in the house on the resolution was far more important for New Delhi than was projected in public. Lawmakers said all the things the Indians wished to hear post-September 11.

And what they said made it clear that notwithstanding the reception which Pakistanís General Pervez Musharraf is now receiving worldwide, the interests of the US and India coincide in the long run in many areas.

Tom Lantos, the Democrat from California, pointed out while supporting the resolution that .it is important to realise that some members of this (anti-terrorist) coalition share our values. India is one of them..

Without naming Pakistan, Lantos said: .Not all members of the coalition are built on the same set of democratic values that our society is built on and Indiaís society is built on. For many, this coalition is just a marriage of convenience. With respect to India, it is a marriage based on shared and common values of pluralism, respect for minorities, freedom of religion, political privileges of voting...and freedom of expression..

Jim McDermott of Washington, the Democratic co-chair of the India Caucus, obliquely referred to the defence relationship when he praised Indiaís offer of military bases soon after September 11. It was Ďsomething that had never happened before., McDermott added.

Congressman after congressman spoke of the long-term value of Indo-US ties and many reminded Americans that post-September 11, these ties had only become stronger. Indiaís rapidly developing ties with Israel have helped too in this country where the Jewish lobby has a virtual carte-blanche on policy.

Lantos said: .Our democratic friend India and our democratic friend, the State of Israel, have been subjected to terrorism for over half a century.. In a way, the lesson to be learned from this one discussion on Capitol Hill is a repeat of what New Delhi learned after its nuclear tests in 1998 and the Kargil crisis a year later. On both those occasions, Indiaís route to influencing the administrationís policy was through the congress. It is no different now. The USís politicians share none of the memories or the sentiment in the Pentagon or in the state department of the good old days of kinship with Pakistan.

As the statements by Lantos, Pallone and others showed, the congress is willing to go far, far beyond the administration in calling the Pakistani spade a spade even in these days when the US needs Musharraf much more than the other way round.

The best thing Vajpayee did was to spend a whole day on Capitol Hill, notwithstanding its rigours, a day before meeting the president in the White House.The meetings in the senate and in the house of representatives not only boosted Indiaís self-confidence. It also reinforced New Delhiís belief since Vajpayee came to power that India and the US are .natural allies..


Reaping the whirlwind the Taliban movement in Afghanistan
By Michael Griffin
Pluto, Rs 1,420

The last time Kabul fell, that is on September 27, 1996, there were no pictures of happy crowds milling around soldiers, singing songs of victory. The picture the world saw the next day was that of two men, drenched in their own blood, strung up by their necks from a crane in a traffic island in Kabul. The bodies were of President Najibullah and his brother. And in front of them the jubilant men in turbans, clutching each other in joy,were the taliban, the student militia that took Afghanistan, the ruling mujahedin and the Afghan people by storm.

Michael Griffin insists that what distinguished these men from the earlier batch of mujahedin stormtroopers,who converged in Kabul in 1992 to decide on a transitional government, was the talibanís sense of purpose and direction. He draws an almost romantic picture of these .warriors of god. traversing the country in lightning speed atop their Japanese four-wheel pick-ups and hitting out at their targets with precision. Despite their doubtful education and martial skills, the taliban surprised the world by their dextrous manoeuvring of the situation. Loyalties are bought, the well-honed war machines of rebels like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud are belittled as they retreat to their safe havens and the people of the country are forced to fall in line with a state-endorsed misogyny which banished women indoors; men are forced to grow beards, and vengeance becomes the mainstay of public policy.

However, Griffin argues, the .atavistic charisma. of the taliban and the .mysterious ambitions. of their leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar,were directed to attain a larger objective. The taliban were only a .ramshackle. vehicle to arrive at it. Griffin weaves his tale of the taliban around this idea.Reaping the Whirlwind ultimately emerges as a whodunnit, but the identity of the conspirator is never revealed, and the conspiracy remains unravelled

Yet, by seeing the taliban as a force planted in Afghanistan by some foreign power or individual, Griffin robs the militia of much of the magic he tries to imbue it with. Although the taliban, and the mullahs who led it, did not lack local or tribal support, the taliban are seen as a bunch of tribals tamed and trained by Pakistan, the country which lies at the heart of Griffinís narrative. It serves as a conduit through which the taliban are nurtured to a point when Pakistan itself becomes a victim of its Afghan policies. Its domestic coups are set off on this issue.

