Editorial 1 / Future tense
Editorial 2 / Spatting on
Balancing the budget
Book Review / Glimpses of erotic India
Book Review / A long journey
Book Review / Farewell to arms
Book Review / In search of the perfect pen
Editor’s Choice / Remembrance of the past under stress
Paperback Picking
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / FUTURE TENSE 
 
 
 
 
A number of recent events have confirmed that India’s relations with Pakistan are still extremely tense. While the chances of a war may have receded, it is clear that there is, as yet, little possibility of a quick normalization of bilateral ties. For once, New Delhi seems determined not to revive a dialogue until there is credible evidence to demonstrate that Pakistan has stopped using terrorism as an instrument of its policy in Jammu and Kashmir. Consider some of the events over the past fortnight that have taken bilateral relations to a new nadir. In the last week of February, Pakistani forces opened fire and hit an Indian Air Force AN-32 transport aircraft carrying Mr V.K. Bhatia, air officer commanding-in-chief, western air command, in the Kargil area, as he was inspecting troop preparedness on the border. If indeed the aircraft had been shot down, it could easily have provoked India to launch a military offensive. Earlier this week, India asked Pakistan to withdraw two of its staffers from India’s high commission on charges of spying and collecting defence-related information clandestinely. It is almost certain, given the past history of bilateral relations, that Islamabad will reciprocate by expelling Indian officials from the high commission in Islamabad.

But perhaps the most serious cause for the further deterioration of relations has been the communal violence that recently engulfed Gujarat. On the one hand, India has signalled that it suspects that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies may have played a role in fermenting communal tensions in the state. This charge has, as expected, been rejected by Islamabad. On the other hand, the Pakistani reaction to the violence has been marked by intemperate statements that have undoubtedly amounted to interference in India’s internal affairs. New Delhi has charged Islamabad of deriving “propagandist” advantage from the situation. Although Mr Pervez Musharraf signalled through his now well-known speech on January 12 this year that he was going to undertake a radical restructuring of Pakistan’s polity and society, the government of India does not seem to be convinced that Islamabad is acting sincerely vis- a-vis New Delhi.

New Delhi, for once, was explicit in demanding that Pakistan fulfil four conditions before India can consider normalizing relations. Pakistan must clearly eschew violence and condemn groups that spread terror. Islamabad must shut down all terrorist training camps within Pakistan and in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Pakistan must use its resources to prevent infiltration into Indian territory, including Jammu and Kashmir. Islamabad must act on the list of criminals that are wanted in India and are based in Pakistan. There is little evidence to suggest that Pakistan has acted with conviction or decisiveness on any one of these fronts. The only hopeful sign in bilateral relations is the visit to Pakistan by the Indian information and broadcasting minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj. Ms Swaraj’s visit could give a chance to the government of India to communicate its viewpoint directly to the top Pakistani leadership. This may also be an opportunity for Pakistan to signal a shift in its policies.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / SPATTING ON 
 
 
 
 
Like most politicians, Calcutta’s mayor, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, loves controversies, genuine or fake. His political career is dotted with rows he has kicked up, wittingly or otherwise. But his recent spats with some members of the mayor-in-council and even the chairman of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, all of who belong to his own party, the Trinamool Congress, have hardly been amusing. There must be something fundamentally wrong in his style of functioning that leads to frictions with his own team every time he launches a project of the civic body. The complaint that Mr Mukherjee does not take his colleagues into confidence in running the corporation seems to have some substance. This certainly is no way to lead an administration which is crucial for the upkeep of the city. Mr Mukherjee’s problems, largely his own creation, are compounded by the ambivalence his party chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee, shows towards the wrangles in the corporation. Even if she does not actually instigate the malcontents to rail against Mr Mukherjee, her own complaints against the mayor seem to embolden them. The situation would not have caused serious concern if it were just a matter of party indiscipline.

Unfortunately, the mayor’s problems with his own lieutenants are taking their toll on the functioning of the corporation. Slighted by the mayor, several members of the mayor-in-council have unjustly vented their anger on the commissioner and other bureaucrats. This could have a devastating effect on the morale of officials and employees, and eventually jeopardize not only the corporation’s new projects but also its regular work. This will result in the citizens suffering further from the lack of whatever meagre civic amenities are available to them. An even more damaging effect could be the withdrawal or deferment of loans from the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank for corporation projects, if the wranglings delay their implementation. Mr Mukherjee should realize that as the city’s mayor he cannot afford to indulge in the antics with which he often stole the limelight as a member of the West Bengal assembly. Ms Banerjee too must do her bit to rein in the mayor-baiters of her party in the interest of the civic administration.

