Editorial 1/ Headline Edit
Editorial 2/ Way of all flesh
Not the season for sanity
Book Review/ Pursuit of the perfect woman
Book Review/ C’est possible
Book Review/ Economically challenged
Book Review/ Natural born criminals
Bookwise/ Donít leave it to the whiz kids
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

The decision by the government of India to estab lish a diplomatic presence in Kabul is very wel come. Although, at present, only a liaison officer will represent New Delhi in the Afghan capital, fullscale diplomatic relations could be resumed as soon as there is a modicum of stability in the country.

There are several significant reasons why it was es sential for India to quickly resume official links with Kabul. Most important, India needs a presence in Kabul right now to ensure that the bonding that was established with the Northern Alliance leadership, during the period that it was a weak force fighting the Taliban, sustains it self in the future. There is virtually no doubt that leaders of the Alliance will play a vital role in postTaliban Afghanistan, even if they have to . under international pressure and to quell domestic opposition . share power with those outside their grouping. India has prudently struck by the Alliance for the last five years and has con tinued to recognise the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani. It has, therefore, at present considerable lever age and influence, but this could well erode quickly with out political attention and skilful diplomacy. Fortunately, New Delhi’s earlier decision to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan has been particularly useful at this junc ture. Not only did S.K. Lambah, the envoy, attend the G21 meeting in New York that discussed plans for the recon struction of postwar Afghanistan, but . leading the Indi an delegation to Kabul . was able to meet key figures with the Northern Alliance leadership, including the Presi dent and the foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Given that India is excluded from the group of six neighbours of Afghanistan plus Russia and the United States that have been given primary responsibility by the United Nations to evolve a peace plan for the country, New Delhi has to find ways to ensure that it has role to play in the future of the country. The government has, therefore, wisely de cided to reopen the Indira Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children in Kabul,which had been closed for several years now. A small contingent of doctors and paramedics formed part of Mr Lambha’s delegation.The poor state of Kabul’s overstretched medical facilities is well known, and Indian medical specialists can play a vital role in re establishing the traditional bonding of affection and re spect that was shared by Afghans and Indians. The Liai son Office must, of course, even while further cementing the relationship with the leadership of the Northern Al liance, also reach out to Pashtun groups, particularly those that did not form the core of the Taliban. Whether the final power sharing arrangement will be decided on the basis of a Loya Jirga (a national assembly of tribal leaders) or in international meetings . like the one to be held in Berlin over the weekend moderate Pashtuns will inevitably have a role to play, and it is in New Delhi’s in terests to establish a link with them.


Even the most learned and enlightened of people have a propensity to cling to power even when it runs against the grain of their beliefs to do so.Mr Manmohan Singh is the author of economic reforms in India. Under the then prime minister,Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, Mr Singh initiated and implemented the disman tling of the earlier economic regime. It will not be unrea sonable to assume that Mr Singh began the economic re forms not as a measure of crisis management but also be cause he believed that economic policies favouring liber alization and globalization were essential for India’s eco nomic growth. One of the principal planks of these poli cies was the cutting of state subsidies.Mr Singh,when he was finance minister, advocated cutting of subsidies and reduction of state expenditure.This remained at the level of advocacy since politicians could not risk losing vote banks nurtured by subsidies.Mr Singh remained a voice in the wilderness. Now it would appear that the wilder ness has appropriated the voice. The Congress election manifesto for Punjab promises free power and free water for the farmers in addition to other sops.The chairman of the All India Congress Committee coordination panel on Punjab is none other than Mr Singh who also had a direct hand in the drafting of the election manifesto.

This compromise brings Mr Singh down to the level of any ordinary Indian politician. The general impression has always been that Mr Singh, in his integrity and straightforwardness, is different from the ordinary run. He is perceived as the sage among politicians, above the seemy side of politics. Therefore, Mr Singh’s complete approval of his party’s Punjab election manifesto comes as something of a shock. He has clearly compromised his beliefs.He cannot be a reformer and a supporter of subsi dies in Punjab. There is no way that these two sets of be liefs can be reconciled. Any other person, save Mr Singh, if he had upheld these two irreconcilables would have had to face charges of being a complete hypocrite. This might sound a bit too harsh but Mr Singh, if he wants to preserve his reputation, has a lot of explaining to do. Ob viously, Mr Singh is caught between the rock of his be liefs and the sandbar of loyalty to his party.He has, in his wisdom, chosen the latter. It might seem that under the circumstances Mr Singh had no other alternative.This is not true. It was open to him to resign from the Congress, retire from politics and go back to his books which in the first place gave him his eminence. His refusal to exercise this option only shows the difficulties involved in ridding oneself of the trappings of power and position. Power clings, and on some people it clings most unbecomingly. Mr Singh’s fall from eminence underlines the insidious ness of politics. Even the best are its victims.


