Editorial / Don’t look so sad
At a loss for words
The Telegraph Diary
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EDITORIAL / DON’T LOOK SO SAD 
 
 
 
 
The death of George Harrison is a reminder of the overwhelming presence of the Beatles in the cultural landscape of the Sixties. That era passed a long time ago. It passed not only when the Beatles broke up in some acrimony, but also when the magic of 1968 — that year of protest across the globe — gave way to the cosiness of pinstripe suits in banks and stock exchanges. The sartorial uniqueness of the Beatles — first the cropped mop, later the long hair and bell-bottomed trousers — and their journey from a club in Liverpool called The Cavern to the glamour of the recording studios in Abbey Road symbolized the era: its radicalism, its protest, its ethos of the underdog making good. They were a part of the era and they made the era. Their lyrics and tunes were that era’s songlines. Their image was the epoch’s icon, as was that ubiquitous poster of Che Guevera. They captured also the sense of fun and play, the passing mood of defiance and the angst which are the hallmarks of youth. They represented the young to the world through their musicmaking.

Nobody, not even the most conservative lover of classical music, can deny the captivating character of the music the Beatles made. There was nothing essentially innovative in the music the Beatles made. Their compositions played on the traditions of rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Their musicmaking was easy and flowing; many of their tunes could be hummed and whistled. A characteristic example would be the hit, “Love, Love Me Do”, whose lyrics were by no reckoning memorable. But the song is still hummed, more than thirty years after it was written, because through some unknown chemistry to which only music is heir to words and music came together in an unforgettable way in the hands of an extraordinarily talented group of musicians. This is not to suggest that the lyrics in all Beatles’s songs were forgettable. The words of their later songs — “With a Little Help from My Friends”, “Hey Jude”, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “A Day in the Life of”, and so on — acquired a poignancy and a profundity. But the varying moods came to be implicated with a certain freshness which seemed to take Britain away from its post-war drabness, and from the smugness of the Macmillan years. Who can ever forget the sheer fun of their experimentation with reggae in “Obladi, Oblada”?

The fun had an underlying angst. Most memo-rably invoked in “Yesterday’’.This appealed to an entire generation that refused to succumb to the lure of Mammon. The long haired lovers from Liverpool had become the flower children of the late Sixties. To the heady scents of marijuana was added a whiff of Indian spirituality. George more than Paul, John and Ringo epitomized this trend. Modern Western music took a new turn when the Beatles sang and strummed. If Bach and Beethoven were the first milestones, and Ellington, Monk, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Coltraine the subsequent ones in the history of Western music, then Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart s Club Band was also a point of arrival and of departure. The music lives as long as the music lasts.

   

 
 
AT A LOSS FOR WORDS 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAUDHURI
 
 
Mike Denness is a man of few words. This was revealed to those who happened to see, on television, the press conference in which he announced to the world the by now well-known punitive measures he had taken against six Indian cricketers. The announcement, emanating from him, was actually made by the figure beside him, the sheepish president of the South African cricket board, Gerald Majola.

All the while, as we know, Mike Denness kept silent. At one point he mumbled a few words to Majola, probably to confirm that he was going to continue to remain silent; at other points, he looked at his watch ostentatiously. The reporters, commentators and ex-cricketers from different parts of the world who had congregated that morning for a possible tête-à-tête with the match referee, found themselves gathered for what in India is known as a darshan: a glimpse of the deity. Ravi Shastri, standing up, asked famously: “If he’s not going to answer questions, why is he here? We all know what Mike Denness looks like.” I, however, did not know what Mike Denness looked like. I was interested in what I saw. He had a simple, proselytising face, the face of a man of religion who, in an obscure parish, might have preached mercy and compassion to a small audience.

The press conference was one of the, probably the, most bizarre public interchanges I have seen. Its equal lies not in the realm of fact, but in fiction — in the courtroom scene, I felt, in Forster’s A Passage to India, especially in David Lean’s lurid cinematic interpretation of that novel. Though the press conference was held one morning in the early twenty first century in a small city in post-apartheid South Africa, it had the air of occurring in a half-savage tropical country in a half-savage age. Mike Denness played Adela Quested; just as she was kept from speaking by her officious English compatriots, Denness had been silenced and cocooned, and ensconced from the obstreperous natives, by the ICC.