   

 
 
BALANCING THE BUDGET 
 
 
BY ASHOK K. LAHIRI
 
 
Balancing the budget normally means bringing government expenditure in line with government revenues and wiping the deficit out. In a developing country, with healthy growth and insufficiency of physical and social infrastructure such as roads, water supply, power, education and health, the deficit only needs to be controlled and not wiped out fully. In India, the fiscal deficit has been too high, and there is a consensus about the need to bring it down. The deficit of the Central and state governments together is about 10 per cent of the gross domestic product. The question that dogs the country is when and how to bring it down.

In the budget for 2002-03 which the finance minister presented last Thursday, he has tried to strike a balance between the conflicting objectives of reviving buoyant growth and the need for fiscal consolidation. That is a different kind of balancing than balancing the budget itself. How far he has been able to achieve the right balance is what will be debated in the days and months to come, and only time will tell. So far, the budget has evoked a mixed response from the people.

The budget has taken quite a few bold steps in structural reform in agriculture. The finance minister has called for the third revolution in agriculture through diversification and food processing. For this he has announced a host of measures for deregulation of agriculture. These include decontrol of sugar, amendment of the Milk and Milk-Products Order to remove restrictions on new milk processing capacity, removal of small-scale industry reservation for agricultural equipment, expansion of futures and forward trading to cover all commodities, and amendment of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, Food Products Order, and the Meat Products Order. The Agricultural Produce Marketing Act is to be amended to allow farmers to sell directly to processors. He intends to link assistance to states for Centrally sponsored schemes with decontrol and deregulation of state controls on movement. All these, together with other structural reform measures, should help in boosting our growth prospects

The finance minister has also tried to design the budget proper — that is, expenditure and revenues — with a view to reviving growth. Governments all over the world fix their expenditures in rupees (or yens or dollars, and so on) for the coming year, ahead of time. Targets for such expenditure are fixed keeping in mind the level of economic activity in the ensuing year. When the pace of economic activity surpasses or falls short of the expected magnitude, such expenditure, however, remains more or less unchanged at the budgeted level. Thus, expenditure as a proportion of the GDP tends to exceed or fall short of the corresponding proportion stipulated at the time of the budget when economic activity is slower or faster than anticipated. This is the well-known contra-cyclical behaviour of government expenditure.

Central government expenditure, which was budgeted at 15.2 per cent of the GDP for 2001-02, has been budgeted at 16 per cent for the coming year. Government expenditure is one of the main engines of reviving demand in the economy. And, with growth sagging behind the budget estimate, such expenditure has been rising for the last couple of years. In 2000-01, Central government expenditure as a proportion of the GDP, which had been budgeted at 15.5 per cent, turned out to be 15.6 per cent. In the current year, which is coming to an end, such expenditure is 15.8 per cent according to the revised estimates. This is considerably higher than the 15.2 per cent budgeted on February 28, 2001.

Revenues fall short of the budgeted amount when growth is lower than that anticipated in the budget. The GDP has been consistently lower than the budgeted figure by a considerable amount during the last couple of years. In 2000-01, it fell short of the budgeted figure by Rs 939 billion, while the corresponding shortfall in 2001-02 was Rs 1,638 billion.

The critical question is: what happened to revenue as a proportion of the GDP? Admittedly, the numerator was less than expected, but so was the denominator. Regrettably, revenue (including non-debt capital receipts) as a proportion of the GDP, which was budgeted at 10.4 per cent and 10.5 per cent in 2000-01 and 2001-02, are now estimated to have been 9.9 per cent and 10.1 per cent, respectively. While the 20 basis point increase in revenue as a proportion of the GDP between 2000-01 and 2001-02 is a good sign, the revenue targets in the budgets should be closely scrutinized for their realism. “Bias in budget-making” is a well-known disease afflicting governments.

Realism need not mean that we give up our attempts at better tax administration and improved compliance. Revenue receipts (excluding non-debt capital receipts) as a proportion of the GDP has declined from 9.23 per cent in 2000-01 to 9.20 per cent in 2001-02 according to the revised estimates. A more streamlined tax regime, with minimal person-to-person interface between the taxpayer and the tax administrator, is essential for improving tax revenues. We have made very little progress in this critical area.