Even if a heathen says so, those whom the Almighty wants to destroy, He first makes mad. It was an insane idea on the part of our prime minister to wander off to the theme of stateinduced terrorism. Crossborder terrorism is a safe enough proposition, but the moment the reference is to grue some activities directly encouraged by the state, intrastate terrorism becomes indistinguishable from interstate ter rorism. The faux pas has however been done and Pervez Musharraf jumped on it. He waxed the maximum possible on the floor of the United Nations general assembly and painted the most lurid pic ture of how the Indian army is butcher ing thousands and thousands of inno cent, peaceloving Kashmiris week after week and month after month.

This is only the beginning of the trou ble. For, rest assured, interested parties will now quote chapter and verse from reports of the Amnesty International and even the National Human Rights Commission. Independent writers, jour nalists and other public men will con tribute their mite. State terrorism in dulged in by the government of India will now receive formal recognition by the comity of nations.

Our prime minister whines about Kashmir before the president of the United States of America. He whines be fore the UN.What reactions does he ex pect? Predictably, George W. Bush has availed himself of the opportunity, he has taken cognizance of General Musharraf ‘s importunings, and has gra ciously agreed to play the role of media tor: have no worry, he will persuade the Indian prime minister to sit down and talk Kashmir with Pakistan’s military boss. After all, crossborder terrorism, he will argue, has a causal relationship with the ground reality in Kashmir, which therefore the Indians and the Pak istanis must discuss together under American tutelage.

Besides, what is the point of shed ding tears at the forum of the UN? Suppose, as riposte, the UN secre tary general disinters the halfacentury old UN resolution suggesting a plebiscite in Kashmir, a resolution that has re mained unimplemented and, Indians have gone on record, could only be imple mented over their dead bodies?

The government of India, including its ministry of external affairs, does not first think, then leap. The process has been reversed: they leap, and then begin to think. There was no necessity at all to rush headlong and be the first among other nations to pledge the fullest uncon ditional support to the US in its war for .infinite justice.. Pakistan played its cards in an immeasurably superior fash ion and could wangle a plethora of gains. It had of course a geopolitical advan tage.

The Americans could not however not take into account the factor of Gener al Musharraf playing a complex, awe somely difficult game of chess with his personal survival. The Indian authori ties, as a last desperate gambit, may now try to offer the Americans port facilities and military bases all over the country. The American administration will nonetheless have its own calculations. Our two cabinet ministers, one in charge of defence and the other presiding over external affairs, may experiment with oneupmanship against each other. Both will merely make themselves subject to greater ridicule.

True, this is not the season for whole sale sanity. It is still important, for the longrange welfare of the nation, to re turn to basic issues.The superpower has announced, according to its own light, the basic issue in the dispute over Kash mir: .the wishes of the Kashmiri peo ple.. What the superpower says, the UN has to echo. We are therefore now irre trievably cornered. The Russians do not have the clout to stand up meaningfully on our behalf, and this however much de fence equipment we buy from them. China would have been a better possibil ity, but we have a border dispute of infi nite duration with that country.

So what is new, pussy cat? Why pass on the burden to the pussy cat,when it is for ourselves to do some straight think ing? Can we put our hand to our heart and claim that every thing in honky dory with Kashmir? We could have post ed that claim fifty years ago; no longer.

The first blunder was to enchain Sheikh Abdullah and attempt to substi tute him by the street bully, Bakshi Ghu lam Mohammed. Indira Gandhi for a while strove to salvage the situation and welcomed back the Lion of Kashmir in 1976. But her authoritarian instinct soon sprang back to life. The Lion’s offspring, Farooq,would not play ball and it was de cided to throw him out. The incumbent governor, B.K. Nehru . who died recent ly . refused to follow the directives from New Delhi. He was replaced by a com plaisant selfseeking individual who now has an honoured place in the Bharatiya Janata Partyled Union cabi net. Farooq Abdullah did not possess the stamina to steadfastly rebuff New Delhi; he surrendered meekly and got back the sinecure of chief ministerial position. This very act itself totally alienated him from the Kashmiri people.

Our prime minister and his cabinet colleagues might threaten all and sundry with the prevention of terrorism ordinance, a few hundreds or thousands might be detained without trial.Would the facts of life change one bit thereby? We shy away from a plebiscite in the val ley since we know it is altogether dicey whether even one per cent of the valley’s population will vote for the continuation of the formal link with the Union of India. Kashmir is, really and truly, an oc cupied territory; Indian military and paramilitary personnel rule the roost.