As we contemplated Mike Denness, the question came to us again: what really happened in the Marabar caves? Had there been some wrongdoing in the semi-darkness, the silence, or had Adela Quested had sunstroke? If only Mike Denness were allowed to speak, you felt, he would inevitably recant. “The prisoner followed you, didn’t he?” asks McBryde (the Superintendent of Police, and, like Denness, a Scotsman) of Miss Quested; he is referring to Dr Aziz. “May I have half a minute before I reply to that, Mr McBryde?” The latter, courteously, perhaps mechanically: “Certainly.” Miss Quested returns, in her mind, to the scene of the “crime”; she has a “vision” of the caves; but she cannot find the defendant. “‘I am not — ’ Speech was more difficult than vision. ‘I am not quite sure.’ ‘I beg your pardon?’ said the Superintendent of Police. Finally, she observes, ‘I have made a mistake.’”

Might the same words have emerged from Denness had he been allowed to speak; might he, too, have had a glimpse of the cave’s entrance? In the end, it is difficult to tell, to know, with any certainty, what did actually happen in the Marabar caves. The truth was lost, or its revelation postponed, in the quarrel, during which, however, one encountered a familiar set of types and prejudices. The natives bayed outside the courtroom; in the novel, they begin to chant the name of the English lady, Mrs Moore, who was sympathetic to Aziz, and who has already left for England and will die on her journey back. They mispronounce her name, “Esmiss Esmoor,” seeming to turn her, to her son’s revulsion, into a “Hindu goddess”. The members of the ICC at Lord’s have also, in their club rooms, been listening for similar chants and incantations; the natives have been multiplying and spreading their seed while appropriating the game of cricket; their voices have grown altogether too audible.

Another type: the awkward, solitary, “liberal” Englishman, the kind that abandons his countrymen and is to be found in the company of other races. Thus, Forster created the school teacher Fielding, Aziz’s friend, who resigned his membership of his club in Chandannagore to protest his friend’s innocence. The have been other, historical figures: C.F. Andrews and Pearson immediately come to mind. In the world of today’s cricket, Geoffrey Boycott has more than once crossed over to the “other” side; this time, as we know, he suggested the Indians take the ICC to court. He is the kind of Englishman who has, time and again, almost inadvertently, passed into our national life.

In the midst of all this comes Dalmiya. Here is a man who mispronounces English words, adds definite articles where there should be none, mauls the grammar, and has the knack of turning a reporter’s question into an aphorism: “You are talking about showdown. I am saying show must go on.” How much more clever, more articulate, more dangerous the Esmiss Esmoor brigade has become!

Forster, in A Passage to India, described a world that came into being after the amended Ilbert bill (which, in effect, barred Indians from trying English men and women) was passed in 1873. Das, the timid magistrate in the novel, has been put in charge of the court by his British superiors as a sort of figurehead, a man they can sideline and control. Adela Quested’s confession — “I’m afraid I have made a mistake” — helps Das use the authority reposed figuratively in himself to turn the case decisively in Aziz’s favour.

The world engendered by the Ilbert bill controversy continues to exist everywhere, although the colonies have ceased to exist; it exists in the question put by Michael Henderson in The Daily Telegraph, “Just who does Dalmiya think he is?” To counter it, Dalmiya has proceeded with a series of aggressive jabs, punctuated by occasional conciliatory noises. Those who say he should have behaved with greater restraint ignore the fact that no concession has ever been won from an Anglo-Saxon committee (which is what the ICC has essentially been) through reasonable discussion, or because of the intrinsic justice of the demand. How long, though, will the match referee be at a loss for words?

[email protected]

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Happier birthday

Some extra-curricular activity? Possibly. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi figures prominently in the guest list drawn up for the birthday celebrations of the Congress deserter, Sharad Pawar. The Maratha strongman will be all of 61 on December 12, and his supporters have decided to celebrate the day in grand style. A mega-panel has been set up to oversee the arrangements, and Priyada is supposed to have consented to be part of it. Another entrant is NKP Salve, a Congresswallah not too pleased with madam for her refusal to back the demand for a separate Vidarbha. Which means Salve is not a surprise, but what about Priya’s salve? If the invitation stands justified on grounds of past proximity, people like Kamal Nath, Mukul Wasnik, Ambika Soni and Girija Vyas should have made it to the party. But no. Conventional wisdom says madam should have seen it coming. She has disappointed Das Munshi more than once. His claim to the deputy leadership of the Lok Sabha was ignored, never mind the argument that it would have jeopardized madam’s ties with the left in the house. Moreover, Priya was also given a shouting after he produced an allegedly forged letter to embarass the government over the disinvestment in Air India. So Das Munshi would be, believes CW, naturally prone to invitations from the enemy camp. But do there have to be reasons for organizing a birthday bash?