Shortfall in revenues and excess of expenditure — both as proportions of the GDP — have resulted in the fiscal deficit as a proportion of the GDP increasing in the last couple of years. The deficit-to-GDP ratio has gone up from 5.4 per cent in 1999-2000 to 5.7 per cent in 2000-01 and is expected to remain unchanged at the same level in 2001-02. The ratio was 4 per cent in 1996-97, and has increased every year since then.

It is true that the deficit-to-GDP ratio was the same 5.7 per cent in 2001-02 as in 2000-01, but this is only according to the revised estimates. A tendency for the deficit to go up beyond the revised estimates when the accounts come in has also been observed in the past. In 2000-01, the deficit-to-GDP ratio was expected to be 5.1 per cent according to the revised estimates presented in February 2001. Now, according to the audited accounts, the deficit is 5.7 per cent.

In a federal system, the deficit of the Central government has to be seen together with those of the states (and local governments) to determine its macroeconomic impact. The states are also in financial distress and have large deficits. It is unlikely that the Centre will be able to bring the states to the path of fiscal rectitude without practising it itself. This is particularly so in an era of coalition politics. Let us hope that growth, which sagged to 4 per cent in 2000-01, now surges back to 6-7 per cent, and that the finance minister then gets down to balancing the budget of the Central government in the traditional way.

The author is director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / GLIMPSES OF EROTIC INDIA 
 
 
BY DOLA MITRA
 
 
KHAJURAHO
By Devangana Desai,
Oxford, Rs 395
INDIAN EROTICA
By Alka Pande and Lance Dane,
Roli, Rs 695

The two books, Khajuraho and Indian Erotica, explore different aspects of Indian erotic art. Considering the vastness and complexity of the subject, it is commendable that each is able to encapsulate all the important facets and diverse interpretations of Indian erotica, without succumbing to the dangers of over-simplification and omission. Both books are products of meticulous research and it helps that neither claims to be a comprehensive study of Indian erotic art.

Khajuraho is part of the Oxford Monumental Legacy Series, a set of small books on world heritage sites in India. Devangana Desai examines the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho against the larger backdrop of religion, delineating the relationship between sexuality and divinity in Indian philosophy and religious texts. She is careful to remind readers that, though Khajuraho is famous for its erotic sculptures, “erotic figures do not even account for one-tenth of the site’s sculptures, most of which represent divinities, celestial females and animals”. The temples were essentially places of worship built between 900 AD and 1130 AD, when the Chandella dynasty ruled the area, then called Kharjuravahaka.

There are numerous interpretations of these erotic sculptures —some say they depict the fertility rites of tribal gods while others read hidden spiritual symbolism in them. An architectural text of the time, for instance, refers to yantras — lines drawn around temples to ward off evil — “which have to be hidden from the gaze of non-initiated persons by covering them up with erotic figures, which in turn would ‘delight’ lay persons.”

Desai describes the architecture of all 22 extant temples in detail, along with illustrations and diagrams. The sexuality-divinity duality is conveyed through these descriptions: “The emblem or icon of the divinity is installed in the innermost chamber, erotic sculptures surround it. At the centre is the formless, non-duality; life emanates from this formless cosmos; the human form — male and female — represents duality in perfection; the bliss of their physical union is symbolic of the return to original bliss, non-duality. The sexual, then, is the physical manifestation of the spiritual.”

Desai dismisses some common assumptions about the Khajuraho erotica. For example, the notion that the Tantric sect of the Kapalikas was somehow connected to the building of “these meticulously planned temples”. The Kamasutra is also dismissed with the argument that the “depiction of erotic figures on religious buildings does not seem to have originated in a secular interest in sex manuals”.

One of the charming qualities of Khajuraho is that it doubles-up as a travel guide providing useful information to prospective visitors, including tips on accommodation and conveyance. But Khajuraho does more than that — it actually inspires a visit.

In Indian Erotica, Alka Pande attempts to trace representations of sexuality in the Indian visual and performing arts, “right from the representation of erotic symbols, which predate history, to the erotic imagery which screams out in print and electronic ads.”

One merit of this book is its originality of approach. The earthy sensuality of early terracotta images of the Mother Goddess, for example, is juxtaposed the come-hither sexuality of modern advertising graffiti. Pande also contrasts the arcane divinity of Tantric and other religious erotica with the lurid sexuality shown on celluloid.

The book also explores differences between erotica and pornography and includes discussions about various intriguing aspects of erotic art over the centuries. But Indian Erotica’s USP lies in its colourful photographs — from Rajasthani miniature paintings to Tantric art and portraits from the Kamasutra — all of which are captured by Lance Dane’s camera.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / A LONG JOURNEY 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
RAILWAYS IN MODERN INDIA
Edited By Ian J. Kerr,
Oxford, Rs 625

Should trains be blamed because 59 men, women and children perished when a vicious mob set fire to the Sabarmati Express? Or have pilgrim sites like Ayodhya become flashpoints of identity precisely because rail transport has helped to integrate them more closely in the public consciousness?