But both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia . the latter enters a bit late in the commentary . are tools in American hands to get an edge over the United States of Americaís regional adversary, Iran. So both the countries, Griffin thinks, are encouraged by the Big Brother to assemble and arm the taliban to end the .misrule. of the mujahedin that significantly upsets Americaís oil diplomacy. In fact, the USís energy politics and the role played by its multinational company, UNOCAL, holds the key to understanding how the Afghan situation came to be.

Does that mean Griffin is hinting at the US being the creator of the grand taliban design? Unlikely. It is not possible that the taliban would be entirely unaware of the USís role and despite the knowledge continue to be so intensely hostile to it. Anti-Americanism is now the engine of the taliban movement. Is it Russia then, since Afghan instability has always been its problem? Even more unlikely. It could not possibly spare $88 million a month for the talibanís expenses any more. Is it China then? Or even Iran?

Griffin does not provide an answer and only gives bare hints.He only raises a question, and probably a very pertinent one. But the maze of details regarding the movement, the talibanís strengthening of its hold, the repercussions of the movement on other countries, their involvement and workings within the .nest of vipers.which Afghanistan has become might bewilder the reader about these hints. Griffinís study is exhaustive and timely. It also offers a glimpse into the world created by the taliban, and in which Osama bin Laden lived, or still lives.


Half life
By Vís. Naipaul,
PIcador, £15.99

The hero of Half a Life is a Brahmin boy with the improbable name of William Somerset Chandran. He detests the stifling murk of Indian small town life and tries out an authorís career in London. Running into a block after a single book, Chandran escapes with his lone female fan to Mozambique, her country, about to be freed from Portuguese rule. He is scared to unpack his bags anywhere, most so in colonial Africa. It takes eighteen years of creative lull, broken by the odd sexual squall, before he can leave her.

Story to Naipaul has seldom been more than .events which are properly speaking accidents only., a phrase from Conrad he approvingly cites in the essay, Reading and Writing, published last year.The first part of Half a Life, however, is fairly eventful. Poverty, in a land ravaged by Muslims, drives Chandranís great grandfather to the sanctuary of a temple yard, his grandfather rises to be an official in the local rajaís court, and his father, inspired by Gandhi, burns his English literature texts and marries a sly and unprepossessing lower caste girl. The match unleashes a storm, to escape which Chandranís father turns into a mendicant vowed to silence.

The Brahminís bluff is not unlike that of the Muslim traveller, Ibn Batuta, whose use of the mendicantís guise to fool the sultan of Delhi Naipaul mentions in Reading and Writing. It is at this point that Somerset Maugham comes to meet him. The novelist is in search of Indian spirituality, and is so impressed by the holy manís evasive scribbles that he makes him a central figure in The Razorís Edge.Which explains the heroís name and his disgust with his fatherís fake renown for sanctity.

The India of this part is fabulous and vague, leaning heavily on Naipaulís pet thesis on the wounds of Hindu civilization. The second section moves to London. It repeats the familiar Naipaul tale of the unsure colonial immigrant and of his shame and guilty ambition. There are other autobiographical markers: the primal scene of hurried sex on a stained mattress under a naked light bulb, the acute distaste for English upper-class humbug, the stories written under the spell of Hollywood films, the comfort of a fabricated past and of a distanced authorial persona. Unlike Naipaul, however, Chandran shies away from the tough questions writing leads him to, and seeks refuge in love and in Africa.

Mozambique brings Chandran more shame and guilt, this time because of his incapacity for love.The best thing in this last chapter is the parodic portrayal of the Portuguese and half-caste colonial elite, weakly insulated from the shadowy and menacing sea of black Africans surrounding them. J.M. Coetzee complains that Naipaulís Africa is at heart no different from Conradís.Within the fictional framework, however, Chandranís sense of an unspeakable mystery in the black women he sleeps with is understandable. If he seems to be repeating Maughamís error of finding .a special spiritual quality in the special Indian distress., he also avoids foisting a tidy meaning on the Africa that eludes his comprehension.

Half a Life comes at a wrong time. The Nobel award will make this most recent of his books the first by Naipaul that many will read, but it is unlikely to win him new enthusiasts. For seasoned readers, the novel will be a disappointment in the way a minor work by a major author usually is . typical of the man, but short on the qualities that had made the writer admirable.