At each other’s throats

For some sibling rivalry now. There seems to be no love lost between sister Sushma Swaraj and brother Arun Jaitley of the saffron family. Worse, even the brother-in-law seems to have joined in the ruckus. Apart from the cabinet meeting where Swaraj was said to have alleged that Jaitley was behind the leakage of cabinet decisions to the press, there was also the consultative meeting of MPs in which Swaraj Kaushal added the topping. When Jaitley was responding to a Congress query on POTO, Kaushal is reported to have suddenly jumped out of his chair without provocation and said, “All this problem has been created by this man.” Which one? Jaitley or Kaushal?

Confining the king

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, couldn’t believe his ears when Samata Party MP, Prabhu Nath Singh, began sharing his concern over the safety and security of King Laloo Prasad Yadav at Ranchi’s inspection bungalow, which incidentally is being manned by around 72 policemen. Raghuvansh was all ears for what Prabhu had to say when he suddenly realized what point it was that the latter was hammering in. Raghuvansh heard Prabhu say, “Sir, there cannot be a more secure place than a jail. Lalooji should be immediately sent to jail.” The Samata Party is unhappy with Babulal Marandi for letting Laloo stay in the inspection bungalow, instead of a jail in Ranchi. Which means there is genuine concern.

Men on all fours

Meanwhile the rancour in the Chhattisgarh Congress is reaching unprecedented levels (or should we say kennels?). The other day a Congresswallah made a distasteful remark about the disputed identity of the chief minister, Ajit Jogi, in the presence of his rival, Vidya Charan Shukla. The speaker wondered why Sonia Gandhi had not checked the antecedents of the CM and added, “You check the pedigree of a dog before domesticating it. Chhattisgarh is an unfortunate state where no one checked the tribal status of the chief minister.” The canine metaphor is said to have deeply annoyed the leadership, which (last heard) has sent a letter seeking an explanation from VC Shukla. Quite a dog fight.

A wedding invitation

Setting an example or following one? Wednesday last, at his daughter’s wedding, Pramod Mahajan, parliamentary affairs and communications minister, invited “two and a half” people from the government. That is the prime minister, the home minister and a minister of state in the PMO who is an old pal of Mahajan. However, not everyone in the government was happy about the social discrimination. On Wednesday morning, when the wedding took place, most senior ministers were absent in the Lok Sabha, thereby dispelling the impression that they had not been invited. Mahajan however insisted that the wedding had not been made a “political tamasha”. He even said that he was emulating Rajesh Pilot who had not even invited Sonia Gandhi to his daughter’s wedding. But it doesn’t seem that his political family really liked his following the example of one from the rival camp.

Rebels in the temple

Priests in rebellion. Pujaris in Andhra Pradesh are up in arms after the state government attempted to push through its nominees in all temple trusts known for their wealth. The government also proposed that priests above 60 should call it a day and allow younger ones to fill in the slots. Pujaris on the other hand ask if there is any age bar for serving god. The eligibility for the profession in fact grows with age. Looks like N Chandrababu Naidu is in for a real philosophical mess.

For the sake of publicity

A star which has faded? Seems like it. Dhak dhak girl, Madhuri Dixit, is trying all the tricks in her bag to stay in the news. Besides giving interviews to any Tom, Dick and Harry about how she misses hubby, and how she hopes Devdaas will place her in the league of Nargis, Madhubala and Nutan, she is willing to take up any social cause, be it against crackers or the protection of elephants on behalf of PeTA. But some want her to do more than write letters to governments. Remember, Pamela Anderson had taken off her shirt for tigers?

