Editorial 1/ Way people live
Editorial 2/ Towards extremes
Distant thunder
Book Review/ Accommodating faith
Book Review/ With stars in her eyes
Book Review/ For the love of a woman
Book Review/ An unequal world
Bookwise/ Doctors don’t always know best
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WAY PEOPLE LIVE 
 
 
 
 
A report on human development has a single point agenda. It is a pointer to action for changing prevailing conditions. It sets priorities for governments which are not smug and are sensitive to the needs and demands of the governed. It helps to chalk strategies for development. The first national human development report prepared by the planning commission and released in the capital on April 23 shows that the human development index, measuring three areas — longevity, education and command over resources — has registered a significant improvement since 1981. The index improved by nearly 26 per cent over the Eighties and 24 per cent during the Nineties. More important than these overall national trends is what the figures have to say about the performance of states which have been serious about implementing policies of development and have been keen to improve standards of living. Madhya Pradesh, which was the first to produce a human development report in 1995, is a case in point. It has improved its ranking in the HDI; in 1997 only 19 per cent of the plan budget was set aside for the social service sector; in 2001, the same sector accounts for more than 45 per cent of the planned investment. No wonder it has climbed up the HDI order. A contrasting case is Bihar, the only among the Bimaru states — Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh — which has not improved upon its previous performance. In fact, of the 14 big states on which data are available, only three, all from the notorious Bimaru group, — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh — have actually improved their standing in the Nineties.

A moot point is the impact economic liberalization has had on how people live. The first thing to notice is that the southern states — conventional wisdom says that these have been the real beneficiaries of economic reforms — have not all done well. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have retained their ranks while Andhra Pradesh has slipped. In contrast, some of the states in northern India, as noted earlier, have actually registered improvements. An obvious clue to the improved standard of living is a comparison of expenditure on food and non-food items. In seven states, food continues to occupy over 50 per cent share in expenditure in 1999-2000. But the overall national figures for both rural and urban areas show a decline in expenditure on food. One factor in improvements in the standard of living is the character of governance because this ultimately determines the direction and success of development strategies. This is where India faces a real danger since all evidence suggests that, at both the national and the state levels, the quality of governance is declining.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ TOWARDS EXTREMES 
 
 
 
 
The strong support generated by the National Front leader, Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the first round of France’s presidential elections has shocked liberal opinion across the world. Mr Le Pen beat the Socialist prime minister, Mr Lionel Jospin, to second place behind the incumbent president, the Gaullist, Mr Jacques Chirac. More significantly, while Mr Chirac secured 20 per cent of the votes, Mr Le Pen was able to get a little more than 17 per cent of the votes polled. The second round of elections, between Mr Chirac and Mr Le Pen, to determine who will be president will now be held on May 5. Mr Le Pen is known for his extreme political views that have kept him, for most of his political career, on the fringes of the establishment. Indeed, Mr Le Pen began his career in the Foreign Legion and even served in Algeria and Indo-China. Recent reports have alleged that he tortured leaders of Algeria’s National Liberation Front during his tenure in France’s erstwhile colony. Mr Le Pen has particularly outraged public opinion by his anti-Semitism. For instance, the National Front leader believes that the number of Jewish victims in Nazi concentration camps has been exaggerated, and has even described the Holocaust as a “detail of history”.

On more contemporary issues, Mr Le Pen’s views are as extreme. He favours a total end to all immigration, and has been quoted in the past as having advocated repatriation of all non-European immigrants. He favours legislation to prevent babies born in France to foreigners from becoming French citizens, and reserving social security only for French nationals. Mr Le Pen also favours a French withdrawal from the European Union and restoring the French franc. Few rational and sensible people would have anything to do with Mr Le Pen, let alone elect him president. Why then did so many of French voters support Mr Le Pen? All evidence seems to suggest that many of those who voted for the National Front leader were protesting against the traditional political establishment. There has been growing concern at the rise of crime, the downturn of the economy and the inability of the political leadership to take unpopular decisions. Mr Le Pen was able to raise the bogey of the “criminal immigrant” and the loss of control over economic policies because of the EU. He was helped by the internecine battles within the left, the many factions that contested the elections and the lacklustre campaign mounted by Mr Jospin. It is clear, however, that even those who voted for Mr Le Pen, as a sign of protest in the first round, are shocked by the prospect of him becoming president. On May 5, therefore, the majority of French voters will, hopefully, relegate Mr Le Pen to his rightful place: the dustbin of history.

