Editorial / Extremity of confusion
Those juicy textbooks
The Telegraph Diary
People / Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Letters to the editor

Two thousand and one will be remembered for a year of false promises, with much hype generated by a reform-oriented budget. None of the major initiatives promised in the budget (downsizing government, privatization, labour market, agriculture and power sector reforms) materialized. In some cases, there were timeframes for delivery, such as the implementation of expenditure reforms commission reports by July 2001. The finance minister has traditionally adopted two routes to explain non-delivery — first, the option of hope that turnaround is just around the corner; second, the search for bogeys like wars, cyclones and earthquakes.

Barring government circles, no one believes that growth in 2001-02 will be much over 4.5 per cent. This will be the worst performance in several years. Despite this, at the India economic summit and several chamber meetings, Mr Yashwant Sinha continued to harp on 7 per cent. And there was the bogey of a global slowdown and September 11. Except for sectors like tourism and aviation, September 11 had no direct effect on Indian growth prospects. The global slowdown that preceded it was different: it adversely impacted software exports, and will bring down export growth close to 0 per cent in dollar terms in 2001-02. But despite global slowdown, the Chinese economy is chugging along at 7 per cent plus. The difference lies in reforms in China and their disappearance in India.

In retrospect, Mr Sinha must be glad that Parliament knocked the teeth out of the fiscal responsibility and budget management bill, since it would have been impossible to stick to the 4.7 per cent fiscal deficit target. Increasingly, ministers have been making noises about not making the fiscal deficit a fetish. That is neither here nor there. First, the attempted interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India has been insignificant and real interest rates are still exceedingly high. If inflation is at the lowest level in 10 years, there is scope for higher rate cuts. Second, public sector banks refuse to lend and prefer to park almost 3 per cent of their funds in government paper, as against a statutory liquidity ratio of 25 per cent. Again, successful projects like the national highway development programme have been financed from extra-budgetary sources and there is little the budget can do to increase investments in infrastructure or in agriculture. Besides, there is an issue of delivery, since several ministries and government departments have not been able to spend money allocated to them. The Keynesian argument is thus only an excuse for increasing unproductive government revenue expenditure.

This was thus a year where the government only muddled through, except instances where the prime minister was directly interested, such as the NHDP. At the moment, an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with Pakistan is likely to put a lot of things on the backburner. But there are signs that, economically, 2002 will be better. There are signs that domestic consumer expenditure is picking up and global recovery should occur in the second half of 2002. But Mr Sinha can’t take the credit.


“What are your bestsellers?” Journalists frequently ask publishing houses this question, expecting a straightforward list of English fiction and popular titles with numbers sold written against each. In fact, the visibility of English fiction titles annually published in India is out of all proportion with their minuscule number, specially when this number is seen in relation to the total English titles brought out each year within the country. Perhaps 95 per cent of India’s book sales are within the textbook and “prescribed reading” market, and it follows therefore that the country’s real bestsellers lie hidden or invisible within this sector.

HarperCollins, Rupa & Co and Penguin may be our most discernible book brands, Freedom at Midnight and The God of Small Things may be the titles we think of as bestsellers, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh may come to mind as our big-selling authors, but the authors whose books have made them far more money than all these celebrities put together write for children, who rarely register authors’ names. Consequently, they will never be known outside the publishing community.

This is a paradox. Everyone knows Indian books written for children don’t sell. Indians generally buy books only when they absolutely have to, especially for their children. They buy dictionaries because they have to. They buy school atlases because their children need to learn the location of the United States of America and the English-speaking countries of Europe where their cousins live. They fondly hope that, equipped with the twin weapon system of atlas and dictionary, both the desire and the means to join their cousins will be ignited in those innocent childish hearts. And then there are the books they simply cannot escape buying: those prescribed in school for their children. Of these textbooks, the ones that sell most in the private schools sector are English Language Teaching books, because English, unlike other subjects, must be learned from the day you join school to the day you leave it. There are millions of English-learning school-going children. And there are only a few writers who write for them.

Three such bestselling millionaire authors, all Englishmen who wrote ELT texts widely prescribed in Indian private schools, are Douglas Howe, Ronald Ridout and Nicholas Horsburgh. Howe wrote two ELT textbook series called Active English and Guided English.The series had an active life of more than thirty years, selling several million copies each year internationally, and several lakh copies in Indian reprinted editions. British-named characters within some of these books had their names changed to Indian ones, British situations and contexts were redone and made Indian, and the result was that Howe too had to soon transform himself into Douglas Howe, Inc. If rumour be true, his books sold so many copies that he bought himself a tax haven in the shape of a couple of islands in the region of Bali.

