Editorial 1 / One more text
Editorial 2 / States in the red
Cutting Corners / Played by other rules
Book Review / Attempt to rethink history
Book Review / Mapping the mango terrain
Book Review / Predictable and hackneyed
Book Review / It’s everybody’s business
Bookwise / A signpost for readers
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / ONE MORE TEXT 
 
 
 
 
It is not surprising that the decision by the umbrella separatist alliance, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, to constitute a parallel election commission to organize and hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir has met with widespread disapproval. Apart from the Central and the state governments, all the major political parties have rejected the Hurriyat’s proposed plan. While the government of Pakistan has still not officially reacted to the establishment of the Hurriyat’s election commission, it is unlikely that Islamabad will be willing to allow such polls to be conducted in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. In any case, people in PoK have rarely enjoyed political and civil rights. But in India, the conduct of elections is a central part of democratic governance. No government in the world would let a group of separatists conduct elections through a commission that has been set up by the separatists. While it is true that past elections in Jammu and Kashmir have lacked credibility, the Election Commission of India has, in recent years, established itself a as fiercely independent body that has rarely buckled under pressure.

The Hurriyat does not seem to be aware that conducting elections is no easy task. A six-member body of well-meaning individuals located in various parts of south Asia can hardly assume the responsibility to ensure the smooth conduct of polls in a troubled state. None of the people named by the Hurriyat as members of its so-called election commission has any experience in conducting polls. Moreover, if the Hurriyat does not have faith in the Indian EC, it probably does not have confidence in the official voters list or the manner in which constituencies have been delimited in the state. If, therefore, the Hurriyat’s proposed election commission is to establish a fresh list of voters and carve out constituencies, the process would take at least five years and even then it would have to be undertaken by hundreds of workers devoted full time to the task. The APHC’s executive committee is politically astute enough to realize that neither New Delhi nor Islamabad will accept the decision. But it is the subtext of the decision which demands attention. The APHC has realized that even Kashmiris are questioning its representative character and its credibility has eroded. Its unwillingness to openly condemn violence till recently and its earlier lukewarm response to New Delhi’s unilateral ceasefire initiative have shrunk its support base. The APHC leaders are shrewd enough to realize that if the violence abates and free and fair polls are held in the state, its traditional strategy of boycotting the polls may marginalize it even further. The latest decision, therefore, is an attempt by the APHC to make itself politically relevant once more.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / STATES IN THE RED 
 
 
 
 
In a recent document, the Reserve Bank of India has focused on the fiscal position of the states. The fiscal situation is indeed in a mess and the combined Centre plus state fiscal deficit is in excess of 10 per cent of the gross domestic product. This is as bad as (or worse than) 1990-91. Add to this other resources pre-empted by the government through food and fertilizer subsidies, oil pool account and power sector dues. Of the 13 per cent of GDP saved by the household sector through financial savings, almost the entire amount is pre-empted by the government. The upward pressure on real interest rates is understandable, as is the liquidity overhang resulting from monetization of deficits. The present low inflation rate is small consolation. More important than the overall fiscal deficit is its quality. Had deficits been used for capital expenditure, there would have been less reason to complain. But at the Centre, deficits are caused by interest payments, subsidies, defence expenditure and salaries and pensions. Ditto for states, defence expenditure constituting the missing element. It is not surprising that the government has no resources for desirable expenditure in social and physical infrastructure. It needs to be underlined that all social sector infrastructure and most physical infrastructure are under state purview. The RBI laments that states have slashed development expenditure and service sector taxation must be reviewed so as to enable states to obtain a greater share of revenue.

Under the present Constitution, all service sector taxation is a Central subject and states cannot tax services until the Constitution is amended. Or, a service tax act can be passed. This allows the Centre to impose taxes, which are then collected and retained by states. The problem with the RBI prescription is that it does not go far enough and restricts itself to revenue. Problems with state finances are more on the expenditure side. In most states, salaries and pensions account for two-thirds of revenue receipts. In some states, the figure is as high as three-fourths. There was no compelling need for states to implement recommendations of the fifth Central pay commission, or to introduce hikes in excess of Central hikes. How many states have sought to curb populist subsidies, explicit and implicit? As with the Centre, interest payments can be reduced only by disinvesting equity in public sector units. While the halting attempts with 240 Central PSUs are visible, one doesn’t hear much about the 1,000-odd state-level PSUs, most of which are services. The states’ clamour for greater revenue will be more credible if they downsize government, introduce power sector reforms (with appropriate user charges) and agree to taxing agricultural income.