Those who have the temerity . or, rather, gall . to contest this datum have their heads sunk in the sand. And yet, things need not have reached such an im possible pass if our strategists and poli cymakers had functioned with some fi nesse and quiet, negotiatory skill. Those who were, and are, not with India were, and are, not necessarily for Pakistan.We could have split our adversaries by mak ing a proposal for installing a sovereign buffer entity in the valley, equidistant from both Pakistan and India, with or without a separate membership in the UN. Even as late as today, this idea could be tried out and it is a fair guess there would be a sizeable number of takers.

Kismet is kismet. The BJP has proved itself to be a worthy suc cessor to the Indian National Congress. In its lexicon too Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of the country. Discussions with the leadership of the moderately disgruntled sections of the Kashmiri people were therefore summarily vetoed; the periodic visits to Srinagar by the deputy chairman of the planning commission were neither here nor there. Quite candidly, the Indian electorate have meanwhile been condi tioned to such an extent that no party or combination of parties in power would dare to speak the unspeakable: while hy perbole is hyperbole, the Indian writ does not reign over the global system.

What is perhaps more comprehensi ble is the realization of the conse quences of inviting the Americans to op erate military bases from Indian soil. Once the bases come, can mediation over Kashmir be far behind?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. George W. Bush, the mas ter, has his own criterion for de ciding which of the two subservients, India and Pakistan, is the more loyal. But conceivably a consolation price will be thrown in India’s direction. Kashmir will be gone, with or without the ritual of the plebiscite, but what do you think of the suggestion that India be made the fiftysecond, or is it the fiftythird, con stituent of the great United States of America?


By Ved Mehta,
Granta, £ 9.99

All For Love is a detailed chron icle of the trials and tribula tions faced by the writerjour nalist,Ved Mehta, on his quest for .true love.. Tracing failed romances with four women, Mehta hopes to re veal the root of a problem embedded in his subconscious that prevents him from nurturing a longterm relationship.

Despite that assurance, All For Love is more a maudlin walk through Mehta’s intimate past, with little to interest those who are not great fol lowers of the author’s life.

Having lost his sight at the age of four, following a bout of meningitis, Mehta developed an acute sensory perception,which he calls .facial vi sion.. But through his romances, he never once spoke of his disability. In the prologue, Blindness Keen, ad dressed to his wife, Linn, Mehta ex plains this denial: .I had to live as if I could see, and yet that very way of living was a hurdle to acceptance by others, especially by a woman I loved, for, as long as I continued to hide from myself, how could I expect her . you . to truly know and love me?.

But this is the last we hear of these anguished questions.Having explained his purpose, Mehta embarks on a de tailed account of Gigi,Vanessa, Lola and Kilty, who each left him bereft and lost. He is utterly hon est, not attempt ing to disguise his own weak ness and despera tion. But much gets lost in this honesty. Mehta, perhaps in an at tempt to preserve the integrity of the events that ravaged his life, never intrudes with the wisdom of hindsight. He may gain sympathy for his confusion and heartbreak, but what he loses is the reader’s empathy.

Mehta only reverts to his spiritu al search in the last chapter,when he recalls sessions he underwent with his psychiatrist, Dr Bak, (whom he met for the express purpose of over coming his mental stumbling block to finding a suitable life partner). The revelations of his denial and re jection of his blindness (which ste ms, apparently, from Oedipal sou rces), come suddenly. The reader, and the writer,would have been better served if the understanding gained over years of therapy had been woven into the 340odd page narra tive of the memoirs. Compressed in the final chapter, the rest of the tale is barren of any true insight.

The blame appropriated by read ers of the narrative for things gone .horribly wrong., Mehta believes, will attach only to him. But the fact that we hardly hear the voices of the women in his life gives us a lopsided history.We do not read warm conver sations in the flush of love or pas sages that reflect true bonding. After each of the relationships is initially established, Mehta dwells mainly on events that lead to the breakup and his own resultant confusion.We do not know why Gigi felt .profound. love for him and then left so abruptly. We fail to understand why Vanessa fell out of love with him as soon as he turned his back. Lola’s hold over Mehta is most inexplicable because, through the extensive letters and episodes recounted, one gets the image not of a soulmate impossible to pin down, but of a superficial, ma nipulative woman. His love for Kilty seems almost insane, given that he only refers to episodes to highlight how disbalanced she really was.We have only his word that there were, indeed good times. Probably, a vol ume on married life and fatherhood will follow, but an explanation, how ever brief, of this ultimate success was surely called for here, as well.