Ronald Ridout was a highly literate jumped-up salesman. He worked in the British school-publishing organization called Ginn & Co. and, in the course of hawking their ELT titles to schools and selling them to school booksellers, absorbed the grammatical requirements and vocabulary levels on which most bestselling ELT series are based. He then asked himself the obvious question: why didn’t he write a series himself, since he knew the principles, he knew the principals, he knew the schools, he knew their syllabi, he knew the booksellers? And so he did. The result was the famous series much prescribed in Indian schools starting in the early Sixties, called Better English. For its betterness I can personally vouch as it was prescribed in my school.

Year after year, and continuing even now in pockets of India, this imaginative series has enthralled students who have been lucky enough to learn their English from it with a good English teacher who knew how to use it in classrooms. Ridout too became a millionaire. It is not known if he bought another couple of islands adjoining Howe’s in order to form the Howe-Ridout archipelago. If he did not have the inclination or time, he certainly had the money.

The third heavyweight bestseller, Nicholas Horsburgh, is the son of David Horsburgh. The father worked for many years with the British Council in India, then went native, like Mark Tully, and branched out on his own and set up schools for underprivileged children in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. To earn money for these charitable enterprises, David Horsburgh wrote a huge variety of ELT textbooks, “readers”, anthologies, science books, grammar books, creativity books — you name it, he wrote them. A man of vast learning and imagination, he also wrote some of these not merely in English but also in Telugu and Hindi. The Horsburgh corpus was hugely popular in the Indian private schools sector in the Seventies and Eighties.

It was inherited by the son, Nicholas, who followed his illustrious father’s footsteps. He wrote a series called Modern English, and when sales of that began declining he wrote another called New Modern English. He then branched out, like his father, into grammar books and other prescribable texts.

Later he was approached to write texts for them by Nepalis and Pakistanis, and soon he had his own textbook empire. The royalties paid by just his Indian publishers to Nicholas Horsburgh are estimated to run to a crore and a half annually: that is, he makes this sum of money year after year from just the Indian texts he has authored. From this may be inferred the turnover — from just the Horsburgh books — of the publishers lucky enough to have such a writer within their stable.

These Englishmen are merely three whose fortunes I happen to know of via my own days in publishing. There are many others. Every Indian publisher specializing in the ELT market — Orient Longman, Frank Brothers, Oxford University Press — has a cache of crorepati authors who rake in the royalties year after year via sales of their books to schoolkids.

The Englishmen have made way for local writers. One of the shrewdest minds ever to have been in Indian English publishing is the Calcutta quiz-king and distinguished member of parliament for the Anglo-Indian community, Neil O’Brien, who cottoned on to the “market-need” for a General Knowledge textbook series well in time to make a huge success of it. Another success story has been that of a once-ordinary grammar specialist who was a (respected) head of the English department at the National Council of Educational Research and Training in New Delhi, Ms Ram. She teamed up some years ago with the current principal of Doon School, John Mason, to write a grammar series. These have sold vast numbers of copies.

The royalty advances novelists get make headline news. But behind the scenes, far away from the newspapers, in the underbelly of publishing is the exciting textbook world of spying, skulduggery and heartburn. Publishers steal each others’ personnel, bribe their way into schools, wheedle out insider information on syllabi before anyone else gets there, and woo authors with serious money. As some of the cleverest minds among ELT specialists, schoolteachers and publishing personnel have worked out — if you want to be an Indian bestseller, don’t waste your time writing fiction. Just focus on figuring out what stands a good chance of being prescribed in Indian schools, cut a nice deal with a reputed Indian school publisher, and write those juicy textbooks.



The bells don’t jingle

What does a maulana have to do with politicians’ vacations? Ask Masood Azhar, he knows the answer. Two years ago around this time of season’s greetings, all the elder statesmen had to cancel glorious holidays and stay put in New Delhi, because terrorists had hijacked Flight IC 814 to ensure the release of the ungentle maulana from Indian prisons. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh personally escorted the gentleman to Kandahar. Not only was Azhar free, all the cases against him had been withdrawn. That year the prime minister had to rush back from peaceful Manali. This year the Jaish chief and his men have done it again. All cabinet ministers are stuck in New Delhi since December 13. The PM has cancelled his trip to Goa with his family, never mind that he spends this time every year at some tourist spot. The external affairs minister had hoped to retire to his native village in Barmerh. George Fernandes has missed his date with the jawans in Siachen — at least so far. Guess who had remained fairly unperturbed? The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, who was Christmassing in London till called back by the PM. Sorry, Mr Abdullah! And good going, maulana.