Ian J. Kerr, the editor of this anthology, may well be right in suggesting a connection in his own original contribution on the effects of railways on pilgrimage. “Railways contributed to the growth of the commercial and the religious dimensions of pilgrimage — if, indeed, the two dimensions were ever separable,” he says. Unfortunately, the monetary aspect of the thriving kar seva industry, which must surely enrich mutts and mahants all over the country, lies outside the scope of his research. But the nexus might partly explain the mandir lobby’s tenacity.

Hyperbole is integral to piety. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi rode the rails, albeit at great expense to rich patrons who kept him in poverty, while roundly accusing “railways, lawyers and doctors” of impoverishing India. Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s Penguin Gandhi Reader had earlier cited this view, together with such Gandhian nuggets as that Parliament is like a prostitute because the parties that control it change periodically and that compulsory schooling in princely Baroda was educating peasants beyond their station. Kerr reproduces the entire reader-editor dialogue, which appeared in a 1921 issue of Hind Swaraj, with the comment that nationalists did not scruple to use the railways to further their cause though the Mahatma thought the “evil” network carried germs and opened up markets that caused famine by encouraging the profit motive.

Such eccentricity was not all that singular in the upper reaches of 19th century Britain. One of Queen Victoria’s uncles feared that cheap swift travel would spread revolution by facilitating the movement of radicals, while the Duke of Wellington was concerned that trains would disturb Eton’s tranquillity. However, not many of their Indian peers shared their prejudices. Mobs might attack tracks and telegraph lines as symbols of the raj, but elite opinion was reflected by Madhav Rao, successively dewan of Travancore, Indore and Baroda, who exclaimed, “What a glorious change the railway has made in old and long neglected India! In my various long journeys it has repeatedly struck me that if India is to become a homogeneous nation, and is ever to achieve solidarity, it must be by means of the railways as a means of transport, and by means of the English language as a medium of communication”.

Karl Marx took a similarly practical view of one of the world’s most impressive engineering, social and financial undertakings that the likes of Mamata Banerjee have devalued but not yet succeeded in completely destroying. He did not deny that the British “millocracy” sought easy communications in India for its own exploitative purposes. But he also recognized in a despatch to the New-York Daily Tribune in 1853 that, given indigenous engineering skills, the network would become “truly the forerunner of modern industry.” Even more optimistically, he predicted that railway-inspired industrialization would “dissolve the hereditary divisions of labour, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power.”

Alas! Revolutionaries seldom look beyond their doctrinaire nose. Though the same article acknowledged that India’s superior civilization had conquered successive conquerors, Marx did not think of applying the assimilative principle to modern technology. Had he paused to think about it, he might have anticipated how the fine gradations of railway compartments, the separate accommodation for servants, and the hierarchy of wheels that marked official saloons reproduced not just an antique caste system but the more significant tiers of an all-powerful and self-important bureaucracy. High-minded egalitarianism may have erased labels like European and Indian cuisine or Hindu and Muslim drinking water, but the network still reflects the complexity as well as the functioning anarchy of Indian life.

Though no Marxist, Bartle Frere, governor of Bombay presidency from 1861 to 1867, was as profoundly convinced that railways meant progress. The extravagant speech he made at the opening of the Bhore Ghat line through the Western Ghats — an engineering feat that elsewhere inspired Jan Morris to lyrical ecstasy — follows the opening chapter by Marx.

There are 14 such, the two Indian contributors being Mukul Mukherjee on the impact on Bengal’s economy between 1870 and 1920, which first appeared in the Indian Economic and Social History Review, and G.S. Khosla’s bureaucratic account of history, taken from a Railway Board publication. The lay reader will find David Arnold’s short essay on the impact of railways on imagination far more absorbing. A name to be reckoned with in India studies, Arnold invokes Satyajit Ray’s use in Pather Panchali of a train that “bursts into a seemingly idyllic rural world, suggesting the dynamism, perhaps the adventure, perhaps the latent menace, of the bustling world beyond the village.”