This lengthy narrative is part of the Continents of Exile series of memoirs,which the author has writ ten over 30 years. Had this tale been part of a larger autobiography, it would have added depth and an in sight into the workings of Mehta’s keen mind, deluded by deeplyem bedded denial, and it subtly debilitat ing effects.

As it stands, the confessional is unacceptably unidimensional with its solitary focus, and can only hope to engage one who empathizes close ly with Mehta’s plight.


By JeanClaude CarriËre,
Macmillan, Rs 198

Standing on the rue St André des Arts in Paris in 1974, at three o.clock in the morning, Luis Buñuel’s legendary scriptwriter and a great European theatre director made a .mutual commitment.. JeanClaude Carrière and Peter Brook had just emerged from a long and enchanting story telling session. The teller was the distinguished French Sanskritist, Philippe Lavastine, and his tales were from The Mahabharata. Brook and Carrière immediately decided to work together in bringing this material to the Western audi ence, feeling rather humbled, at that moment, by the enormity of the task..We.ll stage it when it’s ready,.Brook assured his friend, .and it will take as long as it takes..

It took Carrière nine years to turn the epic into a play. Brook’s international cast rehearsed it for nine months, and the first French produc tion in 1985 took nine hours to perform, from dawn to dusk. For Brook, Carrière’s .gigantic achievement. was capturing the essence of this .poetical history of mankind. in a threepart play. There is, however, nothing gigantic about this slim volume of notes and drawings made during Carrière’s travels through India with Brook and his company of actors and designers. Beautifully translated by Aruna Vasudeva, it is full of a lightness and immediacy, refreshingly unafraid of lapsing into Orientalism, yet imbued with a sense of the difficulty and seriousness of the endeavour.

The point of these travels was, quite simply, .to see and to hear. a country in relation to .its poem.. Having lived with the text of The Mahab harata for eight years, Carrière is unabashed about approaching .a subcontinent identified by a book.. His intentions are exhaustive, like the .extreme ambition. of the epic itself.He needs to .go everywhere., .gather all the images., to feel the poem’s .tenacious presence. within a society where it is .still acted, danced, sung and lived.. This takes him through a .baroque, tumultuous, chaotic. panorama of people, places and art forms. In the precision, sympathy, drollery and wonder that he brings to his sketches, Carrière is both an artist and a picaro, who encounters the .complexities of appearance., the bizarre and the profound, with a puckish inventiveness which Henri Michaux calls .the casualness of a naughty boy.,and which Brook would find indis pensable while turning The Mahabharata into what he calls .impure theatre..

The impure and the inventive, in their most prodigious forms, are essential to the theatre. For Carrière, India generously offers both, in being a place where everything seems to have been foreseen and anticipated, .anything one can do with this or with that.. In the heart of commercial Bombay, he stops in front of a tree: .A rope has been tied around a branch and dan gles down along the trunk. The end of the rope is burning slowly. I am a little surprised at this un known ritual, in the middle of the city. All the more because nobody seems to be looking after it. And then a man arrives, stops, takes a ciga rette out of his pocket and lights it with the end of the smouldering rope. It is, in fact, a public lighter.. Carrière’s gaze here is selfconsciously naïve and wondering; but his narrative is pre cise and cinematic, transforming this wayside mystery into a Chaplinesque comedy of human resourcefulness, minimal and stylish in itself as well as in the telling. It is a visual language which the Buñuel of Discrete Charm, the Ray of Aranyer Din Ratri and the Bergman of Smiles of a Summer’s Night would have understood perfectly.

The spirit of improvisation is useful for the Mahabharata duo. For instance, Brook picks up from south Indian folk theatre the use of a .sim ple cotton curtain, held by two assistants., and uses this device to stage .the appearance, and then the disappearance, of Krishna.. This .con stant creativity. is noted everywhere in Car rière’s notes and sketches, and celebrated by Brook in his introduction to the English transla tion of the play: .If it is a word, a breath, a limb, a sound, a note . or a stone or a colour or a cloth . all its aspects, practical and artistic, have been investigated and linked together..

As artists, both Carrière and Brook are relentlessly pragmatic.They ask of every experi ence in India, .Is it theatre, or not theatre?. A theatrical language has to be forged which will somehow .make of India of the past the world of today.. .But how?. And how not to abandon the action on the way? Is it possible?.

Carrière’s every encounter with contempo rary India . the .apparent disorder. and the .clandestine dream of unity. . is informed with this practical anxiety. At Halebid, Bhishma on his bed of sorrows, .and here and there a little sodomy, in between other practices going back to eternity.; the Meenakshi temple, in Madurai, .like a Babylon dreamt up by Cecil B. de Mille and directed by an Indian., with its pilgrims .specially dressed up, like dandified Shivas.; a doddering dancing master who transforms him self magically into a young abhisarika and is im mediately carried away by his pupils; a Kathakali king, .somewhere between a clown and a bishop.; a Krishna from Madras, .very much Fellini.; and .almost all over India the faint, cloying smell of shit.. .How to transpose even a whiff of this,. Carrière wonders, .to the Bouffes du Nord [a Paris theatre]..