Singing the wrong tune

Talk about taste. And political correctness! The BJP MPs, especially those from Delhi, are deeply upset with Vijay Goel, minister of state in the PMO, for organizing the Chandni Chowk festival. The MP from Delhi’s walled city arranged for quawali, mushaira and kavi sammelan when India was on the brink of war. Or that was at least what the popular perception of things would be. Vijay Kumar Malhotra refused be a guest of honour when renowned Pakistani singer Reshma was performing. Malhotra has nothing against Reshma, as a matter of fact, he is one of her admirers. But the BJP spokesman thought it would be “politically incorrect” to patronize a Pakistani singer when her country is aiding terrorism. Are there no two ways about it, Mr Malhotra?

Breakfast with the advisor

More about foot in the mouth disease. Vijay Goel has apparently managed to extend his list of enemies quite significantly. As a minister in the PMO, he fancies himself in the role of Mr Know-all. It appears he has breakfast with the PM and even briefs him on what to say or not to the media — something that is not being appreciated by either Brajesh Mishra or the PM’s media advisor, Ashok Tandon. Brajesh is not someone that Goel is willing to take on at the moment, the man’s clout intimidates our hero. So he keeps away from the powerful national security advisor. But Vijay’s one-upmanship game with Tandon is beginning to make waves.

New player on the block

There are players in the other camp too. Maharaj Kumar Rasgotra is emerging as a key player in very very domestic politics. The former foreign secretary is not part of any political party but like a true diplomat, he has close links with both Sonia Gandhi and AB Vajpayee. This should be considered a great asset although not everybody seems of the same mind. The coming together (well, almost) of Sonia and AB is being attributed to Rasgotra’s diplomatic skills. Not for nothing was he Brajesh Mishra’s boss. What’s the problem in a closer relationship between the treasury benches and the opposition which is so necessary in a display of national unity? Given the present time, this is the best that could have happened. But some in the Congress are cribbing. If an “outsider” is given so much importance, what will happen to madam’s coterie? Hard one to answer.

Secure in the quest for justice

Only Arun Jaitley, the law, justice and company affairs minister, can describe the woes that a lawful sense of justice can bring with it. He didn’t want to accept Z category security. But he has had to. Since December 13, there is just too much worry about security for the VIPs. And the forthright minister has been very vocally defensive of POTO, and has been even more caustic towards those who fail to appreciate the importance of POTO in India where ISI agents are so active. His anger knows no bounds. He even asked one of his critics, one of the candles-at-the-Wagah-border brigade why they didn’t arrange for the funeral of the five terrorists who were killed in Parliament. Pakistan refused to accept their bodies, the Pakistan high commission in Delhi shied away nervously because of fears that such an acceptance would confirm suspicions of ISI involvement in the Parliament attack. The Indian government insists all five were Pakistan citizens. No justice, is there Mr Jaitley?

Search me, I got the right answer

But not everybody has quite got the ins and outs of the attack on Parliament. There were some who got it immediately, though. Like the senior Congress MP who pitched himself for the bravery awards when the attack was over, but was holed up in the bathroom as long as the attack was on. But poor Doordarshan! A senior producer, soon after December 13 when all public buildings in Delhi were on high alert, was frisked at the entrance of a Doordarshan office. Amazed, he asked if there were a VVIP in the building. Or a bomb alert. Then understanding dawned. “Now I know why you are doing this. The I&B minister must have ordained that all producers must be thoroughly searched so that none can carry with him, even unwittingly, a decent TV programme into the building.”

Footnote / Just a station on the way

They live and learn. Prime minister Vajpayee is no exception to this rule. He was in Gwalior recently. There he had to deal with an unprecedented sentimental problem. Supporters of the late Madhavrao Scindia insisted that the airport be named after their beloved maharaja. At the same time, BJP workers demanded that the same honour be accorded to the dear departed rajmata, Vijayraje Scindia. This was a tough one. The sentiments were understandable, if dramatic, but the PM was placed in the unenviable position of not only arbitrating between rival sentiments but between rival parties, one of which at least expected him to support it. He found a way out for the time being. He said that Madhavrao was a visionary and his contribution to the railways should be acknowledged. So what about naming the Gwalior railway station after the maharaja? That went down well enough. But a way out is never really a way out. It’s more of a Pandora’s box. Since then, the PMO has been flooded with requests to name railway stations after politicians. The poor PM.    


