Editorial 1 / Disorderly house
Editorial 2 / Terror is the key
Saving on wisdom
Book Review / A country not yours or mine
Book Review / Spinners and intellectuals
Book Review / When the ponds run dry
Book Review / Courage under fire
Editor’s Choice / Message in the image
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

There is a point in the Supreme Court’s labelling of Delhi as the “most lawless city”. The capital of a country immersed in the patron-client ethos will naturally display the dominant tendency. The issue under examination was the absence of building laws in the village or “laldora” areas within urban Delhi. These areas are peculiar to Delhi, and in spite of having been given the urbanization notification, the regulations and bye-laws for urban building have not been implemented there. Taking off from this laxness, the judges remarked on the lawlessness of the capital. The particular areas the court picked out were encroachment and illegal constructions, pollution of air, water and the ground, and general failure of law and order. These are related issues. As the experience of Mr Jagmohan, the former minister for urban development, goes to show, a serious attempt to clean up Delhi of illegal structures, encroachment and industrial pollution is likely to meet a dead end, created not only by opponents but also by colleagues within the party. Mr Jagmohan may not have done everything right, nor were the resettlement plans practical or sensitive. The point is that the minister had no cooperation, and was finally detached from his portfolio in September 2001. One way of saving the three metropolises from encroachment, overcrowding and pollution that has been suggested is controlling the migrant population. That, ironically, goes against the interests of the city-dwellers besides being unconstitutional. Encroachment and illegal building are also results of a rapidly expanding urban area, as is the case in Delhi. This problem has to be dealt with in other ways, and fighting the land mafia is just one of them. But in a country where politicians occupy official houses long after their due term, build government offices in “green” areas so they can go to work faster, and resist relocating industrial plants because of certain other losses, everyone would rather pretend that the problem does not exist.

There is, of course, a further source of discomfort in the situation. Apart from the rather absurd irony of the Supreme Court of the land having to call the city of its location the most lawless, there is also the question of why the court should have to discuss this question at all. There are civic bodies in abundance that should be dealing with issues like pollution and the implementation of civic laws. The failure in a particular case may bring forth a court ruling, as has happened. But a generalization on that basis, coming from the court, is bound to suggest that the relationship between the executive and judiciary in the state is fragile and tension-ridden. Neither should encroach, and neither should permit the other to encroach. The moment that happens, legality is no longer in place.


Terror, rather than popular support, is the key to Maoist politics. The Maoist Communist Centre proved this once again by forcing yet another bandh in Jharkhand and parts of Bihar. The way its supporters managed to disrupt transport and drive people indoors suggests that violence, and not ideology, has become the driving force of their movement. Ironically, Wednesday’s bandh was organized to protest against the Centre’s decision to promulgate the prevention of terrorism ordinance and its implementation by the Jharkhand government. The MCC and its fraternal outfit, the People’s War Group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), have little justification for opposing what they called a “draconian law”, because they have declared a war on the state and all its laws. These banned organizations want to be a law unto themselves, setting up “parallel” governments and forcing the people to submit to their diktats. The state will be failing in its constitutional obligation to establish a rule of law if it allows these outfits to have their way. The POTO Virodhi Manch, a group of “non-political” organizations, clearly acted on dubious political considerations. While it fell in line with the MCC on POTO, it did not think it necessary to condemn the Maoists’ killing spree and terror tactics.

The Jharkhand government needs to do more to tackle the challenge of political extremism. The Maoists would like the government to walk into a trap of the possible misuse of POTO and then incite public resentment to it. It is a ploy the government would do well to be wary of. But the caution over the use of POTO should not detract from the government’s offensive against the outlawed groups. The new state, which celebrated the first year of its existence only last November, cannot afford to have its development agenda stymied by senseless political violence. Jharkhand inherited its Maoist problem from its parent state, Bihar, where the administration of law has not been a top priority with successive governments. Jharkhand’s chief minister, Mr Babulal Marandi, has to show that he has the political will to stamp out the extremist menace because Maoist disruptions in industrial areas of the state can be ruinous for the state’s economic hopes. Also, the Maoist propaganda machine will be hellbent on feeding on the economic dislocation, and recruiting malcontents in their ranks. The other important step Mr Marandi needs to take relates to agriculture and rural employment. His government has just begun to put the panchayati raj institutions in place to decentralize the administration as well as development work. Taking development to people living in remote areas could be as important a campaign against the Maoists as the police and paramilitary offensives.