The answer to this seems to lie in the univer sality of the human body and its many languages of performance. And this is where the necessary essentialism of the theatre becomes the only working solution to the problem of The Mahab harata’s .Indianness.: .What the body can ex press . when one forces it . of another culture and which the mind cannot conceive of !. This leads to two larger questions, which form the core of Carrière’s little book. First, does the com plexity of India correspond to the complexity of the greatest poem to have come out of it? Second, and this question also haunts Brook, .What is it that creates the energy, the intensity that one senses at times in the theatre?. How can one find it? How can one hold on to it?.

.Truth in the theatre,. writes Brook in The Empty Space, .is always on the move.. Carrière is driven by this restiveness in India, a compul sive .obligation to play.. Yet, even when the poem has become a code between him and his colleagues, coming constantly .between us and the world., it keeps its secret, .beyond wonder, charm, irritation, repulsion.. At the end of Car rière’s play, Yudhishthira is brought by Vyasa and Ganesha to the .last illusion., which is also the silence that comes after the telling of a great story,when .words end, like thought..


By Tirthankar Roy,
Oxford, Rs 395

The volume under review is an economist’s version of colonial India’s economic history based on an analysis of available data. The objective is to come to a conclusion as to whether there had been any positive economic development in colonial India. If so, in what way? And if not, why not?

Tirthankar Roy’s finding is that the impetus of commercialization, and a strong state and modernization brought on by colonialism .intensi fied competition and produced both segments of growth and segments of decline.. Did decline outweigh growth, thus causing impoverish ment? Roy’s study finds no sufficient quantitative evidence to conclude so.

What Roy accepts is that, during 190047, British India’s annual per capita growth rate of national income was 0.1 per cent. However, this rate .was not only too slow to ensure rapid improvements in living standards, but also to be comparable to growth rates in postindependence India.. The lat ter were much higher. For this stagna tion, this low performance, he does not blame British imperial policies, but Indian society’s incapacity to re spond to those benevolent policies.

Roy further asserts that the decline during 190047 was specific to the agri culture sector,while industries under went mentionable growth. Neverthe less, the overall scenario was one of stagnation, mainly because of decline in eastern India. One could by and large agree with him so far, except on the role of British policies.

Roy’s other finding that .by the best estimates available, nineteenth century did see higher growth rates. is difficult to swallow. He observes .it is not clear yet whether the first half of the nineteenth century was generally a depressed period or not. It is clear, however, that after 1860 the economy was growing under the impetus of eas ier tax burden and significant expan sion in market opportunities..

He asserts that the number of workers in the textile sector . the largest employment generating sector after agriculture . did not decrease. He further asserts that neither those who remained in the sector, nor those who shifted to agriculture experi enced a fall in their real incomes.

One cannot but disagree with this conclusion. Early nineteenth century records provide us with enough evi dence that displaced textile workers accepted lower earnings for a basic survival, while many suffered starva tion deaths throughout British India. Population estimates, cited in the book, suggest that during the sixty year period, 18011861, India’s average annual demographic growth rate was as low as 0.3 per cent, although no major famines had taken place in be tween.

During the 1860s, the cotton famine took place. The Indian textile industry faced keen British competition in the raw cotton market as well, as prices were too high for Indian buyers. It was not a case of harvest failure. What happened was that no less than an esti mated onethird to onehalf of India’s raw cotton supply found their outlet to foreign, mostly British, markets. It was the imperialism of free trade at this stage that forced the Indian textile industry to close down looms and re trench labour. This situation of raw material crisis could have been avoid ed, had the BritishIndian government adopted a policy of protection, making the export of raw cotton difficult. In this context, what is funny is that the local government of the north west ern provinces ordered an inquiry, not to find out the problems of the hand loom weavers and spinning mills in distress, but to find out .Information regarding the slackness of demand for European goods..

It is a falsification of history when Roy argues that British policies were not primarily responsible for what happened. When India had a compara tive advantage during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Britain’s fledgling cotton textile indus try was taken under the wings of a protective imperial fiscal policy. But during 18601900, when India needed such a policy to gain time to adjust it self to the challenge of technology, it had to face the imperialism of free trade.