Is it just to make that distinction between man and writer? Admirers of Naipaul warn that we should not fault his writing because he is a bad dinner guest.We must not mind Sir Vidiaís opinions, they tell us, and should forget our postcolonial hang-ups in order to enjoy his splendid prose. Besides dismissing four decades of troubled engagement with the colonial question, such superior preciosity insults Naipaulís exalted idea of the writerís function. .Man and writer were the same person,. Naipaul had declared in The Enigma of Arrival. .But that is a writerís greatest discovery. It took time . and how much writing! . to arrive at that synthesis..

Half a Life is at best a flawed instance of that fusion. The anxiety about race and class that had dogged the Trinidad schoolboy is something that Naipaul admits he had always known and will know. The hurt moved us when raw, and there was something oddly convincing about Naipaulís utter unreasonableness. The sense of being let down by a mother country was authentic so long as the aspirant to metropolitan modernity was dismayed to find the same desires impelling the sad culture of mimicry in that mythical land. The grief for lost cultural possibilities rang true so long as there was a genuine longing for alternative cultural standards . never mind if at the same time the exile found them impossible to adopt.

Now that Naipaul looks back at false starts from the finishing line and writes with a knowing aloofness, that unreason and the fallacious faith of his .opinions. impede our response to his prose. A teller who has his mind made up sorts uneasily with a tale of self-making on the run, and the occasional switch to monologue does not help. For the same reason, the stained walls, peeling paint, chipped crockery, tasteless clothes, cheap furniture, scabbed skin, bad teeth, . the debris of derelict cultures that Naipaul inventories in every other book . begin to read like a hygienistís peeve.

In Reading and Writing, Naipaul speaks of the two dark spheres that had separated him from his colonial education. These were his childhood world of a remembered India, and the world of the colonial city. The spheres of darkness became his subjects.This is still true of Half a Life, but they seem to have lost the sun-flickered spaces that had redeemed their darkness in the past.


Cassette culture popular music and technology in North India
By Peter Manuel,
Oxford, Rs 595

In this post-modern era, popular culture could well be defined as a cross-fertilized product of new modes of communication and power relations in society, of the competing ideologies of different interest groups, and of conflicting values and tastes in different sections of society. Popular music, too, as a predominant form of popular culture, is dependent on several factors like sex, age, class and caste and is being shaped by technological inventions for the past few decades.

Cassette Culture by Peter Manuel is a well-researched documentation of the manner in which the boom in cassette technology brought about a revolution in the music industry in north India in the early Eighties. It also analyses the social implications of this boom. The spread of this technology ended the oligopoly of recording industry by the British-owned Gramaphone Company of India which was established in 1908 and whose products were marketed under the label name of His Masterís Voice in 1910.

The new technology led to the emergence of a number of local producers which not only democratized the musical scenario in India but also precipitated new patterns of dissemination and consumption. The decentralized control of the means of production ushered in a dynamic and variegated form of mediated music whose effect was significantly felt in the gradual change of media contents and their diverse .resignifications. by myriad consumer-classes who had an easy and inexpensive access to it in North Indian society.

One of the positive aspects of this change was evident in the revitalization of regional musical genres which had once been on the verge of becoming obsolete owing to the overwhelming popularity of the Hindi filmi geet. The ready supply of audiocassettes has also provided social workers with a potent weapon of propaganda against social vices. The proliferation of the cassette industry has been a mixed blessing for a country like India. Not infrequently, audiocassettes have been used by separatist and communal forces to compromise the integrity of the country. In his preface to the 2001 edition of his book, Manuel points out .Along with catering to ethnic, linguistic and regional niches, cassettes continue to accommodate topical contemporaneity in a manner completely atypical of pre-cassette era.. In the eleven chapters of his book, Manuel strives to grapple with all the possible ramifications of this .micro-medium. which operates in the .macro-perspective. in the north Indian context.

He examines the extent to which the cassette culture has promoted musical syncretism on one level and brought about new orientations in middle-class and lower-middle class value-structures and taste-biases on the other.

In chapter 1, Manuel explains his theoretical stance by dealing with different approaches in ethnomusicology and media theory, most of which he considers too simplistic and rigid to be applied to the musical context of north India. Manuel hold Wallis and Malms. book, Big sounds from Small Peoples: The Music Industry in Small Countries, which was published in 1984, as an ideal precedent to his book which aims to study the dualities of hegemony versus pluralism, uniformity versus diversity, authenticity versus alienation and so on. In chapter 2, Manuel dwells on the impact of cassettes on the international recording industry by focussing on its contrasting patterns of development in the United States of America and other countries of Africa and the Andrean region. Chapter 3 focuses on the growth of the Indian recording industry and the spread of Hindi film culture and film songs up to 1975. In chapter 4, Manuel deals with the advent of cassettes, coupled with the concomitant decline of the importance of HMV along with the rise of such large producers as T Series, Music India Limited, Philips and Deutsche Gramaphone to prominence.