   

 
 
DISTANT THUNDER 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Those who matter are determined not to deviate into sense. The Washington Consensus does not abide any question. Till as long as the objective situation does not alter, the ruling class will be unflinching in its resolve to toe the Washington Consensus line. Only two other possibilities then exist. The first is an explosion of people’s anger at the measures and policies the national government was pursuing, as in the republic of Argentina; alternately, strong disapproval on the part of the electorate, as expressed in India in the February series of elections and byelections and in the most recent poll for the Delhi Municipal Corporation. Despite awesome foreign support for their misdoings, ruling groups still have some lingering fear of losing either their jobs or their lives.

The second possibility is sourced in a revolutionary transformation in the establishment mindset in the land of the world’s only superpower. As long as the Consensus is not vulnerable to dissenting opinion, no problems need arise. But, one never knows, the world is subject to accidents and quirks, there can be, all of a sudden, the emergence of events like the Joseph Stiglitz explosion. Till a few years ago, Stiglitz, an impeccably bred American citizen, was vice-president and chief economist of the World Bank. He has also been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, supposed to be the summum bonum of all academic distinction. Something happened and he chose to play the role of Judas Escariot. He abruptly broke ranks, accused the International Monetary Fund of pursing insensate policies which led to the east Asian financial crisis of 1997; he is equally disillusioned with the World Bank.

He has now converted himself into a ceaseless campaigner for restructuring Fund-Bank policies. He does not have to worry from where the wherewithal of his next meal is to arrive; he therefore can afford to speak his mind. And since he is respectable, running down the Bank and the Fund is no longer heresy of the first order in the United States of America. Both the hoity-toity institutions are rattled. They are now busy fighting rearguard action to salvage the situation. The mess in Argentina has placed them very much on the defensive.

Stiglitz is no longer altogether alone; every day he is gathering acolytes and at a fast pace. Clearly, a critical minimum has to be reached before this contrary force can gather enough strength to bombard the American establishment into revising its foreign economic policy. Even so, the development that has already taken place would have been unthinkable barely a few years ago; it is not always unreasonable to wait for another day.

The major problem however lies with the comprador class entrenched in ruling circles in the poor countries, particularly among their economists. Trends discernible in the boss country in most recent times do not yet quite convince them, just as the whining radical protesters in the domestic backyard do not impress them. They are a pretty naïve lot, and god-fearing, that is, boss-fearing, in the extreme.

This year’s Union budget did not stray from the resolve to push through with the “second generation” of reforms; there has since been a rollback, such as the revision of petroleum product prices and promises made at Goa for further concessions. All this is a direct consequence of the aftershock of the February poll results. The impact of the aftershock does not appear to have extended to all directions in an even manner. The minister for disinvestment; for instance, is proceeding as if the existence of public assets is as big a crime as genocide. His choice of parties to whom public undertakings are to be sold is equally noteworthy. “There is nothing wrong in venality” is a dictum which he is keen to illustrate.

He is not alone. Leave out the expatriate economists, even the home-grown specimens are no less dogmatic in their ardour for the tenets of the Washington Consensus. They want to out-Herod Herod, and out-David David. They live in an imaginary world of their own; the woes afflicting countrymen do not at all affect them.

This is one occasion when one has to set aside, in advance, high praise for neocolonialism. The turmoil in Latin America, the famines in sub-Saharan Africa, the glum disapproval of the local electorate leave the economists indifferent. The revolt of the likes of Joseph Stiglitz, on the other hand, is a much more serious matter. He is, no kidding, a Nobel Laureate, he cannot be brushed aside just like that. There is, accordingly, a ray of hope: neocolonialism could be the weapon with which to combat neocolonialism.