All said, the book under review, meant to be a textbook for students, has been competently written, incor porating all the major issues of discus sion. It is also heavily, and indiscreetly, loaded with an ideological bias in favour of globalization and liberaliza tion, projected as the most desirable development strategy for third world countries. The author believes, colo nialism laid the foundations for such a process in India.

It is an oversimplification, if not distortion,when Roy suggests that, for the decline/stagnation scenario, Marxist historians single out British policies alone for blame; and not the socioeconomic environment rooted in the persistent feudal past. And that in their views, the preBritish peasant so ciety was an undifferentiated one. He also suggests that while holding colo nialism responsible for the plight of weavers, nationalists like R.C. Dutt and D.R. Gadgil were unaware of the technological aspects of the question. This is not true.


By Meena Radhakrishna,
Oxford, Rs 435

While studying denotified nomadic tribes and commu nities, Dishonoured by Histo ry also discusses one of the legislative measures in British social policy in India which dealt with the .predatory castes.. The author traces the origins and implications of the Criminal Tribes Act, enacted by the British In dian government in 1871, with special reference to the Madras presidency where a revised version of the act be came applicable in 1911, affecting al most 14,00,000 people.Meena Radhakr ishna focusses on the Koravar commu nity in particular.

The purpose of the 1871 act had been to suppress .hereditary crimi nal. sections of Indian society, and Radhakrishna shows how the develop ing disciplines of anthropometry and anthropology legitimized this notion. Particular sections of the Indian pop ulation, mostly indigenous .tribal. communities and itinerant groups were regarded as criminals. By fo cussing on bizarre and exotic rituals and customs of such communities, and by differentiating them from the .civilized., people were made to be lieve that these communities were were physically and mentally crimi nal. The British administration fur ther realized that they could very easi ly and skilfully integrate these com munities into the existing hierarchy of the Hindu caste system.

Radhakrishna points out that the need for practical governance led to the revision of the CTA in 1911. The administrative rationale was that with the new policies designed to raise revenue,some communities had irrev ocably lost their means of livelihood and had to resort to crime for survival. In the new act was the corollary that these criminals were reformable. The British administration would inter vene, give them employment and wean them away from crime.

The urge to reform these commu nities had nothing to do with the mag nanimity of the British administra tion. The government faced two differ ent compulsions. They had to raise revenue from land, and they had made a commitment to private enterprise. Thus increasing manpower had to be engaged in agricultural and industri al settlements. Railway networks and forest laws came as a great setback for intinerant communities like the Ko ravars, and British policy forced them into settlement.

Once the revised CTA was institut ed in 1911, the Salvation Army was put in almost exclusive charge of Indian itinerant communities. They were to be reclaimed by being confined to spe cial settlements with special rules and regulations. The process of change from an itinerant community to a forcedly settled one; from being con sidered useful members of society to being declared predators and crimi nals; and the ultimate transition from agricultural workers to industrial workers was a severely traumatic one for the community. Frequent, coerced interventions in the daily community life of these people led to irreparable breaches again and again, resulting in the blanking out of the collective memory of the community’s past. The memory of the past in the current gen eration’s mind is a version introduced by the Salvation Army. The oral cul ture of the community as of today rep resents the .official. version and is de void of the nuances, complexity and richness of the lived past.

Although Radhakrishna is not the first to study criminal tribes, the book is indeed a careful analysis of colonial power projection and the subsequent loss of the history of the indigenous past.


It isn.t being churlish, but look at some of the books that are being brought out by the big publishing houses. Most of the books bristle with errors . spelling mistakes, grammatical howlers, incorrect facts . quite apart from shoddy scholar ship, poor indexing and so on. For au thors and readers alike, the sense of confidence that competent publishers should publish good books has been rudely shaken. This is because a new generation of graduates have made an entrée into publishing, including the print media, in the hope of commenc ing a vocation in writing.

The big difference, between now and before, is that the earlier genera tion went through the grind of collect ing information to writing and rewrit ing .copy. before sending it to press; the present generation lacks patience, and hence the appropriate tempera ment to check out the minutiae of de tail without which no good book can ever be created.

It isn.t easy, but with time and pa tience the right kind of editorial tem perament can be created if the selec tion procedures are based on a test of skills, and not just academic qualifica tions. But the big changes in the last quarter century have taken place be cause of technology. Like in many fields where technology has become an integral component, the changes have been wide, deep and unsettling. Earlier, the editor was exposed to everything from copyediting to edito rial writing, layout and so on. Proofs were made and sent to proofreaders, some of them a force unto themselves like Eastend Printers in Calcutta. Fi nally, the proofs were crosschecked by the editor before being sent for print ing. In other words, there were at least four to five rounds of reading before the book was printed.