The subsequent chapters analyse how the cassette revolution in north India has succeeded in setting new trends in traditional musical genres like ghazals and bhajans as well as in genres of folk music like rasiya. He also explores the means by which cassette culture contributed to .politics of parodies., by encouraging recyclability and decontextualization of tunes of familiar Hindi film songs.


Tulip in the desert: A selection of the poetry of Muhammad Iqbal
Edited by Mustansir Mir, Orient Longman,
Price not mentioned
Early Urdu literary culture and history
By Shamsur Rahman
Faruqi, Oxford, Rs 395

The two books under review deal with Urdu literature, both throwing some light on the vast cultural heritage of an Indian language that is both sweet and difficult to understand. But the craze to know more about Urdu literature is growing steadily. The publications in English are efforts to cater to this need. If the first book deals with poetry, the second dabbles with prose to sketch the frontiers of the literary history of Urdu literature. Both are naturally intended for prospective readers of the English language in India and abroad.

Tulip in the Desert is a translation of some of the poems of Muhammad Iqbal, a poet whose name is likely to be well known even to a reader who is unfamiliar with the language. Iqbal(18771938) who wrote poetry in both Urdu and Persian is now the national poet of Pakistan. His poems were not just about a particular community but were also universal in nature. His philosophical ideas afforded him a position among the modern thinkers of our times.

Mustansir Mir has compiled some fifty odd poems of Iqbal from Kulliyati-Iqbal (both Urdu and Persian) in a manner that helps to convey the range and variety of the themes of his poetry. Not all the poems are good, though the shorter ones are easier to read. The translatorís introduction, where Mir writes about the life and poetry of Iqbal, is intended for readers who are unfamiliar with the poetís style and idiom.He manages to give a symmetrical order to the work by arranging the poems into a dozen groups with a title and prefatory note acting as precursors to every one of them.

His translation is more or less satisfactory, and painstakenly done. In page 120, the note below the title of the poem and the year of composition should have been given. At other places, for example in the poem on Shakespeare, the use of too many words not only makes things obvious, but also prosaic. In spite of these shortcomings, Mirís translation will delight the lovers of Urdu poetry in general and Iqbal in particular.

The second book deals with the literary culture and history of early Urdu language and literature. The book jacket declares it to be a .pathbreaking work.. After going through the book, the reader cannot help wondering whether any new grounds have been broken by the author. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi also fails to raise any new questions about the Urdu language and culture.

In some seven chapters, Faruqi tries to deal with a subject that Urdu scholars are already familiar with, but what may be interesting to non-Urdu readers. The book seems compact even though some parts of the book had earlier been delivered as lectures. The authorís attempt to deal with too many subjects at the same time results in a constraint of space.Covering a period between 1300 and 1850, the only literary figure on whom he devotes a full chapter is Vali.

The book neither fully deals with culture or language, nor does it follow the methodology in which history of literature is conventionally written. It is an amalgamation of history, culture, even anecdotes and comments that are academic and at times trifle simple.

The short preface also fails to pinpoint the purpose of the book because, as in his Urdu prose,Faruqiís pedantic language and unnecessary circumlocution of ideas fail to carry the argument further. In spite of these shortcomings, the book is a document worth reading.


Under the Molehill: An Elezabethan spy story
By John Bossy,
Yale, £ 19.95

Kim Philby lived in the Elizabethan age even if John le Carrť didn.t. John Bossy, one of Englandís most distinguished historians of the early modern period, has made it his business to unearth moles in the French embassy in London. In 1991, he published Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair where he identified the spy, Henry Fagot, as being none other than the philosopher, Giordano Bruno, who in the early 1580s was lodged in the French embassy in London. Fagot/Bruno passed on vital information about Catholic activities in England, Scotland and Europe to Francis Walsingham, Elizabethís secretary of state, who was the head of the Elizabethan secret service. Bossyís identification of Fagot with Bruno has not gone unchallenged but such criticism has not deterred him from unearthing another mole in the French embassy.This time he does so with much greater certainty.The discovery is based on very close reading of certain letters emanating from the French embassy.

Bossy places his mole in a wider historical context.