Let the tribe of Stiglitzes grow and thrive and spread their heresy; let them gather camp-followers and hangers-on, let them capture the citadel of some of the more formidable American university faculties. Once that happens, those subscribing to the Stiglitz line of thought might even succeed in infiltrating into both the Bank and the Fund, as well as the US department of treasury. Such a course of events could force a reorientation of establishment views and acts in the US itself.

Viva neocolonialism! Once subversive philosophy percolates down through respectable American academic quarters and official agencies, economists and such-like along our shores are likely to be goaded into moving away from the Consensus script. They are, alas, incapable of thinking on their own; the thinking is done on their behalf by the foreign seers. In case the Stiglitzes multiply and their precept is transformed into the dominant thought overseas, the copycats over here would know what is for them the next appropriate step.

Meanwhile, the plight will, it is perfectly true, worsen for peasants and workers and constituents of the middle class in this country. Now and then, economic discontent will generate civil disturbances, and attempts will be undertaken by the power brokers to turn these disturbances into full-fledged communal strikes: this will help the authorities to splinter the working classes and muffle their anger over the deepening economic malaise. Examples of foreign uprisings will, by and large, leave the populace here unaffected. The Garibaldis and McSweeneys are outdated fables, while Ram rajya is a home product.

It is a sad confession, but has to be made. Revolutions are distant non-thunders, our leftover hope is in a neocolonial upsurge which will overwhelm the US. The prominent Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, who was finance minister of his country for some time between the two World Wars, and who later migrated to the North American continent, had a darling of a sociological theory. The theory did not converge with the tenets of socialism, but it reached a conclusion not dissimilar to Marx’s “capitalism-is-doomed” prognosis.

According to Schumpeter, it is not necessarily in consequence of a proletariat revolution, but because of the rationality of the human mind that capitalism will collapse. Children of bourgeois families, growing up in filthy affluence, will be increasingly disenchanted with the inequities of the capitalist order. They will be aghast at the lack of symmetry in the system in the treatment of men and men, the rich lolling in luxury and the poor mostly failing to eke out the means for even a marginal existence. Enlightenment will illuminate their psyche; they will join the conspiracy to pull down heinous capitalism.

To conceive of a similar collapse of neocolonialism because of insider ranting is not such a far-fetched matter. Should the Joseph Stiglitzes prosper in the US, who knows, our domestic pretenders too might be compelled to re-educate themselves.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ ACCOMMODATING FAITH 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
TIME WARPS: THE INSISTENT POLITICS OF SILENT AND EVASIVE PASTS
By Ashis Nandy
Permanent Black, Rs 495

In the highly polarized and charged world of Indian social science, Ashis Nandy is something of a loner. The secularist lobby led by scholars who are somewhat leftward inclined cannot claim him as one of their own, and the Hindutva brigade certainly cannot. Nandy’s academic positions have been carefully carved through a well-formulated critique of modernization projects and of modernity.

Nandy’s is a critique of secularism but he is no communalist. His non-acceptance of the premises of what goes by the name of secularism is based on a more fundamental critique of Western civilization, the violence embedded in it and the alienation from the self that it entails. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is the obvious inspiration here. But Nandy’s position is far more nuanced and sophisticated than what Gandhi articulated in his wholesale rejection in Hind Swaraj.

In the essay entitled “The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance”, which stands as a cornerstone in this collection, Nandy makes the point that a state or a society commited to secularism is no guarantee against religious discrimination and persecution. If one takes secularism to mean, as it is taken to mean in the Western world, the chalking out of a space in public life where religion has no entry, then religious belief becomes a completely private affair. Those who enter public life leave their private faiths behind. But such a system in no way eliminates the persecution of religious minorities. One has only to recall the Nazi state which worked completely on secular principles but carried out the most horrible atrocities on Jews and other minorities.