Compare this with the present sce nario. The .copy. is read on the com puter and mistakes are corrected through spell and grammar checks. Factchecking is done by accessing the internet, instead of going through ref erence books, because it is so much faster and hasslefree. The process which earlier took six to eight months, from the delivery of the manuscript to the finished book, is now over in less than two months. Of course, speed does not necessarily mean poor quali ty. But sadly, the tendency is to let the machine do the thinking for us. For in stance, spell and grammar checks, the two tools that editors resort to most frequently, check out only the literals . whether the spelling and basic rules of grammar like subjectverb agreement and so on are correct. But crucial inputs like the use or nonuse of the article, or correct sentence con struction, are missed. There is simply no substitute for the human factor to ensure good copy; the soul of the ma chine can never quite get it right, how ever sophisticated the software.

The Swiss playwright, Max Frisch, had defined technology as .the knack of so arranging the world that you no longer need to experience it.. That just about sums up the situation creat ed by the widespread application of technology in the publishing world. It has been a boon as far as the printing and design processes through comput eraided design are concerned. The general quality of print is now compa rable to the best in the world. But to blindly apply technology to improve the intellectual quality of the book, and to entrust this technology in the hands of whiz kids in a hurry to move on to the next rung of the social ladder is an invitation to disaster. You don.t even have to look too closely at most books to realize what this means.



A shame that nobody talks about

Edited by William Maley
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Afghanistan and the Taliban: The rebirth of fundamentalism? edited by William Maley is an important collection of essays by senior academics, journalists and fieldworkers on “a terrifying oddity in the politics of the modern world”. The rise to power, social roots and political implications of the taliban are studied from a wide range of perspectives, avoiding the taxonomic problem of whether to call the taliban “fundamentalist”, “traditional” or “totalitarian”. Wary of looking at the taliban as a monolithic force, the collection analyses, among other things, the Rabbani regime (199296), the taliban’s militarization and its relations with Pakistan, the United States of America, Russia, central Asia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. A separate section deals with the dilemmas of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, the experience of Afghan women and the role of the United Nations. The final essays are on the future of Islamism, and of the state and community governance, in Afghanistan. With a new preface, written postSeptember 11, these essays explore the profoundly sinister implications of what an Afghan had once said to one of the contributors to this volume: “A shame that nobody talks about is no shame.”

By Rita Agrawal
(Response, Rs 225)

Stress in life and at work by Rita Agrawal is a rather dull and expensive book on an everyday phenomenon still associated in the Indian mind with the Western industrialized lifestyle. But stresslevels are on the rise in Asia, and India is no exception. Highlighting stress prevention rather than stress management, Agrawal advocates a proactive approach. She looks at specific scenarios like the workplace, marriage, unemployment and the dual career of working men and women and analyses the sources, processes and consequences of stress. The last section provides a set of strategies for coping with stress for individuals and organizations.

Edited by P.D. James and Harriet Harvey Wood
(Vintage, £ 7.99)

Sightlines edited by P.D. James and Harriet Harvey Wood is a wonderfully diverse collection of stories, extracts, and poems from some of Britain’s most famous writers. Julian Barnes, Louis de Bernières, A.S. Byatt, Frederick Forsyth, John Fowles, Richard Holmes, Andrew Motion, Romesh Guneskera, Dorris Lessing, David Lodge, David Malouf Ruth Rendell and Fay Weldon are some of the many people who have contributed to this volume. Its sale helps raise funds to bring the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Talking Books into the digital age and preserve this national treasure in England for generations to come. The pieces in this book are interspersed with a variety of quotations on the theme of blindness, from Milton’s famous sonnet to Emily Dickinson: “Who saw no Sunrise cannot say/ The Countenance ‘twould be./ Who guess at seeing, guess at loss/ Of the Ability.”



Some dosage for the authorities

Sir . Statistics would reveal that India has one of the highest in fant mortality rates in the world. Gross negligence on the part of the health department only aggravates the situation (.Vitamin toll rips Assam government veil.,Nov 19).The most recent evidence of this is the death of 15 infants in Assam who were administered the pulse vi tamin A dosage.What is most unfortunate is the attempt of the state government to cover up the scandal.The other alarming aspect of the incident is the involvement of a reputed organization like the UNICEF. Instead of taking stringent action against those responsible for the mishap, both the state authorities and the UNICEF are trying to pass on the buck.Which only proves that they are more both ered about saving their own reputation than about ensuring the safety of the little ones. A survey conducted in Assam revealed that 0.3 per cent of the children suffer from vitamin deficiency. This means there is need to conduct more such pro grammes of administering vitamins externally.Which again probably means more deaths. That is unless the government does something about it.
Yours faithfully,
Debasree Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Contain terror by all means

Sir . Political parties in a democratic set up has a vital role to play in positively influencing public opinion. However, this does not hold true in the case of India. The antiterror ordinance is facing staunch opposition in political circles, which indeed is disappointing.