The early 1580s were not easy years for Elizabeth and her government. England lived under the shadow of a Catholic invasion from the Continent which would be encouraged by strong Catholic supporters within the realm. Such fears were aggravated by the presence of Mary Queen of Scots, in custody at Sheffield, and of Maryís son, James, then king of Scotland. These fears became reality and then turned to triumph in 1588 when Philip II of Spain sent his Armada up the channel.

The French kept open a channel of communication with Mary as did numerous powerful Catholic lobbies and individuals within England. All this created a fertile ground for conspiracies and also for spying. There were also crucial diplomatic issues involved. Elizabeth had rejected proposals of marriage with the Duke of Anjou, the younger brother of the king, Henri III. Yet, her ministers and advisors, especially Walsingham, knew that it was vital to prevent a Franco-Spanish Catholic alliance against Protestant England. French feathers could not be ruffled too much. Intelligence gathering and the use of that intelligence thus became a very tricky affair. Bossy shows how Walsingham often had to keep spy reports from his queen and to guard against her propensity for immediate retaliatory action. Bossyís story is about the defence of the realm by the acquisition of intelligence on subversion and potential invasion.

The victim of the intelligence operation was the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, and the mole was none other than Laurent Feron, who was a clerk of Castelnau and trusted by the latter to have access to most documents and be privy to most conversations. Feron worked in tandem with Fagot/Bruno, was probably run by one Walter Williams, a servant of Walsingham and a spy.

Identifying the mole is by no means easy. It involves Bossy in not only the reading and interpretation of texts but also in the comparison of handwritings and in the setting up of chronology through a comparison of various letters and versions of events. One can see in his investigations the workings of a historian trained in the empiricist tradition. Bossy, contrary to prevailing postmodernist fashions that see history as reconstructions of the past, believes that there is a truth out there and it is possible to arrive at that truth through a rigorous study of the available documents. Like most old-fashioned historians, he also writes with lucidity and precision. He sets out to tell a story and tells it well.



Learning about landmines

By GraŃa Machel
(Orient Longman, Rs 350)

The impact of war on children by GraŃa Machel is a systematic and unsentimental documentation of a painful reality ů a record of the experiences of žremarkable children who had survived catastrophic atrocitiesÓ. This is a review of progress since the 1996 report, researched and written by Machel (independent expert appointed by the UN secretary-general and former minister of education in Mozambique), on the impact of armed conflict on children. Her initial chapters are on child soldiers, children forced to flee, sexual violence, landmines, sanctions. She also charts the rise of HIV/AIDS as the single most powerful new factor compounding the dangers of children in armed conflict. She then goes on to outline the progress made and obstacles encountered in efforts over the past five years to protect children in armed crises and to fulfil their rights. She shows the powerful role that women play in building peace and reconstructing their families and communities. She also argues for the centrality of education in rehabilitation programmes ů the transformation of schools into safe havens for communal care, learning and support. This is an important book, the impact of which is considerably heightened by the memorable photographs by SabastiĄo Salgado taken in Mozambique, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, Angola, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Lebanon and Iraq. The one above was taken in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1996 and shows Tajik refugees in a class on landmines and unexploded ordnance.

By Vandana Shiva
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Patents: Myths and reality by Vandana Shiva details how under intellectual property rights laws, natural resources are taken by Western corporations without recognition or payment, forcing third world countries to buy products based on their indigenous knowledge at much higher prices than if they were produced locally. There are concise and provocative chapters on the issues of biodiversity and biopiracy, around the marketing of Basmati, neem and karela.

By Fiona Sax Ledger
(Picador, £ 6.99)

Mr Bigstuff and the goddess of charm By Fiona Sax Ledger is subtitled žParties, Cars, Love & Ambition South of the SaharaÓ. It is LedgerŪs account of her travels while working on her own and for the African service of the BBC World Service, making radio documentaries, directing plays and teaching people how to record sound. This is a close up view of žencounters which take place in parlours, shops and offices, hotel bedrooms and government corridorsÓ, set in a continent which žin western eyes, is distinguished by its tyrants, victims and disastersÓ. But the people she meets, from the last ten years of the Cold War to the present, žalthough occasionally angry and frustrated, are, on the whole, winning throughÓ.