It is a pity that such a fascinating read should hide behind a forbidding title like “Bodies of Knowledge/Highways of Steel: Science and Technology in Modern India”. Indeed, this is the weakness of the anthology as a whole. The reader who is courageous enough to brave the thickets of dense pages, stern tables, blurred reproductions and folding maps will come upon many unsuspected seams of pure ore, especially in the editor’s 61-page introduction which places the chapters in their historical and historiographical context, identifies neglected areas and indicates new approaches, drawing on Indian as well as Western sources, 19th century and contemporary.

Kerr, who is professor of history at Manitoba university, was already well-known as the author of Building the Railways of the Raj, 1850-1900. His second venture broadens the scope of the subject with discussions of a phenomenon like the railway colony, that isolated and orderly civilian equivalent of the military cantonment, as well as William Digby’s distinction between “Anglostan” and “Hindustan”, the latter encompassing all of India more than 50 miles from the track. If the discussions are not exhaustive, there are enough signposts to point the way to more satisfying reading.

Urbanization, suburbanization and cultural interaction must be attributed to (or blamed on) the permanent way. Above all, the railways gave a boost to the market economy whose role in creating a sense of nationhood and nation-building beyond the dreams of the nationalist movement has yet to be fully explored. Though Gandhi may not have been too far out in complaining — intimations of Ayodhya? — that the railways enabled rogues to visit holy places, on balance, any objective observer would agree with Raymond W. Goldsmith’s conclusion, “No railways, no modern India.”

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / FAREWELL TO ARMS 
 
 
BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
 
 
THE DEFENCE MAKEOVER: 10 MYTHS THAT SHAPE INDIA’S IMAGE
By Pravin Sawhney,
Sage, Rs 425

In the aftermath of the Kargil war, there has been an upsurge in public interest regarding matters of defence. And this interest has been further fanned by the salacious stories splashed across national newspapers post-Tehelka, the CAG report and revived references to the Bofors controversy.

Pravin Sawhney’s book reflects the signs of the times as he examines what he calls the “10 myths” that have created a false image about the real state of India’s national security. In a negative sense, the issues projected in the book as myths are not really so because the concerns they reflect are genuine. Though it is stated at the outset that the book comprises search and not research, Sawhney’s commentary on some of the politico-strategic issues facing India is an intensively-researched work. The book is essentially a critique of the threats to our national security emanating from Pakistan and China.

The chapters examine different aspects ranging from problems of the Sino-Indian border to the nuclear environment in the subcontinent post-Pokhran and Chagai, Kargil and the proxy war in Kashmir. Whatever the theme, the all-pervading presence of China and the United States of America is apparent, none of it being very comforting for India.

Downsized by the trauma of the border war with China in 1962, India has attempted to scramble back from the precipice and has set itself up again as a regional player of some consequence. But the efforts of our policymakers have been tangled in a web of ideological baggage and controversies which have severely restricted the nation’s attempts to achieve its geo-strategic goals.

Among the subjects covered in the book, my favourites are on the saga of India’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons together with its complementary missile delivery systems. They reflect the collective death wish that appears to afflict the nation in its quest for security. To start with, the inexplicable decision of our own iron lady — Indira Gandhi — to consider Pokhran 1974 as an esoteric nuclear orchid and designate it as a peaceful nuclear explosion crippled our prospects of enter ing the world stage as a nuclear weapons power. By the time the US led by Bill Clinton assumed charge of the world, even a hint of a frown would send the United Front regimes scurrying away from testing out our drawing-board nuclear designs.

The book chronicles the trials of the BJP government as well. Notwithstanding its initial rush of blood in conducting Pokhran II in 1998, it too collapsed abjectly thereafter in the face of the expected disapproval from the nuclear club. The Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbot soirees match the confused dealings of the previous governments. The “supreme national interest” to emerge as a nuclear weapons power has been quietly sidelined by a search for the elusive permanent seat in the security council. Development of nuclear weapons along with their necessary operational organizations and command structures have been one of the casualties.

As regards missile development, the work chronicles a similar story of missed opportunities. The major theme that emerges again is the slowing down of the missile programme after the India-US “engagement”. The general lack of determination, national will and self-confidence of the present as well as previous governments reflect clearly in these and other transactions. Going through the criticism, the reader is confronted with the reality of the all-pervading indifference and hesitation that constitute the nation’s culture.