Commodities are normally produced in response to demand. Expenditure on goods and services in turn causes labour, capital and other productive factors to be employed. The market value of the commodities sold translates into various categories of incomes, wages, rental, interest and so on, for the owners of the productive resources. The aggregate of incomes so generated in an economy is in fact identically the same as the expenditures on commodities during any period of time.

A rise in expenditure raises aggregate income, aggregate production and aggregate employment. Conversely put, low employment and income are often the results of low expenditure and demand. Hence the terminology “demand deficiency”, which refers to a depressed level of aggregate output and employment on account of inadequate demand. A timeworn cure for this economic malaise lies in finding ways of jacking up expenditure. As the budget session draws nearer this year, there are indications in the media that the finance ministry is engaged in precisely this exercise, to arouse the economy from its perceived state of slumber.

At the macro level, there are three clearly discernible categories of expenditure. Investment expenditure to set up new firms or expand production capacity of existing ones; expenditure by foreigners on the produce of a given society, that is, a society’s export earnings; and finally, expenditure by the households on consumption. Private investment is guided by business expectations, that is, the anticipated demand for the produce of enterprises spawned by the investment. For example, it is unlikely that an entrepreneur will find it worthwhile to start a pizza parlour or a cyber café in rural India.

More generally, when an economy is in the grips of a depression and demand is low in most sectors, investment expenditure will not pick up except by chance. The government can signal possible gains from investment in particular areas by developing transport networks, roadways and other infrastructure. Even so, investors will be lured only if they envisage a steady stream of profits flowing out of the ventures.

There is, however, no obvious policy that props up private investors’ beliefs. Exports to foreigners are equally volatile. They depend on foreigners’ predilections, the state of aggregate expenditure in foreign economies and so on. Besides, a large number of countries compete in the export market, thus making each country’s chances of success with export demand that much more difficult.

Neither private investment nor exports being readily manipulable, the Indian policy-makers appear to have chosen the household sector to come forth and resuscitate the economy. Reduced income tax rates, we are told, are being planned to shore up consumption expenditure. Further, the returns on a variety of government supported savings schemes are being lowered and the tax incentives enjoyed by such savings removed. Choking off households’ saving is expected to push up consumption expenditure even more. Presumably, the argument underlying the policy is that a rise in consumption expenditure will raise the output of industries producing consumption goods and services, improving the employment in those sectors.

Moreover, the recovery so experienced may ultimately stimulate capacity expansion by these entrepreneurs. In other words, their investment expenditure will rise, thereby boosting non-consumer goods sectors as well. The net effect could be an overall reversal of the trend of flagging demand.

Will consumption spending rise? The outcome of the policy package, a simultaneous reduction in tax and interest rates, appears to be dubious. Savings for a typical Indian household are an insurance against the future, health hazards, children’s education, retirement and such contingencies. A lower effective return on saving cannot do away with these needs. In fact, average, risk-averse persons might even be tempted to save more. A low return will yield the same absolute amount in future only if the sum initially invested is larger. And such behaviour affects consumption negatively.

The Indian government may cry itself hoarse, but households will continue to over-save until a reasonably inexpensive social security scheme and a freely functioning health insurance sector come forth. At present, a variety of tax-deductible savings schemes managed by public bodies serve that purpose.

Clearly, however, the servicing of these debts is turning into a white elephant. Newly floated debts are unable to finance productive investments; they are being used predominantly to retire old debts and pay interest thereon. There is good reason, therefore, for discontinuing the schemes, provided that alternative instruments replace the insurance cover they provide for households. It needs to be ensured further that the substitute instruments allow the lion’s share of incomes to be set apart for consumption. Till these are available, economic agents will continue to self-insure through excessive saving in low yield assets.

High consumption and moderate household saving, often supported by elaborate consumer credit networks, are signs of advanced economies. A person with a secure future is not only predisposed towards larger present consumption, but is also likely to be more creditworthy. Indian households will behave like their counterparts in industrialized economies only under similar circumstances.