Allied in confusion

Sir . The Northern Alliance is proving the dangerous ally that many feared it would be all along. The United States of America has long stressed the need for Kabul to remain a neutral, military free zone. Only in those conditions can a broad-based government flourish. The Northern Alliance has now occupied Kabul, which is quite understandable. But the Northern Allianceís recent statement that international peacekeeping forces might not be necessary threatens to destabilize Kabulís fragile ethnic coalitions. The Northern Alliance has also refused to allow moderate elements of the taliban from entering the government. A spokesman for the alliance asked whether the Germany reconstructed after World War II would have admitted moderate Nazis. The great danger here is that the US has already invited a new brand of Nazism to take control of northern Afghanistan.With Pashtun warlords capturing strategic areas of the south it might be difficult to avoid the chaos that followed the overthrow of the Soviet backed regime.
Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, New Delhi

On patrol

Sir . The Calcutta police is in the process of getting 300 new vehicles. This is part of the mindless expansion that the police department has gone into over the last eight years. To its enormous complement of 42 police stations it is set to receive 10 more (Bhowanipore, Kalighat, Tollygunge and Charu Market are less than four kilometres apart). In sharp contrast the state police is a victim of neglect.

While Calcuttaís suburbs have expanded phenomenally in the last decade, how many new police stations have been built or existing ones added to? None, although under areas covered by the state police, there have also been huge increases in armed robberies and murders and, in some areas, terrorist activity.

There is little or no routine patrolling by the state police in Calcuttaís suburban areas, not surprising given the vintage cars they use. Much of Bengalís safety is left in the hands of special task forces and civil defence personnel, with supervision by the police.

The Calcutta police however keeps watch with their much vaunted wireless vans, and of course these 300 soon to be delivered vehicles.

If a quarter of the funds deployed for these acquisitions was spent on restoring Calcutta policeís disabled diesel vehicles, then some 100 to 150 cars might be delivered to the state department. Under lax state policing commercial vehicles violate all kinds of traffic rules and cause sound pollution through use of air-horns. Many such vehicles enter the city to then be booked by the Calcutta police. But why not censure them while they are in the state police areas? If a sense of discipline has to be inculcated then it is better done as early as possible.

The policeís lopsided growth may perhaps be attributed to powerful lobbies within the Calcutta police,which corners the bulk of Central and state allocations for funding. The director general of the state police,D.C.Vajpai, must exert himself appropriately. It is imperative that he restores the state police to its rightful position of pre-eminence. The state police, being the custodian of more than seven crore dwellers in the state, certainly deserves more attention.

Yours faithfully,
Swarup Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir . Let me suggest why the police need to focus there attention on the problem of cybersquatting. The police departmentís old web site was calcuttapolice.com. This now hosts some other site of questionable decency. As the new site, kolkatapolice.com, is known to very few people and, moreover, it redirects you to calcuttapolice.org, there is perhaps another reason for being amused at the consequences of the city changing its name. I suggest, however, that police officials take immediate action.

Yours faithfully,
Sandeep Todi, via email

Sphere of terror

Sir . After five weeks, the world is still in doubt as to the nature of the war against terrorism. The American president, George W. Bush, is playing a triangular series with the Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf, and the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Musharraf, hitherto looking as if he were playing for that other team . world terrorism . is playing with India to get to the finals with the United States of America. Musharraf has been pragmatic about many points of late, but does anyone really expect him to reform on the issue of Kashmir?
Yours faithfully,
Subrata Dutta, via email

Sir . I was delighted to hear the news that K.C. Pant has agreed to possible talks with the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. Political dialogue of this kind will normalize the Centreís relationship with Kashmir. That, ultimately, is the only way of fighting Pakistani designs on the territory and the actions of terrorists. Pantís actions will also place India in a good position to negotiate with the US or the United Nations when the current campaign in Afghanistan is over and the worldís attention shifts to Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
Pranab Gupta, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir . Khushwant Singh recently suggested that the best form of punishment for rapists is castration (.Rapists and narcissists., Nov 10). His article might also force us to look at the fate of the eunuchs in our society. The Central government must take necessary steps to allow the .third sex. to lead a normal life in their families.We must stop them from being forced into the unhealthiest of subcultures, as they are now, preying on society as they themselves are preyed upon. In ancient and medieval times eunuchs were successfully employed in statecraft; Malik Kafur, a eunuch in the Delhi sultanate, conquered the whole of south India. People who are tired with corrupt politics might welcome the chance to vote for eunuchs, and in the process restore them to their former standing in society. To this end the government must add eunuchs to the reservations system, with seats in the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and other elected bodies.Given the chance, eunuchs could be a boon rather than a bane for society.
Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agrawal, Delhi

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