I read this book with much interest and a growing sense of apprehension as well. The interest was generated by Sawhney’s undoubtedly professional and knowledgeable perceptions of India’s military problems vis-a-vis established enemies like Pakistan and potential adversaries like China. My apprehension stems from the operationally explicit nature of the book which should make it a much sought after book among the intelligence community of our adversaries. It will also prove to be readable among our military professionals as well as interested civilians.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT PEN 
 
 
BY UMA MAHADEVAN-DASGUPTA
 
 
WRITERS ON WRITING: COLLECTED ESSAYS FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
Edited By John Darnton,
Times Books, $ 18.95

What is it really like for a writer to write? Is it just inspiration or is some of it hard work also? What does a writer’s block feel like? Do all writers get up in the middle of the night to jot down ideas that occur to them suddenly? Where do the words come from? The nitty-gritty of the writer’s life is fascinating.

But “not all writers want to talk about what they do”, warns John Darnton in his introduction to this marvellously entertaining collection of essays on the business of writing. Fortunately, there are several writers who don’t mind talking about their art and craft, or even writing about it, and this collection brings together some of their thoughts. Shortly after Darnton started work on his first book, Neanderthal, it struck him that what writers felt about their creative process could make an interesting column. And that is how the eminently readable Writers on Writing came to be.

The first thing that one realizes while reading this collection is that writing is not easy. The trick is to make it look easy, effortless; and a lot of work goes into doing so. “It’s a bad business, this writing”, remarks Mary Gordon. If Gordon writes of searching for the perfect pen and ink, for others technology is a part of the writing life. Saul Bellow writes that novelist William Morris, who had urged Bellow to get an electric typewriter, said that he seldom switched off his machine.

A writer’s life is fraught with other problems. For one, the distraction of doorbells, telephones, bills, and their spouse. Dogs, for instance, are fatal distractions, as any dog-owner would know. In How Can You Create Fiction When Reality Comes to Call? Carolyn Chute describes a typical day in her life. “Must go out with dogs. They have a dog door and a half-acre fenced in with trees and a little brook, but that isn’t good enough… No, they have to have me go with them, so we can be a pack together...They are hopping up and down. These are Scottish terriers with short legs, big heads...and when I look at them, I melt and will do anything they want”. And so, like anybody else, writers goof off, too. In Goofing Off While the Muse Recharges, Richard Ford writes of the many benefits of taking a break. And in some cases, instead of interrupting the process, it might also make the writing better:

Writers write for innumerable reasons. For Elie Wiesel, writing is a liberating, energizing process and for Jane Smiley, it is “like running water through a hose”. And so, at the end of some 260 pages, one returns to find the very same questions echoing in one’s mind: what is it really like for a writer to write? Is it all inspiration or is some of it hard work? The collection does provide some answers: but after all, there are ultimately as many answers to these questions as there are writers in the world. And the art and craft of writing is at once both universal and intensely personal.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE / REMEMBRANCE OF THE PAST UNDER STRESS 
 
 
 
 
INTERROGATIONS: THE NAZI ELITE IN ALLIED HANDS, 1945
By Richard Overy,
Allen Lane, £ 20

The fall of Hitler’s Third Reich and the victory of the Allied Powers over Germany produced a new kind of problem for the victors. They had to decide what to do with the leading figures of the Nazi regime who had been arrested. As is well known, they were tried and condemned, some to death, some to imprisonment, at Nuremberg in November 1945. What is not all that well known is what happened to the prisoners in the period between their arrests in May-June 1945 and the Nuremberg trials. Richard Overy’s new book recovers this intervening period.

This period, caught as it was between “catastrophic defeat” and “well-earned retribution”, was one in which the captured Nazi elite was interrogated. Members of this elite found themselves reduced to the status of ordinary prisoners with minimum clothing, accommodation, medical care and a daily ration of 1,550 calories a day. They were in a state of shock and squirmed at the disgrace and humiliation they faced. Completely forgetting that he was being treated far better than those the Nazis had put in concentration and death camps, one prisoner said, “Why don’t you just shoot us?” Unwittingly he recalled perhaps the summary justice that Hitler’s regime had meted out to most opponents. Overy notes that the idea of summary justice had an enormous appeal even for some of the Allied leaders. Winston Churchill was against a military tribunal to judge the Nazis. He wanted them to be shot once their identities were positively established. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon, agreed with Churchill’s solution on how to handle what the latter called the “Hitler gang”.

Those in favour of a more civilized way of doing things carried the day. The captured Nazi leaders were first questioned and then put up for trial. Their responses to interrogation varied from the assumed amnesia of Hess to the pretense of cooperation by Speer to the unrepentance of Goering. What is amazing is that once the interrogations were done and the judicial process at Nuremberg completed, everyone lost interest in the record of the interrogations. The records were sent to the Public Records Office in London where they have gathered dust since 1945. No historian, even though the history of Nazi Germany is a well-mined field, has ever gone back to this remarkable set of documents. Overy has delved into the files and has edited and annotated the documents. What is presented here is only a fraction of the large number of interviews that the Allied interrogation team conducted.

Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, had said when he was arrested, “Now I shall never be able to write my beautiful memoirs.” But the interrogation records belie such a hope. The person who was declared by Hitler to be “my Bismark” turns out to be a boring and insipid person. Of much greater interest is the testimony of Franz von Papen, who virtually laid the path for Hitler’s rise to power, nursing the hope that he, as an aristocrat, would be able to run a lower-class politician. Also of interest, because of an element of self delusion, are the responses of Heinz Guderian, the master of modern tank warfare. He highlighted deliberately the many differences he had had with Hitler but forgot to add that he was a genuine admirer of the Fuhrer. His colleague, Alfred Jodl, was more honest and openly acknowledged Hitler to be a great military leader.

This is an important book because it brings together and annotates an archive that reveals the recollections and strategies of denial adopted by men who, during their lifetime, had contributed to the making of 20th century’s greatest horror story.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKING 
 
 
 
 

From Bihar to Bloomsbury

OUTCAST: FOUR STORIES
By Mahasweta Devi
(Seagull, Rs 275)

Mahasweta Devi’s Outcast: Four Stories is Sarmistha Dutta Gupta’s excellent translation of four stories by this relentless chronicler of human oppression. Each story centres around a woman inhabiting the margins of society, yet forcing her own community to rethink social norms. The untouchable Dusad, the Oraon Shanichari, the Ho tribal Josmina and Chinta, the Brahmin widow bring to these stories a wide range of milieus and circumstances. The rural suburbs of Ranchi, the brick kilns outside Calcutta, coolie labour, and domestic service in south Calcutta bring to the stories a range of linguistic registers which would be a formidable challenge for the translator. These translations have carefully matched setting and vocabulary, a process made easier, and no doubt more rewarding, by the translator working closely with the author. The sociology of oppression which informs these stories is more explicitly outlined in the two essays appended to this volume, on bonded and migrant labour. The Brahmin widow’s words as she walks out of the last story could be a fitting epigraph to this valuable collection: “Those who have no god have no one at all.”

SPY ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD
By Sydney Wignall
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Sydney Wignall’s Spy On The Roof Of The World is a thrilling Himalayan expedition story, by a veteran explorer, turned into a spy thriller. Wignall has searched for Drake’s coffin off Panama and for the Loch monsters in Scotland. In this book, he is one of the unpaid agents in the Fifties whose task it was “to potter around the Tibetan border seeking intelligence data”. In a story involving both the Chinese and the Indian governments, Wignall tells of his capture by the People’s Liberation Army and his subsequent escape to freedom over the Himalayas in mid-winter.

ART
By Clive Bell
(Rupa, Rs 95)

Clive Bell’s Art is the Bloomsbury answer to “What is Art?”. The unmistakable cadences of this London set — in which all couples were triangles and lived in squares — make this exercise in formalist aesthetic criticism a delight to read. It is a little book, but it seeks to develop “a complete theory of visual art”. The writing is limpid and arch, and this lightness often makes the reader wonder if he is being taken for a bit of a ride: “In a word, my hypothesis works; that is unusual: to some it has seemed not only workable but true; that is miraculous almost.” There is also no attempt to hide sociolect: “I am no devout lover of rag-time and turkey-trotting, but they too are manifestations. In those queer exasperated rhythms I find greater promise of a popular art than in revivals of folk-song and morris-dancing. At least they bear some relationship to the emotions of those who sing and dance them.” This is an enjoyable reprint of a more or less forgotten book.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Soft noises about hard facts

Hardselling as usual Sir — The black sheep bleats again (“Mamata murmurs, others wait”, March 6). Mamata Banerjee seems to be getting a little restless on her feet in the capital. What else could have prompted her to voice concern for communal harmony when things have only just begun to get back to normal and when it is more than apparent that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is already on the backfoot? Banerjee, in New Delhi where Nitish Kumar with his rail budget passed her by, cannot get the Bengal electorate out of her mind. She thus cannot help hoping that soft noises in support of the minority community will once again earn her brownie points when she is back to the state, dejected. But didn’t noises need to be made when the riots were actually taking place in Gujarat and when the government supported by her was talking about “rationalization” of action? But no. Banerjee was probably too busy then trying to nitpick about the rail budget by her staunch rival to pay much attention to the goings-on in distant Gujarat.