Nandy identifies a non-Western understanding of secularism which did not differentiate between religion and politics. This meaning of secularism “revolves around equal respect for all religions” and stands for a “continuous dialogue among religious traditions and between the religious and the secular”. This assumes that “each major faith includes within it an in-house version of the other faiths both as an internal criticism and as a reminder of the diversity of the theory of transcendence.” Nandy rightly identifies this as the more accomodative meaning of secularism.

Nandy argues that most Indians have lived and worked in complete ignorance of the Western idea of secularism. The accommodative meaning is a part of their daily life. Not surprisingly, most Indians who uphold this are the ones who are least touched by modern Western ideas or have consciously rejected such ideas. Such people believe that “the traditional ways of life have, over the centuries, developed internal principles of tolerance, and that these principles must have play in contemporary politics.” It does not surprise Nandy that more than ninety per cent of the riots in independent India “begin in urban India and, within urban India, in and around industrial areas.”

A new political culture must draw on the pool of religious tolerance which is encoded in the everyday life associated with the different faiths of India. This, in Nandy’s terms, entails an abandonment of what he calls “internal colonialism”, which has embraced with ease the objectification, scientization and bureaucratic rationality imbricated with the idea of modernity.

Nandy reworks some of these themes in three other essays included in the volume. In fact, the changing role of secularism in Indian public life has been one of Nandy’s persistent intellectual concerns. Another related concern of his is the most important site of secularism, the Indian state. Two essays in this volume look at the culture and contradictions in the Indian state.

Nandy writes lucidly but he trained as a psychologist and this training comes through often in his language and in his approach to problems. This is initially jarring, but his analysis is so rich and so novel that these reservations soon disappear and in fact his style begins to appeal, as Nandy does have a way with words.

Nandy’s work has immense contemporary significance. It forces us to rethink notions and ideas which we have come to take for granted. He also shows that the fight against communal violence cannot be fought on the grounds of modernity, for to a large extent the violence flows out of the phenomenon of modernity and the politics and statecraft associated with it. Communal violence is a special type of violence associated with modernization and its attendant alienation. In the critique of modernity and eurocentrism, Nandy’s writings have some overlap with the post-modernists’. But unlike the latter, his writing is always clear and comprehensible. He also has a certain passion which is never drowned in jargon.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ WITH STARS IN HER EYES 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
 
Bollywood Boy
By Justine Hardy,
John Murray, £ 17.99

Sometimes it is indeed possible to judge a book by its cover. One look at the glaring fluorescent pink jacket of Bollywood Boy sounds warning bells that the pages it protects would contain the subtle insight of a Govinda film.

If you think that is a stereotype which does no justice to masala flicks, Justine Hardy has a whole gamut of clichés in store. She displays no real understanding of her subject, and often loses sight of what her subject was in the first place.

This book (inexplicably marked as a “travel” work), dressed up like a MTV promo, sells itself as the tale of Hrithik Roshan’s “meteoric” rise to the status of national flame. Don’t be fooled: Bollywood Boy is a phone call-by-phone call account of Hardy’s attempt to fix an appointment with a man she seems to have more than a little crush on.

Perhaps a groupie who has seen a similarly poor run of luck while trying to get close to a heartthrob could empathize. Or a reporter who could not land an interview might be more sympathetic, though one would have to send out a search party to find a filmi reporter who had not had at least one tête-à-tête with Hrithik in the 12-month period Hardy was hot on his trail.

She may be trying for self-deprecating humour, which, by itself, arouses no real excitement, whatsoever. But hidden by her questionable wit is an examination of how Bollywood, Mumbai and India as a whole really work. So, Hardy goes from pillar — such as Mumbai’s hottest nightclub — to post — like a red-light area — to sink her teeth into the glamour and the grime.

She meets a gamut of actors, including Anupam Kher, to make inroads into her chocolate boy’s mammoth security. And it is an observation, in response to Kher’s insistence on the innate virtue of the Indian woman, which succeeds in destroying much of the credibility she had managed to create. “His insistence on the purity of Indian women is borne out by the hundreds of millions of women in threadbare saris who make their daily round to and from countless village wells.” It leaves one speechless.