   

 
 
CUTTING CORNERS / PLAYED BY OTHER RULES 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
The five-day and one-day cricket series between the India and England teams is, thank goodness, over. It is over, but it has left a bitter taste in the mouth.

No, the bitterness and despondency accompanying it are not an outcome of the level of skill or the lack of it on the part of the players of either team. There was enough of cricketing ability displayed by both teams, and the connoisseurs of the game derived their quota of pleasure. The problem lay elsewhere.

A huckster of a publicity agent died in a car crash while the series was on. He was, to say the least, a man of questionable credentials, and some official inquiries were pending against him. But in the era that has dawned in the country since 1991, these facts and data are irrelevant. He was the promoter of a television company which was able to corner a large slice of the production and distribution rights of important international cricket fixtures. This gave him several advantages. Advertisement revenues poured into his vault in lush flows, he doubled as an agent for players and could assign them prize slots in television advertisements. Cricketers made a beeline for him; he spelt money for them. Public relations firms were equally deferential toward him.

His antecedents, in other words, did not matter. He knew the art of maximizing the rate of return both for himself and those on whose behalf he acted as agent. He exemplified the adage: money talks. And in this globalized, liberalized, free enterprise milieu we are in, those who can make the most money, or can tutor you on how to make the most money, are next to god almighty, or, rather, have successfully displaced god almighty.

This man died in a road accident. The world caved in for a considerable number of people as a result, including the world of several of our cricketers. The numero uno amongst them, whom our newspapers love to describe as the world’s greatest batsman, was beside himself with grief. He had every reason to be. The publicity agent who perished in the accident was his major benefactor. The pinnacle of wealth the batsman has reached is of course on account of his cricketing genius, but genius by itself would not, quite conceivably, have been enough. It was the public relations skill of the dead agent that was responsible for the cricket hero becoming fabulously wealthy.

The cricketer naturally was in deep mourning. He thought he would repay appropriately some of the debt he owed to his departed friend. He insisted that at the one-day fixture against England at Kanpur, each Indian player must wear the black arm band of mourning. If he had his way, he would perhaps have prevailed upon the England team too to do the same. His domain however did not reach that far. The Indian colleagues were a different kettle of fish. Almost each of them has received favours from the dead publicity agent. He is dead, but the company he set up is very much alive and kicking; they no doubt expect to continue to be well treated by the publicity firm. So there was no question of the Indian players not listening to the directive to wear the sign of mourning issued by the major domo of their team.

To be honest, they hold the major domo in great awe. His writ is law to them. He can, they are convinced, make or end their cricketing career, since the selectors and the Board of Control for Cricket in India are all attention to him. He is in effect their breadwinner as well. Cricket is so vastly popular in the country, they reckon, because of him and his symbiosis with the television-viewing multitude. The numero uno was not formally the captain of the team. So what. The moment he suggested that all of them should take the field at Kanpur with black arm bands on, the players immediately fell in. None of them bothered to seek guidance from the BCCI. The BCCI, on its part, played coy, or, shall one say, it played coward. Its spokesman decided that brevity was the soul of perfect communication. The players, he informed the world, did not ask the cricket control board’s permission, they did what they did of their own. This was an astounding statement to make. The news was flashed across the terrestrial expanse that the official Indian team was mourning not on account of the passing of a great national leader or of a great Indian sportsman, or because of an immense national tragedy that has struck the nation; the national team was mourning for a hack of a publicity agent with a questionable past. The team did so without the concurrence of the BCCI. And the BCCI dares not reprimand the team for their misdoing, or subject them to any sterner disciplinary action.

Such is the great morality lesson that has emerged out of the ashes of the past decade. Nothing else matters, only lucre does. If some lucre comes my way, I will, as the good Americans say, run over with impunity my own grandmother. Since lucre is the be-all and end-all of existence, I will go into deep mourning at the demise of the individual who mounted guard over my counting house, and I would insist that my cricketing colleagues also follow my example. They will jolly well do my bidding, for I can do them as much good as I can do them harm. Once I bid them, once I order them, they will not even wait for the BCCI’s clearance. They need not, for even the BCCI is in my pocket.