Even if we were to ignore the savings story, does it necessarily follow that consumption expenditure will register a healthy rise in response to a tax cut? During the recent southeast Asian crisis, similar policies failed to initiate a turnabout in the Japanese economy, where household savings propensities are low compared to India and consumer credit is abundantly available. Belying all hopes, large chains of department stores (such as Nagasakiya, Sogo and others), catering primarily to consumers, closed down their shutters and retrenched employees even as taxes were being reduced.

Why did the policy fail? Two different reasons, one reinforcing the other, may be cited. First, tax cuts can raise the disposable incomes, and hence expenditures, of those sections of the population alone that have retained their jobs. The ones joining the ranks of the unemployed sustain a decline in consumption. In net terms, the change in consumption is ambiguously small. The second reason goes back to low levels investment and exports, as is the case during any slump. Production and employment in investment and export sectors being insufficient, consumption expenditure undertaken by the workers in these industries is also inadequate. Consequently, the total effect of tax cuts on consumption during a depression is unlikely to be large. As far as the Indian economy is concerned, the government has been engaged in major disinvestment exercises. Turning over sizeable chunks of industry to the private sector has its obvious merits. Most important, it leads to efficient use of resources, cuts down waste, inculcates responsible behaviour among employees and so on.

There is no guarantee though that the private sector ends up employing more, or succeeds in raising the total investment in the economy. The latter depends on market signals. If products are not in demand, they will not be produced; and the workers employed in such enterprises will lose their positions. They may land employment elsewhere, but the search process is costly and painful. Especially so in a society that is yet to develop a useful unemployment insurance scheme. The path of transition from state ownership to a market-oriented economy is not strewn with flowers. And one must not forget that even fully privatized economies have to go through periodic swings. Or else, the American president would not be worrying about unemployment.

At the same time that the government is withdrawing its investments in different directions, it is planning to invest in infrastructure development. This is a commendable move, particularly so since private sectors normally shy away from such investments. On the one hand, a businessman would be wary of spending on the development of public utilities, transport networks, roadways, inexpensive educational institutions and hospitals. On the other, the government is eminently suited to develop them. However, as already pointed out, infrastructure by itself may not attract private investment. It must be dovetailed conveniently with business interests.

The author is professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta


By Nadine Gordimer,
Bloomsbury, £ 10.99

“To have the word has come to be synonymous with ultimate authority, with prestige, with awesome, sometimes dangerous persuasion,” Nadine Gordimer said in her Nobel lecture in 1991. Even in her latest novel, The Pickup, the word becomes the symbol of complex cultural negotiations.

The relationship between Julie Summers, successful, liberal and white, and her “pickup”, Abdu, an illegal immigrant with a degree in economics from an unnamed university in an unnamed Arabic country, is characterized as much by their jerky, laboured conversations as by the intensity of their lovemaking. The story of Julie and Abdu is the story of the coming together of two worlds, like those of Dev and Miranda in Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “Sexy”, May Price and Tridib in Amitav Ghosh’s Shadowlines.

Julie’s world is represented by The Table at the EL-AY Café, where her “elective siblings who have distanced themselves from the ways of their past, their families” come together every evening. The Table is post-apartheid South Africa, a country which, in terms of the freedom it offers, is in the same league as the United States of America as an emigrant’s destination of choice. Julie derives strength from The Table’s hatred towards “hypocritical bourgeois mores”.

Yet, Abdu is the faceless, soulless “grease monkey” to those at The Table — a reminder to Julie of the underlying hypocrisy of most ideological positions. Julie’s involvement and attachment shift from The Table to Abdu, and to their “ kind of lovemaking that is another country, a country of its own, not yours or mine”.

The locale indeed shifts to another country: “one of those partitioned by colonial powers on their departure, or seceded from federations cobbled together to fill vacuums of powerlessness…one of those countries in which you couldn’t tell religion apart from politics, their forms of persecution from the persecution of poverty”. The reason: the law of Julie’s land catches up with Abdu, and threatens him with deportation. Love decrees that Julie must accompany him on his homeward journey.

Julie arrives in the desert-enclosed country, wife of Ibrahim Ibn Musa, Abdu’s real name. Life resumes in a cramped “lean-to” in an alien society, where a man and a woman’s sexual urges must follow the dictates of faith. For Ibrahim, this is just a stopover before he secures admission into a “promised land” of the West.