This far eclipses any trite observations she has made previously about the fantasy world of Hindi films. She rightly notes that Bollywood’s revenue comes from rural, downtrodden India which is seeking to escape a harsh reality. She even throws in some badly reproduced images of piles of refuse on the streets to illustrate the oppressiveness of it all.

But she fails to explain away the frenzy of the perfectly groomed girls she talks to in bars or the Shah Rukh Khan-obsessed girls she meets in London. What filth must they hide from in the dreamy pools of star eyes?

One is tempted to humour Hardy when she attempts to narrate parts of her experiences in Hindi. So what if she misspells some of the words, and her translations are slightly awry. It is possible that she could not find someone to point out that bakwas should not be spelt in English as bagwas.

But when she messes up facts, which she purports to have spent years researching, it is not as easy to dismiss. For example, she insists that Kareena, not sister Karisma, stars in Fiza with Hrithik Roshan. The man had all of three releases when this book was completed (pre-Yaadein). There are not that many names to keep straight.

This may be the problem. There is too little to base Bollywood Boy on, too late. This book should have been released after Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai, when young girls were running away from home on the offchance that Roshan would marry them. Or before he had his first flop and was out-performed by co-stars. Because Bollywood Boy offers nothing to weather the brutally short attention span of the star-struck, and even less for those who are not.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ FOR THE LOVE OF A WOMAN 
 
 
BY ARUNJYOTI BASU
 
 
UJJAYINI
By O.N.V. Kurup
Rupa, Rs 250

After the recent spate of novels, both fiction and non-fiction, with cleverly structured sentences and the equally ingenius use of words, Ujjayini, which has been described as a “fiction-poem”, definitely stands apart with its depth of imagination, range of emotions and web of allusions. The author, O.N.V. Kurup, has reinvented and reinterpreted the historical origins and the legends surrounding Kalidasa to present the reader with an episode in the life of the poet through a narrative poem which is descriptive and easy to read — even though it is a translation.

Translating any work is difficult and even more so is the translation of a poem. That the interest of the reader is sustained till the end is in no small way owing to the skill and ability of A.J. Thomas, who has translated the poem from Mayalalam to English.

As the title of the poem suggests, the focus is not so much on the court poet, Kalidasa, but on the city-state of Ujjayini. The story is about Malavika, the daughter of a singer in Kalidasa’s village.“She is the darling daughter/ of the chief of the village-elders/ who traditionally sing the legends/ of Udayana down the generations.”

Kalidasa loses his heart to her but is distraught when he finds out that Malavika has been chosen to join the king’s harem. Ultimately, the poet undertakes a long journey which takes him to the farthest corners of India.

Kurup describes the “unending journeys” where the “traveller did not count how many times the sun’s chariot passed overhead” or “how many times night crested with full-moon crown in the horizon, passed!”

In the course of his wanderings Kalidasa’s poetry gains wide acclaim and Chandragupta grants him recognition through an invitation which he accepts. But Kalidasa finds court life claustrophobic and is never particularly comfortable in court. Yet it is here that he rediscovers Malavika. She is one of the dancers performing a play written by Kalidasa in the presence of the king.

Their love is rekindled and although they meet clandestinely, their meetings are reported to the king. The alarmed king gifts Kalidasa a beautiful maiden but the poet rejects his offer. This so angers the king that he sends Kalidasa into exile.

The author, who has cleverly blended legend and history all along, now relates the composing of Meghduta (the Cloud Messenger) by Kalidasa while the poet is still in exile. When Kalidasa returns from exile he is shocked to learn that Malavika has been gifted to the king’s grandson, Pravarasena. Malavika cannot endure this arrangement and one day she is found dead in her palanquin. Kalidasa, mourning her death, leaves the state, but only after placing Meghduta before the palanquin which has been laid to rest on a memorial mound.

The narrative of Ujjayini is in the voice of Pallava who was Kalidasa’s confidante and his valet in court. The author manipulates Pallava’s narrative in a manner that makes the simplicity of the tale compelling.