Let there be a minor amendment to what has just been stated above. There are in fact several morality lessons — not just one — that can be derived from the episode. First, in the Indian climate, heroes do not stay as plain and simple heroes, they turn into demons, demanding not just love and reverence from the rest of the folks, but fear and obedience too. Second, with heroes around, there can be no question of enforcing a code of discipline on the system; even the supposedly higher authorities are rendered mute when confronted by an arbitrary whim expressed by the reigning hero. Third, the structure of values in the nation is turned altogether topsy-turvy; everybody takes it for granted that money is the only criterion by which to attribute social accreditation, even a pimp could now demand and receive the highest social recognition, never mind even if it be posthumous.

Every now and then, pompous articles appear on the editorial pages of newspapers on how teachers at all levels in the country neglect teaching at schools and colleges, and cross over to the roaring custom of private tuition. With what conscience does one castigate the teachers? The current norms in society have told them to make money by hook or by crook; that is the only road to social recognition, apart from the luxurious mode of living it promises. If pimps and agents receive the highest salute from each and all, why target members of the teaching profession for their deviation from the supposedly straight and narrow path?

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / ATTEMPT TO RETHINK HISTORY 
 
 
BY DAMAYANTI DATTA
 
 
BENGAL: RETHINKING HISTORY; ESSAYS ON HISTROGRAPHY
Edited By Sekhar Bandyopadhyay,
Manohar, Rs 650

Post-colonial studies stand at the intersection of debates about race, colonialism, gender, politics and language. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay’s anthology, Bengal: Rethinking History, follows the genre by embracing historical moments caught in a web of imperialism, assertion, orientalism and transculturation. Departing from the meta-narratives of nationalism and class struggle or the essentialisms of caste and race, there is an attempt to focus on the “small voices of history”, fleeting moments of solidarity and protean identities. And in this sense, the volume is true to its promise. There is a genuine attempt to “rethink” history.

The 11 essays (apart from the comprehensive introduction) in this book provide an interesting combination of perspectives, weaving in a complex pattern out of the experiences of various groups in India over the last 300 years. Grouped in two sections, “Economy, Class and Social Change” and “Social Identities and Politics”, the essays are neatly tied to the defining logic of the collection.

Lakshmi Subramanian’s opening essay meticulously constructs the changing pattern of interrelation between indigenous merchants, bankers and European companies. Sanjukta Das Gupta documents different historiographical strands in the literature on peasant and tribal movements in colonial Bengal. Arjan de Haan takes a close look at the potency of the new “cultural turn” in Bengal’s labour history. Brian Hatcher analyses how interpretations of the Bengal “renaissance” have been changing. Bob Pokrant, Peter Reeves and John McGuire focus on the social life of Bengal’s fishermen in their encounter with things colonial and Indian.

In section two, Asim Roy talks about the “pushes” and “pulls” of the Bengali Muslim identity. Bandyopadhyay, in his essay on caste politics and identity in modern Bengal, refuses to be enticed either by the subalternist undercastes or by the Ramanujanian Sanskritization. Samita Sen takes a critical look at what she calls “complementary” history, which accommodates women’s issues only within the conventional agendas of history-writing without addressing those in their own right. Sugata Bose examines the existing views on Bengali nationalism and calls that history an “embarrassment of riches”. Joya Chatterji traces the “decline, revival and fall” of the Bengali bhadralok in the troubled politics of the Forties.

The volume raises an important question. In the field of modern Indian history, Bengal undoubtedly remains the most overworked area. And every new book on this is suspect. It seems that social scientists cannot do without forms of regionalization in order to make their task manageable, even in an age in which geographic proximity and clear cut boundaries are losing much of their former significance. The central argument for this has always been that geographic proximity implies long-term cultural, economic, and social exchange. Societies within a certain region share important characteristics that makes it relevant to study them together. But cutting the world up into convenient regions also brings in the need to re-examine the ways in which these are constructed, how scholars conceive boundaries and how a particular way of regionalization affects the questions they address.