To give the story a twist in the tail, it is Julie who refuses to go when Ibrahim gains the right to emigrate to the US. In the same way that she rejected the comfortable life in The Suburbs of Johannesburg, she chooses the life regulated by religion and customs instead of the liberties offered by the capitalist West. But not in the way Hester Stanhope or T.E. Lawrence had; they were, Julie feels, “English charades in the desert, imperialism in fancy dress with the ultimate condescension of bestowing the honour of wanting to be like the people of the desert”.

In a way, The Pickup, like many of Gordimer’s apartheid novels, is about the white woman seeking redemption by associating with her “other”. But in this one, the author falls victim to her liberal myopia; she can see thus far and no further. The Arabian phase of the novel is peculiarly generalized, all the stereotypes of the Islamic Orient coming together to present a depressing picture. As a device — if it is deliberate at all — it fails.

Gordimer is more successful with her use of irony. The end, for instance, is a deeply ironic exposé of the futility of dreams, both Julie’s and Abdu’s. Abdu, a misfit at the The Table and in his long-forsaken country, hopes to fit into the country that will have him. Julie’s failure is in thinking that the world of Amina, Maryam and Khadija, her relations by marriage, would lend itself easily to the interpretations of the West. Like Julie, the novel too is a failure masquerading as triumph.


By Ramachandra Guha,
Permanent Black, Rs 450

This is a difficult, if not impossible, book to review. There are 29 essays divided into five sections covering such widely varied themes as south Indian intellectuals, likely and unlikely responses to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, British friends of India, Indian patriots of very different hues and last, but certainly not the least, Indian cricketers. The essays were originally published, in slightly different versions, in a number of periodicals in India and abroad. They are all extremely readable, a quality which Ramachandra Guha’s writings share with some of the best products of anthropologists who chose India as their subject. Well, the problem in reviewing this collection is a problem of choice. This reviewer would like to share the pleasure he has had in reading nearly all of them with a wider reading public, a project not feasible within the limits of a short review. I say “nearly all” because one section, the one on cricketers, is a closed book to me. George Mikes once wrote: “The French think life is a game. The English think, cricket is.” The latter convinced the former dependencies that their perception was valid, a supreme example of cultural domination which even the postmodernists have not escaped.

There is no pretension of impartiality in Guha’s essays. He has clearly defined ideological preferences. His aversions, some of which I share (for example, Arun Shourie’s pronouncements on Indian society and politics) are also stated without inhibition. We have here highly subjective statements from a liberal intellectual, a seriously threatened species, and he puts across his preferences with convincing clarity. These preferences favour an outlook sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged and to programmes of social engineering which privilege the small scale, local intiative and concern for the environment. He returns repeatedly to Gandhi’s ideas as exemplars of what is desirable in this context. One of his important insights emphasizes the very different meanings which his followers read into the leader’s message.

J.C. Kumarappa, the first editor of Gandhi’s works, Guha’s “green Gandhian” whom most of us have forgotten, berated Rajendra Prasad for living in the viceregal palace, regretted the absence of the Harijans from the community development project, and for two decades ran the All India Spinners’ Association and the All India Village Industries Association, to him key institutions for the country’s social and economic regeneration. Another follower of the mahatma, Jawaharlal Nehru, described the latter association as the All India Village Idiots’ Association. The Gandhian saint, Vinobha Bhave, in his massive self-righteousness, is to Guha “what Gandhi was not”. Bhave’s support for the Emergency earned him the sobriquet, sarkari sant.

Guha’s days among Calcuttans as a student at the Indian Institute of Management and a researcher at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences provide the data for the essay which is part of the book’s title. As a participant observer of the radical intellectual scene in the city in the Eighties, he was both amused and bemused. Who would not be? One wishes he would write a similar piece on the emergence of full-blown postmodernists from the discarded cocoon of Marxism, Maoism included. The bhadraloks do not cease to amaze the author. His piece on Gandhi among this sub-species of homo sapiens notes how the future leader of India, on his visit to Calcutta in 1896-97, was passed on from one luminary to another, none of whom took any interest. The editor of Bangabasi finally resorted to brutal frankness and stated that a busy man like him had no time for such riff-raff as Gandhi. By contrast, Madras went “wild with enthusiasm” and the pamphlet on the Indian question in South Africa sold there “like hot cakes”.