This episode from the life of Kalidasa will strike a chord in the hearts of Bengali readers who are familiar with Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s historical novel on Kalidasa. Though one is in prose and the other in verse, the reader is bound to perceive certain similarities between both works. After reading Ujjayini in English, the reader is sure to feel a twinge of envy for the person reading the book in the language it was originally written in, Malayalam.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ AN UNEQUAL WORLD 
 
 
BY VISHNUPRIYA SENGUPTA
 
 
WOMEN IN POST-INDEPENDENCE SRI LANKSA
Edited by Swarna Jayaweera
Sage, Rs 350

Women in Post-Independence Sri Lanka is a seminal gender-oriented text that explores the positive and negative consequences of national development policies and programmes on the lives of women in Sri Lanka. Edited by Swarna Jayaweera, the meticulously researched book argues for a holistic framework to situate the political, social and economic changes that have shaped the country over more than 50 years. While mapping the forward steps taken by Sri Lankan women in the post-independence era, it also reveals, on the flip side, how social construction of gender has affected the experiences of women from diverse walks of life with gender role assumptions impeding the pace of change.

The country’s record of gender issues, apparently, seems remarkable. Both genders have enjoyed franchise since 1931, long before Sri Lanka won political independence in 1948. The country has also had the distinction of having the first woman prime minister in the world in 1960. But ironically, a closer examination reveals that gender issues continue to be largely ignored in policy-making and in important sectors of national development.

The personal laws of the Kandyan Sinhalese, the northern Tamils and the Muslims (Islamic laws) embody varying degrees of gender-discrimination in violation of the constitution with regard to inheritance, marriage and divorce. Moreover, in the latter half of the twentieth century, Sri Lanka’s violent history — the Sinhala youth uprising, the anti-Tamil riots in the Fifties, Seventies, early Eighties and the 15-year civil war between the Sri Lankan state and Tamil separatists — largely determined the Sri Lankan woman’s life which already bore physical and psychological scars from past events.

At the very outset Jayaweera, emeritus professor of education, University of Colombo and one of the founders of the Centre for Women’s Research, Colombo makes clear the purpose of this work as “an ‘encapsulation’ of the interface between macro-level changes and the micro-level experiences of women in Sri Lanka, as an overview of the past, and perhaps as a source of ‘lessons’ for the future.” Accordingly, “Looking Back”, the first part of the book, comprising essays by activists and scholars like Savitri Goonesekere, Radhika Coomaraswamy and Wimala de Silva, focuses on spheres where women have been affected such as education, health, economy, employment, governance, law, human rights as well as family and community life. Ascertaining factors that determine violence against women, Coomaraswamy, in her essay, “Violence, Armed Conflict and the Community”, endorses David Levinsin’s claim that violence against women is proportionate to the violence with which a society chooses to resolve conflicts in the community and within the state.

The second part, “Women Speak”, documents the individual experiences of 16 women of different ethnic communities and socio-economic backgrounds. They are classified into three groups: the privileged elite, those who achieved upward socio-economic mobility through developments in education, and the victims of social exclusion resulting from the unequal distribution of the benefits of development. Their experiences indicate that education may have functioned as an agent of stability for some and of upward mobility for others, but has resulted in both gender and socio-economic inequalities. The women in poverty are trapped despite the poverty alleviation programmes and “women in development” programmes that have been peripheral to mainstream economic policies and trends.

The first-person accounts impart reality to the impact of macro-policies and trends. For instance, one of the nameless women points out, “When comparing my life with that of my grandchildren I feel that there are improvements and greater opportunities for them.” But then again reality presents an entirely different face to another woman who lives in dire poverty. To her, political independence has made no difference. “In the last fifty years I have not seen any change in our lifestyle. I continue living with my grandchildren in the same line room... In a small 10-foot room there are two or three families living together.”

The women also comment on the changes they have seen in their own communities and societies. They agree that women have come a long way in terms of freedom of choice, education and physical mobility. But values have eroded with increasing commercialization and globalization while violence has ripped apart the country’s social fabric.