The present volume does not answer the issue fully. What makes it remarkable is the fact that instead of adding a few more prolix essays to the profusion of historical literature on modern Bengal, it sets itself the task of identifying major trends within the dense melange. There is also a celebration of the role of individual rather than canonical reaction to historical experiences, and of fragmented, fractured, fluid and multiple perspectives. In all these, the student of Bengal’s history may be left with the happy sense of wonder that there’s still room for research in its social history.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / MAPPING THE MANGO TERRAIN 
 
 
BY AVEEK SEN
 
 
THE HOUSE OF BLUE MANGOES
By David Davidar
Viking, Rs 395

How much research should one do before sitting down to write a historical novel? What is the relationship between invention and research in fiction that succeeds as fiction? How much historical information can the reader of a novel tolerate, and in what form? These are questions that remain with the reader of The House of Blue Mangoes till the very end. The book was in the making for more than a decade. That is a lot of time. It is more than 400 pages long. That too takes a while to read. And because we are told about the rigour that went into its creation, we feel somewhat obliged to read it carefully. Besides, there is a dogged and upfront meticulousness about the writing — an unpretentious labour-of-love quality — which ties the reader to a certain sense of scruple. The writer perseveres, steadily, and therefore the reader wonders whether he ought to as well.

Yet every long novel about time makes us ponder the nature of lost time, the writer’s time as well as the reader’s, quite apart from the duration actually represented in the novel. Some novelists — Proust, famously, and Mann in The Magic Mountain — make this meditation on Time itself one of the great themes of their novels. This is how history becomes consciousness in these books. In them, reading, writing, living and thinking form part of a single continuum of achievement and loss, experienced in time. In Blue Mangoes, historical time is the crucial axis of the narrative: “Spring 1899” is the opening sentence, and the epilogue takes us up to “late April 1947”. But this half of a long Indian century, together with all the immense changes which Davidar plots in the course of it and the human agents who make them happen, all so painstakingly evoked, and in such evidently loving detail, remain diligently researched history, seldom taken up into the peculiar and vital life of fiction.

Davidar seems to be caught between the compulsions of memory and nostalgia on the one hand and the equally compulsive momentum of historical research on the other. One of his reasons for writing this book is “to recapture memories of an idyllic childhood” spent in south India, in “the high tea country in Peermade, where my father worked” and in his grandparents’ homes in Nagercoil and Padappai. The novel is also a tribute to the “splendid achievement”of his paternal grandfather, Ambrose, in establishing a family settlement. In terms of the actual writing, these sentiments pull the novel in the direction of a celebratory evocativeness to which Davidar devotes his most careful writing. Yet, there is also the allure of a “reality effect”, created with an equally unflagging commitment to historical authenticity.

The novel is prefaced by a finely drawn map of southern India in the early 20th century, on which the districts of Kilanad and Pulimed are declared to be fictitious in fine print at the bottom. There are two curtain calls: a full author’s note, and an impressive bibliography which outlines the work that has gone into the “historical, sociological and technical aspects” of this setting. The terrain of the novel — “the place of my heart” — is charted out by this map and this bibliography. Doraipuram, Chevathar, Pulimed and Kilanad are all imaginary locations; but their social, economic and geographic coordinates are set out with the scrupulosity of a 19th-century colonial surveyor. One of the most important sociological themes in the novel is the individual and collective experience of an elaborate caste system, and its complex interactions with Christianity and British imperialism. Here too, three new castes have been “invented”. But this invention remains mired in the extreme care with which Davidar has read his M.N. Srinivas and Dharma Kumar. The acknowledgments list all the reading for every possible aspect of the novel: village life, the Indian civil service, sidhha medicine, the nationalist movement, tea-planting and man-eaters. But for a novel to work as fiction, this wealth of information and analysis, the decade of preparatory reading, have to be transmuted somehow into a different order of imaginative experience.

Perhaps the great risk of writing resides in that ineffable “somehow”. All of the intensive study during Milton’s famous “Horton period” would have been quite useless if Paradise Lost had not, somehow, worked as a poem. The weight of Milton’s immense reading — from Virgil to the Christian Fathers to Galileo — lifts in a moment into a beautiful sense of earthly possibilities as Adam and Eve take their “solitary way” out of heaven into nothing less than the world “all before them”. Learning becomes great art at the end of Milton’s epic.