One joy of this volume is the intimate picture of sundry south Indian intellectuals. That region’s high culture evidently values modesty and is not given to shrill self-projection. Partly as a result of this and the dominant historical discourse in India, which still takes in the South only as an occasional digression from a North- and West-based master narrative, we seldom hear of the marvellous men sensitively sketched in this volume — the Naxalite, Subbarao, Venkatachar of the Indian Civil Service, Srinivisan, the editor, and many others. They project a world of low-key civilized values and a refined sensibility one does not associate with their more strident compatriots elsewhere. The Indian intellectual is often a raucous self-projector riding on the shoulder of multiple chelas. Not so the fellow south Indians portrayed by Guha.

I take issue with one key statement of the author quoted in the blurb. “In every thinking Indian there is a Gandhian and a Marxist struggling for supremacy.” Not so! At least, not any longer. The younger generation of thinking Indians are sold to globalization or, at the other end of the spectrum, to postmodernism. Neither school of dogma cares much for Gandhi or Marx. Gandhian ideas have been devalued through constant evocation by corrupt politicians, and Marxism through the sad track record of leftism in India. And the new dogma of fundamental conflict between the West and the Rest — embraced for the most part by savants all whose ideas are of Western origin — generates a most intolerant form of nativism. Guha rejects such intolerance without qualification. He cites an apparently unlikely source in support of his own position: Gandhi.


By Ashokamitran,
Katha, Rs 150

The Katha Trailblazer Series is the latest initiative from Katha. A series of translations of regional texts into English, these books are intended specially for children. The first book in this series, Water, was published last year.

Water (the original is called Tannir) is a novella by Ashokamitran, one of the foremost modern Tamil writers. First serialized in 1971 in the periodical Kanaiyazhi, it was later revised and published as a novella in 1973.

Water is set in 1969, against the backdrop of a drought in Madras. It depicts the struggles of a community whose primary occupation is to collect water. For the people of this community, the search for water in the midst of the drought becomes something of a ritual. The water crisis in the novel is a reflection of the social crisis within this community. To cope with it, the community invents a set of norms which, over time, comes to revolve around the activities on the street. Water abounds in street scenes, which are alternately foregrounded and backgrounded, dramatized and made natural as part of its narrative strategy. These street scenes are structurally and functionally integrated with the personal tragedy of Jamuna, which unfolds as the novella progresses.

Tamil critics have pointed to the “metaphoric resonances” in Water,while its translator, Lakshmi Hölmstrom, speaks about the ironic undercurrents running through it. Ashokamitran excels in blending metaphor and irony, which results in ambiguities of meaning. This is best exemplified by its protagonist, Jamuna, who despite bearing the name of a river spends most of her time collecting water. Psychologically, her finer feelings have dried up, while physically, she cannot wash her body for lack of water. Jamuna’s tragedy is shared by two other female characters in the story — her sister Chaya and Teacher amma. It is these two women who help Jamuna muster the moral strength needed to decide against committing suicide and to get rid of Bhaskar Rao, by whom she gets pregnant.

The relationship between women is the mainstay of Water, so much so that the male characters seem like mere caricatures. The latter are either anonymous or portrayed as impotent (Teacher amma’s husband), or sexually perverted (the husband of Jamuna’s landlady), or shrewd and exploitative (Bhaskar Rao). Given such poor characterization, only the most rabid of feminists will agree with Holmstrom’s description of Water as a “social documentary”.

Ashokamitran does not even capture all the nuances of relationships between women. A character as important as Teacher amma, who inspires Jamuna to take the grim realities of life in her stride, drops out of the novella rather mysteriously. If this is a deliberate authorial device, it is rather naïve. But characterization does not seem to be Ashokamitran’s forte, neither does he seem to be in full control of all the ideas and views that he brings up in the narrative. There are a few moving patches, especially in the street scenes, but even these are not always imaginatively positioned.

As a translator, Holmstrom is efficient, if not brilliant. But she should have included more footnotes to explain such typically Tamil expressions as akka, enappa, ennaya, and so on.