Footnote / Not entirely the sound of music

A night of music ended in a lot of noise. Everyone knows how one of Mamata Banerjee’s brothers had tried to host a Bappi Lahiri nite and how didi had got it stalled through Calcutta mayor, Subrata Mukherjee. A little known fact is that, some allege, it was Subrata who had introduced brother Banerjee to Bappi and had advised the singer and music director to cosy up to the family. Moreover, Subrata and some of his cronies have reportedly done a Bappi Lahiri nite in Behala before. Strangely, didi, despite knowing of the goings-on, had made no protest. Why such thunder this time then? Some say it is because of the funds that were raised for the soiree. There is no doubt that such funds have been raised before. But didi had probably kept quiet in the firm belief that the denomination had been small given the locality. It was apparently different this time. Besides, none of her brothers had been involved earlier, although Subrata Mukherjee had been and Mamata should have been just as concerned. Does that mean didi is a trifle more serious about saving the reputation of her family than that of her party?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Biting the hand that feeds you

Sir — Since the magazine, Nakkeeran, is one close to M. Karunanidhi, the arrest and detention of its reporter, Sivasubramaniam, by the special task force seems to have been made on the behest of J. Jayalalithaa (“Karnataka cold shoulders Veerappan emissary”, Nov 26). It also seems that the STF is upset that Nakkeeran managed to interview Veerappan while the STF had no clue to his whereabouts. Whatever the reason, both the government and the STF must realize that journalists will no longer risk their lives or act as go-betweens for the state with brigands if they are going to be arrested for doing so. All the STF and the state have achieved through this arrest is the severing of the only connection with Veerappan.

Yours faithfully,
Rooma Chatterjee, Jamshedpur

Past glories

Sir — The first step to building a post-taliban Afghanistan, should be the restoration of the country’s heritage, and India should play a major role in this restoration (“Picking up the pieces of the past”, Nov 26). The Indian government needs to realize the country’s longstanding cultural and historical links with Afghanistan.

Before the Durand Line marked off India from its turbulent neighbour in 1893, Afghanistan was an integral part of India. The second century Greek chronicler, Ptolemy, included Afghanistan in his definition of India, and the region around Kandahar was referred to as “white India”. Fa-hien had also included substantial parts of Afghanistan in his definition of India, and Akbar’s minister, Abul Fazl, described Kabul and Kandahar, then parts of the Mughal empire, as the twin gates to India. The much hyped Bamiyan Buddhas were the foremost symbol of this cultural and civilizational link. In Hadda, archaeologists have unearthed many stupas, and Kushan and Gandhara artefacts which date back to the Hindu-Buddhist presence in Afghanistan which had continued till the early 10th century. In the light of India and Afghan-istan’s past connection, the Indian government should extend a helping hand to the Society for Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage.

Yours faithfully,
Shankha Roy, Calcutta

Sir — It was interesting to read about the rarely mentioned cultural heritage of Afghanistan, (“Picking up pieces of the past”). Governments which rose up in arms against the taliban should now extend as much monetary support as possible to the restoration of this heritage. But one is left with the feeling that the United States of America is interested in only “smoking out Osama”, establishing a government in Afghanistan, and then ruling the roost in the country. The country’s heritage is nowhere on the US agenda. What Afghanistan needs at the moment is monetary help to rectify the destruction to its cultural history. And this can only come from the superpowers. The political restructuring of Afghanistan should be accompanied by its cultural recovery.

Yours faithfully,
Dolly Singh, Pune

Looking at the stars

Sir — I agree with Dipankar Gupta that astrology is definitely not a science, it is knowledge based on faith, and should not be included in any university curriculum (“Two cultures and a half”, Nov 27). But Gupta’s distinction between science and faith, and his claiming both as valid sources of knowledge is faulty. I believe that faith is not a source of knowledge. Faith in god is a realization or experience, and has no epistemological significance. This point is made by many philosophers such as Sören Kierkegaard and the Harvard theologian, Gordon Kaufman, through their definitions of faith.

Gupta also disagrees with the University Grant Commission chairman’s inclusion of astrology in the university curriculum, on the ground that university disciplines ought to be open to critical scrutiny. According to Gupta, astrology as a subject is not open to criticism. This should not be the only criterion for inclusion of subjects in the university curriculum. Many disciplines such as geography are not open to critical scrutiny, yet they remain in college curricula. The distinction to be made is whether a subject is an academic one or not. Till that is decided on, denouncing astrology on the grounds of culture, half-knowledge and faith is illogical.

Yours faithfully,
K. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

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