Davidar saves a last bit of purple for the ending of his epic saga. Kannan is breathing in the ancient fragrance of the eponymous blue mango: “The bouquet explodes upon his senses: a huge delectable sweetness, overlaid with notes of freshness, lightness, sun and blue, counterpointed by a deep rolling melody of an almost corrupt muskiness.” Fortunately for Kannan, “the heaviness lifts from his heart” with this delicious savouring.

That vital “lift” is what the reader of Davidar’s novel agrees to wait for, from the opening description of “the ordinary violence of dawn”, through the numerous descriptions of the rising and setting sun (“the sun plunged down the wide throat of the ocean”), to the penultimate evocation of India at the threshold of freedom: “What exactly will freedom bring? Will its surging optimism cleanse the country of the noxious vapours of casteism and communalism?” Blue Mangoes is the fruit of very hard work indeed.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / PREDICTABLE AND HACKNEYED 
 
 
BY SAHELI MITRA
 
 
CIRCLES OF SILENCE
By Preeti Singh,
IBH, Rs 195

Preeti Singh’s novel, Circles of Silence, begins by dwelling on the significance of a baby boy’s birthmark and the making of his janam patri by a fakir in one of the dingy locales of Delhi. It ends on the shores of the Nile where the two protagonists unite forever despite social pressure. It is a love story that could have read differently had the author brought a little pace into it and linked the various events.

Even though the events prevent the novel from becoming boring, it is the lack of continuity at certain junctures that reduces their significance. The ending is predictable and one can guess the fate of the two young people in love. That Nalini, the daughter of the Indian ambassador to Egypt, would fall in love with the charismatic Rattan Malhotra, whose first wife died mysteriously, is natural.

It was expected that a liberated soul like Nalini would not set much store by stereotypes about the average Indian. She was ready to marry Rattan, the man she loved, despite the death of Tanvi, his first wife. The cause of Tanvi’s death is predictable and the introduction of Maneka Saxena, an activist and friend of Nalini’s, seems unnecessary.

Maneka is at times unreasonably hostile towards Rattan. Her failure to understand the reasons behind Tanvi’s death is difficult to digest. It is also strange that Maneka, who successfully runs a women’s organization, is unable to ascertain the cause of Tanvi’s death while Nalini is able to do so within a few days of her arrival in India from Cairo.

Maneka seems obsessed with the idea that the death of all housewives is related to dowry. Even though Tanvi’s mother repeatedly reiterates that it is not a dowry death, she remains adamant. Given that Maneka is an intellectual, a lecturer at a women’s college in Delhi and is living a liberated life (she is a single parent with a son), one would have expected her to handle things differently instead of shouting slogans. Is the author making a deliberate attempt to showcase the dual character of a woman activist?

However, Singh’s portrayal of the other characters in the novel is bold and some of the events described in it are extremely realistic and are known to happen in upper middle class families. Indian society has its share of wealthy husbands with little concern for the wives and children. The wives are left to indulge in kitty parties, wear expensive sarees and jewellery and have illicit relationships with the man-servants of the house. Given our unwillingness to deal with the truth, Singh has been forthright enough to write about such issues.

Being a diplomat’s wife herself, Singh’s familiarity with alien lifestyles comes through in her characterization of a mystical Egypt or a trendy United States of America.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / IT’S EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS 
 
 
BY ARUNJYOTI BASU
 
 
THE MIND OF THE CEO
By Jeffrey Garten,
Allen Lane, £ 20

Ever since the policies of the Indian government changed a decade ago, educated Indians have been giving a lot of thought to corporate matters — matters which had been left almost entirely to policy-makers and economists earlier. As a result corporations and their chief executive officers have left the rarefied milieu of the business page of newspapers and have started featuring on the front pages and have, at times, become topics of conversation. Sometimes for the wrong reasons though, as recent developments in the corporate world indicate.

At such a time then, Jeffrey Garten’s book, The Mind of the CEO, is bound to evoke interest as it gives a unique perspective on global business, economics and politics. The book is based on extensive interviews with 40 CEOs worldwide, including people like C. Michael Armstrong (AT&T), Richard Branson (Virgin), Minoru Makihara (Mitsubishi) and Hiroshi Okuda (Toyota), to name a few. Through these interviews, Garten helps his readers to understand the opportunities these CEOs see, the constraints which bind them and the challenges they face.