Edited By Directorate General of Infantry,
Lancer, Rs 395

Field marshal K.M. Cariappa was the first commander-in-chief of independent India’s army. He is credited with enshrining the tradition of secularism in the armed forces and with accepting the principle of civilian dominance over the army without fuss. In Cariappa’s honour, the Indian army organizes an annual lecture series where eminent personalities hold forth on security issues. The book under review is a collection of such lectures. It throws light on Cariappa’s role in the evolution of the Indian army and his relevance today. Commissioned in 1919, Cariappa was one of the first Indian officers in the British-Indian army as well as the first Indian to qualify for the Staff College.

According to S.K. Sinha, one of the contributors, Cariappa was a “front line leader”. This is an important attribute in an officer because soldiers are ready to be brave when their officers too show willingness to expose themselves to danger.

Sinha, who served under Cariappa during the first Indo-Pak war of 1948, remembers him as a courageous and energetic man who constantly toured the front areas in Kashmir. This tradition established by Cariappa continues even today. The Indian army is noted for the extraordinary bravery of its officers. For example, in all the confrontations in Kashmir — from 1948 to Kargil in 1999 — three times as many officers have died as privates.

But is this kind of leadership relevant in the limited conventional wars of the 21st century? Field marshal Sam Manekshaw asserts that the technological advances of recent years have rendered the battlefield more fluid. A successful officer now needs a different set of qualities. He must be decisive and a thorough professional. Without slavishly following orders from above, he must adapt to the rapidly changing battle scenario. The ji huzoor tradition of the Indian army, argues Manekshaw, ought to be replaced by what the Germans call Auftragstaktik or a mission oriented command system. But in the Indian army, where many officers are semi-literate peasants, Manekshaw’s prescription might be impracticable.

Manekshaw also acknowledges the importance of traditional leadership qualities in the modern battlefield. An officer must be impartial and honest. He must also be able to relieve the stress and strain suffered by soldiers in the combat zone. It is these qualities of a good leader that Cariappa displayed.

The problem with memorial lectures is that they tend to be eulogistic. Neither during World War II nor in the post-independence period did Cariappa display any major strategic or tactical genius. According to the memoirs of Harbaksh Singh, Cariappa probably never saw a shot fired in anger. However, Cariappa’s forté lay in good staff relations and providing logistic support. This was the result of his experiences in World War II, when he functioned mainly as a staff officer. After all, as Napoleon said, an army — more so a modern army — “marches on its belly”.


By Alberto Manguel,
Random House, $ 24

Anything that Alberto Manguel writes is always a delight and a treasure chest for the lover of books and reading. In discursive prose, the idea of stream of consciousness has a ring of absurdity to it. Yet Manguel has the gift of moving with enviable ease from literary or artistic reference to another without ever appearing didactic or pedantic. He describes himself as “an inquisitive and chaotic traveller” who likes “discovering places haphazardly, through whatever images they might have to offer”. His vast reading is always on display but it is never obtrusive because he uses that learning to illustrate an argument and always succeeds in taking his readers along with him in his intellectual journey.

The assumption that Manguel makes in this book is that all images and pictures have in them a story which can be deciphered and read by the viewer. But Manguel’s reading is not obscured by arcane and esoteric vocabularies. Neither is his analysis burdened by what the Italian critic, Giovanna Franci, described as the “anxiety to interpret”. Manguel invites his readers to look at pictures not with the eyes of a critic but as a student of life and the arts. He takes as his themes paintings, photographs, buildings and sculptures and then attempts to show how they reflect a story or stories, which the viewer can either decipher or invent. His thrust is to try and explain what happens when we say that we are moved by a work of art.

One of the artists he takes up for discussion is Pablo Picasso and his famous portrait of the weeping woman. If portraits are a mirror, what is reflected in the portraits that Picasso did of his women? One of the most famous and memorable of such portraits is his Weeping Woman (October 1937). The small painting, with its use of green, red, violet, yellow, orange and blue, depicts a woman deformed by grief. What is behind this private sorrow that we see? It is well known that the woman in the picture is Dora Maar who became Picasso’s lover from 1935 and his “private muse”. But the relationship was tortured and she was always depicted by the painter in a distorted and ravaged way. (“They’re all Picassos, not one is Dora Maar” was her comment.) When Picasso painted the Guernica, the face of Dora Maar, as the tearless weeping woman, became a central point of the painting depicting the horrors of war. Manguel suggests that Picasso’s private acts of cruelty on Dora Maar became transformed into a public image that condemned cruelty. This leads Manguel to a discourse on the representations of pain in western culture and the inability of male artists to depict tears in their paintings. (Witness, Van Gogh’s Old Man Weeping).