Person of the year

Mao Zedong, Vladimir Mayakovksy, Vaclav Havell –– communist revolutionaries who also wrote poetry, excited and inspired him. Never mind the quality of their poems or the fate of their revolutions, such were the modern-day heroes of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, himself a communist and an aspiring poet-playwright. In the first year of the new millennium, he seemed to have reinvented himself as much as others rediscovered him. The tough-talking, business-wooing chief minister of West Bengal is clearly the most remarkable thing to happen to a generally non-happening state.

Suddenly, his world of heroes had names like Azim Premji, Anil Ambani and Bill Gates, whose ideas of the market and private enterprise seem to be firing his Marxist imagination. The “Smiling Buddha”, white-haired but boy-faced, has come to symbolise new hope for a state that entrepreneurs and analysts had long written off as a wasteland. Business and industry bigwigs who were asking “Buddha who?” till a year ago were suddenly falling over each other to try and know him better.

When exactly was the new leader born ? What really is his new message that has charmed money mandarins ? The common answer is Bhattacharjee’s second coming began after the state assembly elections last May when, like Tony Blair leading the New Labour to a convincing second term in office in England, Bhattacharjee led the New Left to victory against intrepid Mamata Banerjee.

The public rediscovery of the man may well date from that time. But his party colleagues, wiser by hindsight, now claim that Bhattacharjee’s rediscovery of himself actually began much earlier. It happened, they say, in China. Bhattacharjee’s first trip to one of the last communist countries in the world, especially his stay in Shanghai, is said to have planted the first seeds of reform in him.

Bhattacharjee is said to have been carried away by the success of China’s market socialism. The new hero was Deng Xiaoping and the new mantra was Deng’s slogan, “To get rich is glorious”. Deng was still frowned upon by his unreformed party, but Bhattacharjee, always quick to pick up an aphorism, loved the famous one from Deng, “White cat, black cat, if it catches mice, it is a good cat.”

It is possible that the Chinese connexion to the Buddha-II story is another make-believe to perpetuate the myth that communists can be reborn only in a communist climate. Much closer to the truth perhaps is that the new role, in a fast changing world, speeded the transformation. So much so that pundits and people are already comparing the “long, dark age” of Jyoti Basu with the promise of Bhattacharjee’s first months.

Yet he was always known as a Basu protege. Two leaders could not be more different –– in background and style. Basu belonged to the generation of Indian leaders whose standing derived much from their upper middle class background and English-medium education –– and a few years in England to boot. Like Basu, Bhattacharjee graduated from Presidency College, but with a degree in Bengali honours, hardly the stuff for an ambitious public life.

His uneasiness with English prompted an apocryphal story –– that he would skip the annual meetings of state information and culture ministers in New Delhi for fear of speaking in English. Also, unlike Basu, he was never a mass leader of his party, the CPI(M). When Basu first wanted to call it a day in 1997, Bhattacharjee, the party’s obvious choice, was still unwilling to take over. “It takes a lot to sit in that chair (of the chief minister),” he would say, “I don’t think I’m the right choice.”

It now seems that the reformed Bhattacharjee won hearts, of commoners and businessmen alike, largely because of his differences from Basu.

Basu’s cultivated mannerisms and stand-offish air looked like fetid arrogance of power. As he led his party’s campaign last May, Bhattacharjee was a refreshing image of a simple, homegrown leader, smiling, waving to crowds, patting children on the cheeks and speaking the language of his audience. “I had known he could be arrogant,” said a bureaucrat who had worked with him for many years, “but the man’s change has impressed me.”

So impressed were people with his unaffected manners and plain talk that they were prepared to listen to him when he began talking and acting tough. Much of what he has been saying in public was said by Basu too, particularly in the last few years. Bhattacharjee is asking government employees to come to work on time, school and college teachers to teach and doctors to attend hospital duty and treat their patients. Hospitals are places to groom trade unionists, health employees are told. And, if they do not perform, they will pay for non-performance.