Garten does not shy away from placing all his bets on the private sector and free trade. He advocates “a new way of thinking about business and society that recognizes the multinational corporation as a pivotal participant in society and politics.” Nor is Garten likely to change his mind after the recent ups and downs in the corporate world. In keeping with his beliefs, he has also responded to the critics of big business. It is not surprising that Garten, who is the dean of Yale University’s school of management, views his group of chief executives as a bunch of elites whose job it is to ensure that the process of globalization maintains strong financial structures. Quite naturally, thoughts about profits must never be far away.

Garten paints a fascinating picture of global society in the years to come and also tells us what the top executives think about a united Europe and the euro, the changing economic scenario in the United States of America (the author was a part of the Clinton administration) and the problems that Japan is currently facing. Emerging markets like China, Russia and Brazil are also dealt with. One is sure that Garten’s readers, especially those in India, would have been happier if he had discussed the dynamics of a huge market like that of India which is at par with those of China and Brazil.

This does not mean that Garten is completely enamoured with his CEOs. He is well aware of their weaknesses and is convinced that the top executives have not fully grasped their current responsibilities. According to him, “These leaders are badly underestimating the rise of global problems that will affect their firms and the environment in which they operate.”

However, the author fails to take into account the views of employees or the people who regularly interact with these companies. As a result, he merely touches upon interesting subjects like the impact of globalization on job security or the fact that an employee is a valuable asset. Moreover, the views of the chiefs on their employees (where they are mentioned) are too superficial. More detailed accounts of employees about their CEOs would have brought about a better balance in the book.

Through his interviews, Garten presents a picture predominantly of corporate America. Corporate leaders in India who have been chosen to lead their firms in the early years of the new millennium, can draw some useful conclusions from it.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE / A SIGNPOST FOR READERS 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 

If there is one fatal flaw in academic books it is the lack of a proper index that would guide the reader through the thickets of scholarship. And the main reason for this lacuna, as many professional indexers concede, is that the best person to compile an index is the author himself. If he does not do it, or does not cooperate with the indexer, what will emerge is a meaningless alphabetical list that will be of little help to the reader. Agreed, it takes a really dedicated author to go back over his own work, sentence by sentence, to wrinkle out all the references that might be of value to his readers. But it has to be done because no indexer can possibly know all the nuances of a subject.

What is an index and what are the signposts the author should look for while preparing the copy? According to Douglas Mathews, whose indexing triumphs include the English translation of Mein Kampf, “The function of an index is not to be a precis...of a book, but to signpost particulars within the text, concisely, comprehensively and accurately. It points out where to look for all names, terms and topics of relevance by listing them, usually alphabetically, wherever they occur in a book, and then by referring to a page or column number, though sometimes even more accurately to a defined position on a page, or a paragraph number.” To put it in a nutshell, the way the book and its index will be used must influence the choice of entries.

In fact, the author-cum-indexer should try to place himself in the position of the readers. Who are they? Are they professionals? Postgraduates or undergraduates? Or school pupils? The complexity of the index as well as the language used in it will depend on the kind of reader it is meant for.

Why does a book need an index? And in what way should it differ from the contents’ list? What level of detail would a reader want from it? A reference to a single page where Keynesian economics is defined? Or a list that would discuss a subject extensively and from all angles?

An understanding of the needs of the reader will help the author determine what to put in and what to leave out, and to decide on what cross-references he would like to add.

If this is the theoretical frame, how does the new author-indexer go about the job in practical terms? First, he should take a look at the indexes of several comparable books. He should find out what he liked or disliked about them and then prepare a better copy. Second, since the preparation of an index takes time, the author must start as soon as the manuscript is finalized. At this stage he should begin to think about the kinds of entries the index should contain and simply underline them in pencil. He should then hand over the copy to the indexer who will sort them out alphabetically and put in the page numbers. (In fact, he won’t even have to do that if he has used a computer since there is a software that will sort them for him.)