Known for his innate understanding of party politics, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, chose to sidestep the approaching chaos in Parliament by deferring the allparty meeting (.Terror law trouble in Advani court., Nov 20). Perhaps this would en able the Centre to think of appropriate strategies to force the ordinance through. The only positive development recently has been the allies. support to the govern ment with a major condition . the pre vention of terrorism ordinance should be amended to remove all fears of its pos sible misuse against the press, the mi norities and the opposition.

From the past events it is clear that the opposition has misinterpreted the Bharatiya Janata Party’s determination to root out terrorism in India. It is time some form of consensus was reached as soon as possible between all the parties so that POTO becomes a reality.

Yours faithfully,
Chandni Sinha, Calcutta

Sir . It seems that both the BJP and the Congress are more interested in fight ing each other than dealing with the growing problem of terrorism. The Con gress’s principle objection to POTO seems to stem from the fact that the Cen tre,while drafting the bill, did not take the main opposition party into confi dence.However, under the present situa tion, the Congress ought to cooperate with the ruling party instead of seeking its revenge by stalling the passage of the bill. This spirit would befit the oldest po litical party in India. On the other hand, the BJP should admit its mistake of not consulting the opposition before taking a momentous decision about the country’s security concerns. The opposition has made a mountain of a procedural slip. This is most unfortunate and also detri mental to the interests of the country.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir . As is common knowledge by now, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, another law which was implemented with the specific purpose of controlling terrorist activity on Indian soil has turned out to be a farce. The POTO, if it ever comes into force is likely to have a similar record. Common sense would therefore dictate that there should not be a repeat of the same experience again. But would there ever be a law which would guarantee human rights and at the same time bring terrorists into the police dragnet?

Yours faithfully,
Satinath Samanta, Calcutta

Trash the minister

Sir . The West Bengal transport min ister, Subhas Chakraborty, is determined to embarrass his own party (.Subhas toasts Osama, Buddha trashes terror., Nov 12). At the fourth Murshidabad dis trict conference of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Chakraborty embarked on a fullthroated defence of the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11. He justified his action on the basis of ide ology. The attitude is extremely disturb ing. Does he mean that Americans need to die because they follow a capitalist sys tem? Then a few planes need to hit China as well as condemnation of its recent eco nomic policies.

Chakraborty is known for his love of courting controversy. But does he need to go to such ridiculous lengths?

Yours faithfully,
Nilanjan Biswas, Malda

Sir . Subhas Chakraborty may have the right to voice his opinion. But in pub lic he should have refrained from making such impulsive statements. There is no doubt that the minister by his comment wanted to gain the support of one section of the population, knowing full well where thier sympathies lay. It is surpris ing that Chakraborty chose the CITU meeting for making his point. The Com munist Party of India (Marxist) should have taken strict measures against Chakraborty since the state government would be held accountable for the reac tionary statements of this nature by a party member.

Yours faithfully,
S. Jain, Siliguri

No more doles, please

Sir . The report, .Study team to tour strike hit Silchar REC. (Nov 5, Guwahati edition) is some cause for concern. It makes little sense for the ministry of human resources to try upgrading the Silchar Regional Engineering college into a national institute of technology when a representative of the ministry has already submitted a report on the glaring inadequacies of the college. The attempts by the AllIndia Institute of Technical Education and the Centre to improve the poor infrastructure of the college is hardly bearing any result. The ongoing tussle between the teachers and the principal will prove detrimental to the institution. So long as the govern ment fails to keep a tab on the utilization of funds, equipment and the prevent dis crimination against some individuals in side the college, all efforts by the min istry to improve the situation will fail.
Yours faithfully,
Sonali Das, via email

Sir . The ministry of human re sources seems all set to make amends for its neglect of the Northeast. The effort to revamp the educational system is com mendable. However, pumping Rs 8 crore into the Silchar REC does raise a number of vital questions. First, before improv ing the higher education scenario, the state and the Central government should focus on ways to upgrade the primary and basic educational structures. Sec ond, the authorities concerned should see that the available funds are properly used in schools, colleges and universities. Merely providing money to one technical college is not enough. Third, the ministry should open more technical institutes in the region. This in turn would guarantee students proper placements in both the public and the private sectors. In conse quence, the dismal state of unemploy ment in the region will improve consider ably.

A lot remains to be done with regard to education in the Northeast. The Centre should continue to attend to the problem.

Yours faithfully,
A. Haokip, Manipur

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