Yours faithfully,
Jai Acharya, Calcutta

Clear the premises

Sir — The article, “Learning it the hard way”(March 5), by Parimal Bhattacharya talks of the sorry state that our universities and colleges have been reduced to at the hands of the students’ unions. It is really worrying to think what the future will be like if students continue to use these premises for purposes other than what they are meant for. Students’ groups were formed to better student-teacher and student-college relationships. Which meant that these were there to solve problems, not to create them. Yet, students’ unions patronized by political parties now have little connection with most students. This is unfortunate because the general standard of education in all the premier educational institutions has deteriorated and there is thus more reason than before for students’ unions to perform their role.

However, what we see today is not the fault of the students. They have been misguided by the political parties who have been using them. The Election Commission should take note of this and should make it a point to see that students are kept away from active participation in politics.

The education system today concentrates on the subjects, not the persons studying them. This should be reversed. Students should be given free counselling from the school level. Like any other subject, there should be a class which must help students understand what their goals are. Today’s generation needs discipline, both when the college is in session and when it is not. So courses, not strictly educational but ones which will interest students, should be held during the vacations.

Yours faithfully,
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

Sir — “Golden rules to fight exam phobia” (Feb 21) by Chandrima Bhattacharya makes excellent reading and comes at an opportune time. In an era in which intense competition for obtaining high marks has become the norm, the article serves as an eye-opener for parents, especially those whose children are studying in English medium schools. Studies have revealed that nervous break-downs, mental disorders and even suicides by school-going children are on the rise, the main reason being the high and un-realistic expectations of parents from their children. Parents, though aware of the capabilities of their children, set them targets that are difficult or in most cases, impossible to achieve. Comparing one’s child with another is also a factor responsible for the poor performance of the child. Scolding children in front of others, epecially friends, also has a negative impact.

Parents have to be friends with their children. Most important, parents should spend more time with their children than they do now and talk to them.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The educational curriculum in our country is inadequate. The Supreme Court’s stay on the implementation of the National Council for Educational Research and Training-devised syllabus, which was to be introduced from the forthcoming academic year in schools across our country, shows it all. Instead of taking into account the views of educationists, we seem to be giving too much importance to that of our education ministers who are members of the Central advisory board on education. We seem to bring in an element of politics into every walk of life. The Supreme Court, which has stalled the implementation, must play a more definite role in this respect.

Yours faithfully,
Radhika Sundarram, Tezpur

Stating a fact

Sir — “In search of new young faces” (March 3) by Damayanti Datta, an otherwise excellent article, poses a problem for me owing to the compression of a long conversation that I had with Datta. While I did make the statement ascribed to me, it was part of a longer comment, and it was made with numerous qualifications. In the absence of that perspective, my statement turns into a simplistic hostility to nongovernmental organizations. As I am active not only in the Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha, but also in the Network Maitree which contains a large number of NGOs, it may serve to confuse fellow activists there.

Datta had asked me why fewer women were coming into the feminist movement or asserting themselves to be feminists. I had suggested a number of factors. I had talked about the overall decline of radicalism and the fact that radical parties, too, were failing to recruit many new young activists. In the course of that conversation, I argued that there were two kinds of organizations whose ideology and style of function made them at times inimical to the development of an autonomous feminist movement. Political parties at times tried to reduce the space for autonomy. And NGOs, I argued, had fixed agendas, set according to their ongoing programmes. I immediately clarified that I was not suggesting all NGO activists were the same. My point was that many young women who join NGOs today do so as it is one more job. So it is among younger women rather than among the relatively senior NGO activists that NGO-work appears as only a job. It is not that young women take to feminist activism only if there is money to be made, but many young women are active as employees. Let me add that the article points to a real problem, which we, as activists in the women’s movement, are facing.

Yours faithfully,
Soma Marik, Calcutta

Sir — The first-prize winning selection for

The Telegraph

-Sachetana debate on the issue of feminism was a disappointment (“Burning a bra will only burn a hole in my purse”, March 3). It was merely clever, in the sense of being fierce, frivolous and fashionable. The poor chap who got merely a special mention definitely deserved the prize, if only because he exhibited a much more refined quality of writing and two essential things, whether in a man or woman — sobriety and a capacity for self-deprecatory humour. He fell victim to political correctness, right? The way the debate has been presented makes it appear, most unfairly it seems to me, that a vast number of people, both male and female, who can and do live peacefully with mutual appreciation, tolerance and respect without being feminist (whatever that currently means) do not exist at all.

Yours faithfully,
Suvro Chatterjee, Durgapur

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