Authors have to be involved in all stages of the publication process: editing, proof reading, suggestions for the cover design and its final approval, sales promotion and so on. Making the index is just one of them. Publishing houses are not equipped to handle these functions because the best talent has moved elsewhere.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS  
 
 
 
 

He can't do without writing

MULTI-COLOURED WINGS
(Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Rs 200)

Multi-Coloured Wings is a wonderfully inspiring and enjoyable tribute to the indomitable human and creative spirit. It collects the artwork and writings of the many children and young adults with cerebral palsy who come to the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy. This nationally and internationally recognized resource centre and training institute remains firmly committed to the individuality of those it trains and supports, providing them with opportunities for maximum self-expression. The yield, as this book beautifully shows, is immensely rich. The skill and vividness of the artwork are complemented by the articulacy, courage and inventiveness in the writing. There is a spontaneous capacity for delight, in living and in writing about it imaginatively. But there is also a deep of sense of a human community held together by a consciousness of its rights and of its daily struggles — in a society whose awareness regarding disability remains brutally inadequate. Here is a poem, “Obsession”, by Barsha Bhattacharya — 20, wheelchair-bound and nonspeaking — written on her communication board: “Why does the bee buzz? It can’t go without honey./ Why does the swallow thirst? It can’t do without rainwater./ Why does the cuckoo call? It can’t do without springtime./ Why does the peacock dance? It can’t do without the cloud./ Why does the poet think? He can’t do without writing.”

NABANKUR: THE SEEDLING'S TALE
By Sulekha Sanyal
(Stree, Rs 250)
Sulekha Sanyal’s Nabankur: The Seedling’s Tale, part of Susie Tharu’s “Gender, Culture, Politics” series, is Gouranga P. Chattopadhyay’s translation of a novel, written in 1956, about Chhobi, an astonishingly radical girl from a rural landowning family, growing up during the nationalist struggle in Bengal in the late Thirties and early Forties. Questions of personal and political freedom run through this novel, written by a communist writer who died in her mid-thirties. Himani Bannerji’s introduction provides the social and political contexts to this narrative of the “forming of women as active agents who are decisive and compassionate individuals”.

MY FORBIDDEN FACE
By Latifa
(Virago, £ 9.99)

Latifa’s My Forbidden Face is subtitled “Growing up under the Taliban: a young woman’s story”. Written in collaboration with Chékéha Hachemi (president of the Free Afghanistan Association) and translated by Lisa Appignanesi, this is the story of a woman born in Kabul, in 1980, into an educated, middle-class Afghan family, at once liberal and religious. Latifa’s life changes in 1996 when the taliban seized power. Her school closed; her mother, a doctor, was banned from working. Forced to wear a burqa, she was deprived of the most basic freedoms. This is a rather familiar story of brutalization and resistance.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Wolf in shining armour

Sir — The kidnapping of the Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, in Karachi may colour international opinion regarding Pervez Musharraf (“Kidnap shadow on Pervez”, Feb 12). The incident has brought Pakistan’s involvement with terrorism back into focus. While the Pakistan police keep claiming that they are getting closer to catching the kidnappers, no significant breakthrough has been made. It is obvious that the kidnapping has been masterminded by terrorist groups based in Pakistan. Musharraf, including his senior ministers, have tried to turn the tables and blame India for the kidnapping. Fortunately, such accusations have been dismissed by the United States of America. It is difficult to understand how Pakistan can make such a claim when the prime suspect in the case, Omar Sheikh, is a Pakistan national. Musharraf’s claim that Sheikh is acting on India’s orders is ludicrous. He should realize that such false statements will only weaken the United States of America’s alliance with Pakistan in the war against terrorism.

Yours faithfully,
Kakoli Das, Calcutta

Units of mistrust

Sir — One of the finest financial institutions in India at one time, the Unit Trust of India is in a shambles today. The Tarapore committee report has pointed out that mismanagement and extra-commercial considerations while taking investment decisions were the two principal reasons for UTI’s downfall. The government’s proposed bailout of UTI will definitely not solve the problem and may even have some dangerous results.

The UTI seems to have been done in by political interference in appointments to top posts. Since politicians who make these recommendations are not philanthropists, extra-commercial considerations get to work here. This culminates in non-performing assets and large-scale manipulations to hide the wrongdoing. Top mandarins of the Union finance ministry are also to blame. Their greed for power and patronage has further worsened the situation.