He is saying the government cannot continue to run loss-making public enterprises because delaying their inevitable closure would only prolong the pain. If an industrial unit is dying, he is telling industrial workers, their campaign to save it is no match for the economic forces that are leading to its death. The difference is nobody thought Basu could any longer do anything to change things. Bhattacharjee, on the other hand, has sent out the signal that he not only means business but will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

He has already shown that his government will no longer repeat past mistakes of trying to stop reforms that are unstoppable. Hence the increase in hospital and electricity charges and school fees and the ban on private tuition for school teachers.

Obviously, Bhattacharjee’s battles have just begun. The important thing is that he has not buckled under pressure or shied away from the fights. His cabinet colleagues opposed the increases in hospital and electricity charges and some leaders of his own party struck down his attempt to introduce a law to prevent organised crime. He stuck to his guns.

The ultimate test for Bhattacharjee will be to reform his own party. He seems to have passed the first tests. More and more he looks like he is emerging as the boss, making the party fall in line with him. Those who have known him for decades say his impetuosity can be both his strength and weakness. It was his emotional nature that prompted him to leave Basu’s cabinet in a huff in 1993 and take refuge in writing a play, Dushamay (Bad Times), in the privacy of a room at the Nandan arts complex.

He is still as passionate –– only his passion has reached out from poems and films to capital and reforms. He may still revel in party rhetoric at public meetings. But there is good enough reason to believe that he is honest about his new intentions. It may still not be the time to write his success story. But he has at least shown the courage to dare.



Caught in a trap

Sir — Although the major wars of the early 20th century involved Western states and non-Islamic societies, Islam is touted as the faith which has encouraged war in this century (“Crisis of civilization”, Dec 15). Islam has become a tool of political manipulation and seems to be caught between zealots like Osama bin Laden who perceive crimes against humanity as achievements of Islam, and politicians like Pervez Musharraf who overthrow democratically elected governments. For Islam to be recognized as a religion of universal brotherhood and social equality, it has to be retrieved from the clutches of such militants and generals.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki,Calcutta

Big mouths

Sir — There was a hue and cry when George Fernandes was reported to have said that China was enemy number one in May 1998. The media had targeted him and eventually he had to retreat. Even after this U-turn, the opposition continued to force the prime minister to clarify India’s position with regard to China. Many thought that Fernandes was wrong in describing a nei- ghbouring country as enemy number one. Both Fernandes and the government were finding it difficult to convince the media and the opposition parties that the original sentiments were no longer felt.

But the latest news that China has agreed to finance Pakistan to strengthen its Kashmir policy is nothing but a fraud on internationally accepted norms (“China Kashmir loan for Pervez” Dec 21). As a result of Pakistan’s “Kashmir policy”, the mercenaries who are killing unarmed people in Jammu and Kashmir are if not encouraged then at least tacitly ignored by elements with the Pakistan government. Before such “indifference”, is it wise for China to offer financial support? Those who aggressively attacked Fernandes for his comments on China should explain to the nation how China’s open financial support for Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is an “India-friendly” action.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — During World War II, at the time of the blitz in London, the Royal Air Force headquarters were underground. There was a large signboard that said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people believe that you are a fool than say something and give it away.” May I draw this to the attention of our defence minister, and suggest he think before speaking about Pervez Musharraf’s recent visit to China, and the threat that either country poses to India.

Yours faithfully,
Rana Das, Calcutta

Partial amendment

Sir — Of late there has been a lot of discussion on the 93rd amendment to the Constitution, which proposes that the state should provide free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 6-14 years (“Reading it right” Nov 30) There is also a section of people which is pressing the state to include children of the crucial age group of 0-6 years under its care. And appropriately too: there is no denying that education begins in the formative years of a child’s growth.

Substantiating this are the numerous preparatory schools that have come up to fulfil the requirements of the children of the upper and middle classes of society. But such facilities are beyond the reach of those with lower incomes. The state would definitely serve its citizens better if the bill expanded its horizon to include compulsory education for the aforementioned age group.

Most organizations working to educate teenagers feel that these children lack the ability to concentrate for long. The obvious reason is their unwillingness to adapt themselves to the learning process. This would probably not have been the case if these children had been initiated into learning early, for learning inculcates discipline and enhances a child’s concentration span.

For those who can afford to send their children to school, acts such as these are not significant. But for those who cannot, focus on their little ones would immediately improve the prospects for the proper psychological and physical development of their wards.

Yours faithfully,
Rajat Gupta, Delhi

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