Interlacing his reading of paintings with cross references to literature, Manguel unravels the paintings of Caravaggio, the photographs of Tina Modotti, the use of colour in Joan Mitchell’s canvasses, and so on. There is no coherent theory of reading images in this book. Manguel wanders where his fancy and reading takes him. His ecclecticism and range are the charms of this book. All readers will unhesitatingly join Manguel in his voyage. All readers will love to share his sense of wonder, that small epiphany when a work of art or a poem or a novel opens vistas full of magic. No one conjures up that moment better than Alberto Manguel who is ceaseless in his quest for what Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy called the “North-west passage to the intellectual world”.



If baby only wanted to

By Rabindranath Tagore
(Rupa, Rs 50)

Rabindranath Tagore’s Selected poems, 5 Vols is a set of rather tacky volumes, flimsy and over-decorated, which look like Valentine’s Day junkets. The translations are done by the poet himself, and are mostly quite bad. The volumes create an illusion of chronological arrangement by showing on their covers photographs of Tagore ageing progressively. But each volume actually contains selections from the same collections, ranging from Gitanjali to Fireflies. The lifting of the Tagore copyright is a good thing in principle. But the ensuing free-for-all might require a steeling of the nerves. It does come as a bit of a shock every time one reads something like this done by Tagore himself: “If baby only wanted to, he could fly up to heaven this moment.” The lovely khoka rendered as “baby” sounds more Elvis Presley than Tagore.

By W.W. Hunter
(Rupa, Rs 95)

W.W. Hunter’s The Indian Musalmans is the reprint of a Victorian classic, first published in 1871, and indispensable for historians of the Partition and of British imperialism. “The greatest wrong,” wrote Hunter to his dedicatee, “that the English can do to their Asiatic subjects is not to understand them.” Hunter goes on to identify the “chronic peril” of the Empire as “the gap between Ruler and Ruled” in India. This is therefore an effort to bring out “in clear relief” the history and “present requirements” of a “persistently belligerent class...whom successive Governments have declared to be a source of permanent danger to the Indian Empire”. Hunter focuses on the “Bengal Muhammadans”, describing them as “the standing rebel camps on our frontier” and seeing them as representative of the entire Indian Muslim community, particularly in the context of the Wahabi movement in Islam. “Are the Indian Musalmans bound by their Religion to rebel against the Queen?”, Lord Mayo had asked. Hunter’s chapter, “The Wrongs of the Muhammadans Under British Rule”, is a fascinating answer to this anxious question.

By Aroop Sengupta
(UBSPD, Rs 175)

Aroop Sengupta’s Dictionary of disability is an exhaustively compiled book for occupational therapists, special educationists, paediatricians and psychiatrists, and all those who are concerned with the care and rehabilitation of the disabled. It has been conceptualized by teachers in the handicapped unit of the National Association for the Blind, New Delhi. It seeks to help the reader identify different forms of disability by explaining the professional jargon of remedial education and therapeutic methods. The entries pertain to the five main areas in the field of disability: early identification, prevention, intervention, rehabilitation and integration.



Watch your back

Sir — According to the report, “Musharraf cuts ISI to size” (Feb 22), Pervez Musharraf has closed down the Afghanistan cell of the Inter-Services Intelligence and has reduced the Kashmir cell to an intelligence gathering unit. If this is indeed the case, it would mean a reduction in Pakistan-supported militant activity in Kashmir. But while India benefits from Musharraf’s latest decision, the general should watch his back. In the attempt to make an honest state out of Pakistan, he is bound to have made a number of enemies amongst the supporters of jihad in Pakistan. Efforts to tarnish Musharraf’s image are already visible in Sheikh Omar’s statements admitting that the attacks on the American Center and the Srinagar assembly were made so that Musharraf would have to rethink his anti-jihad stance. Omar is but one of the many dissidents now present in Pakistan. That despite such increasing hostility and disapproval of his new policies, Musharraf remains committed to overhauling the militant image of Pakistan is something commendable.