Bailouts will not help because they mean the creation of public debt by the government. Public debt is serviced by revenues raised from indirect taxes like excise duties and so on. Hence, ultimately, it is the poor who pay for the misdeeds of politicians and bureaucrats. They invariably go scot-free after the usual high drama that follows an exposé.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Pai, Mumbai

Sir — Looking at the fall in the net asset value of UTI schemes, one cannot help wondering whether anyone will buy UTI schemes in the future. The dip in NAV coupled with the fact that many investors have chosen to sell whatever UTI schemes they held, must mean that there is a wide gap in the inflow and outflow of money from UTI funds. US-64 especially is in a mess. The UTI management has promised to resurrect it, but has failed to instill confidence among investors.

The worst hit are pensioners who had been lured by the promise and the high dividends that UTI usually declared for its monthly and cumulative growth schemes. They feel the pinch now that the NAV is down by as much as 40 per cent in many cases. Many UTI schemes have not been yielding definite annual returns for over five years now. And the situation is likely to worsen in the future. The statutory warning to investors that UTI schemes had inherent risks was not sufficient. How would investors know that UTI managers would play havoc with their savings?

The UTI scandal was caused by the incompetence and the corruption in the UTI management. Thus it is doubtful if the appointment of M. Damodaran, an Indian administrative services officer with little experience in financial management, as the UTI chairman will be of much use. In the absence of a high-profile chairman, UTI will be vulnerable to the dictates of the finance ministry. The UTI should be privatized so that it can be run professionally in a competitive market.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The UTI’s MIP ‘96 (IV) shows that it treats its monthly income schemes as something between an investment in the capital markets and a simple bank fixed deposit. Before the start of a financial year, UTI publicly declares the income distribution for the entire year to come. But when the actual income disbursed falls short of this promise, UTI does not make any adjustments to make up for it. Given the lock-in period, the investor cannot even sell off his holding. The UTI usually gives two reasons for the drop in income — an increase in income distribution tax and reduced Reserve Bank of India interest rates. Both the excuses are untenable. First, increase in income distribution tax cannot be passed on to the investor. And the second would mean that UTI schemes are no better than bank deposits, which are governed by RBI rates. Again, unlike shareholders, UTI unitholders can neither trade their holding in the stock exchanges nor attend annual general meetings of companies whose stocks they hold. The investment in UTI being no better than a bank deposit, it must be fully repaid at the end of its term. Any deduction from the principal amount is unwarranted. The UTI authorities should refund the deductions made.

Yours faithfully,
R. Sinha, Howrah

Bring order

Sir — The facilities provided for the treatment of the mentally ill is inadequate in most third world countries and India is no exception (“Unshackled”, Feb 7). Statistics reveal that in Europe and the United States of America, there are 10 hospital beds per 10,000 patients suffering from mental ailments, whereas in India, there is only one bed for 50,000 patients. The other distressing fact is that there is a dearth of psychiatrists and other skilled personnel to attend to patients. There are other barriers to progress in this area — social stigma, discrimination and lack of a comprehensive health policy. Despite the formation of a national policy way back in 1982, we lag behind in dealing with problems related to mental health. The situation needs to be viewed in the light of economic and social factors that contribute to making the environment unsuitable for a more serious approach to the problem.

Yours faithfully,
Jaydev Jana, Calcutta

Sir — The recent directive of the Supreme Court to all states and Union territories to set up at least one mental asylum equipped with modern facilities for the mentally ill is a step in the right direction (“Chains off mentally ill”, Feb 6). Unfortunately, it took the death of 23 patients, chained to their beds, in Tamil Nadu to attract the attention of the highest court of India to the problem.

Although the apex court had passed a similarly stringent order regarding smoking in public places, the state authorities in charge are yet to follow up the directive. In all probability, the recent directive on mental health by the Supreme Court is likely to go the same way. The alarming reports by the World Health Organization and the national human rights commission reveal that if the government of India fails to adopt quick and proper measures in treating mental disorders, things are going to go out of control. Therefore, the Centre and the state authorities should cooperate with the apex court and try to implement the orders as soon as possible. It is also important to understand that public awareness and social acceptance is necessary to make a difference for those suffering from any kind of mental problem.

Yours faithfully,
Anjali Menon, Chennai

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company