Yours faithfully,
Sujoy Sengupta, New Delhi


Sir — Ashok Mitra hits the nail on the head in the article, “Played by other rules” (Feb 15). It has become blatantly obvious that in post-liberalized India, it is money alone that matters, and the wealthy not only rule the roost but are also not held accountable for their actions. Thus, it was not surprising that the world’s richest cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, managed to go scot-free in spite of his obvious acts of indiscipline. No permission from the Board of Control for Cricket in India was reportedly sought before the entire team was asked to sport black armbands to mark the death of the portfolio manager of a single member of the team. The monetary power of Mascarenhas and the celebrity status of Tendulkar have probably turned the BCCI weak in its knees. It is strange that the BCCI could still not muster enough courage to demand an explanation from Tendulkar for disregarding it in this matter.

There are other things that nag. Is it merely a coincidence that the last two matches of the series against England after Mascarenhas’s death saw Tendulkar batting at an all-time low or does it signify that the batsman’s mind was not on his game? Would any other cricketer, including Sourav Ganguly, be allowed to get away with such a pathetic performance by the BCCI?

Tendulkar, despite his often erratic game, has been projected as the backbone of the team by the media. This is the reason why an average innings by Tendulkar is often shown in a glorious light, while his failures are swept under the carpet by both sports commentators and reporters. The media is, therefore, helping protect the legend they have created. The BCCI’s blind support of Tendulkar is also because of his having been elevated to the status of a demi-god. It is tragic that even the national team’s best interests come a poor second to the whims of Tendulkar.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — S.K. Sarkar in his letter, “Who’s talking?” (Feb 18), justifies the Indian team’s wearing of black armbands. Sarkar claims that if one can criticize the team for mourning the death of Mark Mascarenhas, one may even speak ill of a mother mourning the death of her convict son. To compare the feelings of Tendulkar and his team with regard to Mascarenhas with that of a mother is ludicrous.

By their unanimous action, the Indian cricket team has turned Mascarenhas into a hero. Yet a personal friendship should not have been justification for the display. Tendulkar should have desisted from making public demonstration of his grief and making the rest of the team follow suit.

The BCCI should see to it that there is no repetition of the episode. That Tendulkar managed to get away with such behaviour will hopefully not set a precedent for other players.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Sir — Ashok Mitra seems a bit harsh in criticizing Sachin Tendulkar for his actions. While Mascarenhas might not have been the most honest of businessmen, he might have shared a personal relationship with Tendulkar. To write off this relationship as a mere client-agent relationship is uncalled for. Mitra should have restricted himself to commenting on the spectacle of the entire Indian team wearing armbands at the Kanpur match instead of drawing his own conclusions about the relationship between the former Indian captain and Mascarenhas.

Yours faithfully,
Krishan Ahluwalia, Calcutta

Calling card

Sir — The virtual card calling system which has been introduced by the telecommunications department for long-distance phone calls is very convenient for people who do not have an STD or ISD facility. However, there are a few snags in the system. If the card amount is exhausted while a call is being made, the call is terminated without warning. A pre-warning system would make it less disconcerting for callers. One would then be able to end the conversation accordingly without being disconnected all of a sudden. Again, at times, negligible amounts of money are left unused when the card expires. The short validity period of the cards is a further inconvenience as users end up not having used the entire amount. The system is also sometimes inaccessible during off-peak hours and this further prevents one from using the full value of the card. Instead of having a fixed validity period, the card should be activated from the day it is first used.

Yours faithfully,
K.Z. Ahmed, Guwahati

Sir — It has been more than a month since the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited has disconnected the internet access telephone number 172226, in Santiniketan. The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, Calcutta, thus cannot be accessed from here. Moreover, BSNL has not been providing new connections, which means VSNL subscribers can neither use their old connections nor get a new one. Even if a new connection is available, VSNL users would stand to lose the amount with which they bought internet hours for three years or more. Private companies would willingly provide internet access if only the government gave up its monopoly. By denying the facility to people, the BSNL is merely displaying its highhandedness and disregard for the consumer.

Yours faithfully,
K. Chatterjee, Santiniketan

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

Maintained by Web Development Company