Jayaweera, needless to say, has done a commendable job. The thought-provoking and insightful essays backed by statistical data are further substantiated by the findings that surface from the subjective experiences of the women from differing backgrounds but representative of a particular class, caste and community. The individualistic accounts, gripping and moving as they are, help place in perspective the position of women in present-day Sri Lanka.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE/ DOCTORS DON’T ALWAYS KNOW BEST 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 
One of the worst decisions made by the University Grants Commission is its insistence that university readers must possess a PhD. As a result, there are thousands of PhDs and second-rate academics in our universities, especially in the humanities and social sciences. And for some reason, all of these doctors want their thesis to be published, but without any editorial changes being made to the work. Quite a few have even managed to get published by paying for the cost of production.

Two questions arise. First, why must a doctoral thesis be published without changes? Second, apart from the academic necessity for a doctoral degree, why has there been such a burst of doctors in recent years?

Ideally, a thesis is a piece of original research arrived at by going through earlier scholarship, both of primary and secondary sources. But, in practice, other than originality and brilliance, a thesis also has to exhibit a heavy technical apparatus of learning — footnotes, appendixes, charts, reading lists. Because of this technical apparatus, many theses are simply padded fragments of information that are of little interest to the common reader. Few people have ever been able to say anything new about their doctoral subject. Many dissertations deal with trivia or matters so restrictive that even the students lose interest in the thesis they are writing. These works, therefore, need to be revised and many details that are of pure academic interest removed, before being put into print.

If the case against the churning out of doctoral theses is compelling, why have so many cluttered up in publishing houses? Leave aside the fact that a PhD is an essential qualification to climb the academic ladder, it is just that getting a PhD is not that difficult a task today. Earlier, candidates were required to possess a certain amount of knowledge on their chosen subject. Often they also had to study additional languages. And their labour which usually took years of intense study in required courses was subject to review by outside scholars. These requirements have been alarmingly watered down.

More importantly, the doctoral degree that was once the domain of men is now open to women. In fact, it would be safe to say that the majority of the best theses in recent years on subjects like English, history, political science and sociology are written by women. The predominance of women in the social sciences could be because men no longer find employment in colleges or universities as attractive as before. Women have occupied the space vacated by men and are producing a superior quality of scholarship than men.

Finally, there is the perennial question of the standards of language — both English and regional languages — being used to write theses. We have to ask whether it is at all possible to do research in the social sciences or humanities without a working knowledge of English. Those who believe it is possible are fooling themselves as there are simply not enough sources available in regional languages as there are in English. And if our PhD candidates cannot read and write English of a certain standard, what publishers get is a kind of gibberish which may get the doctor another rung up the ladder but will not make sense to the lay reader.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Painters, PMs and poets

THE VINTAGE SARDAR
(Penguin, Rs 250)

The Vintage Sardar collects the “very best” of Khushwant Singh’s little journalistic pieces. They are all perfectly delightful, and their subjects range from Amrita Shergil’s sexual voraciousness to the Paradise Fly Catchers on the Kalka-Shimla road. The Shergil piece is both a moving tribute and a wonderfully entertaining portrait of an interesting human being, depicted without sentimentality or moralism. This is true of most of the essays, although his anodyne essay on Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have done with a bit of the roguishness of the piece on Edwina and Jawaharlal. (When Singh was a press officer for the Indian High Commission in London, his office door bore a brass plate with “Countess Mountbatten of Burma” written on it, no doubt startling many expectant visitors.) The collection ends with a tour de force of entertaining memorialism, Singh’s brilliantly funny and poignant account of mourning his dead wife. On God and Marx: “Both God and Marx have disappointed me. I haven’t read all that Marx wrote..., nor have I read all the praises showered on God in the scriptures of all religions. But I have read enough of both and found them tedious, boring and often inaccurate.”

GLOBALIZATION AND DEVELOPMENT STUDIES: CHALLENGES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Edited by Frans J. Schuurman
(Vistaar, Rs 275)

Globalization and development studies: Challenges for the 21st century Edited by Frans J. Schuurman is introduces the theoretical issues and debates surrounding globalization. It also reviews the impact of globalization, particularly in matters of policy, on a number of key areas in development, like environment, gender, human rights, multinationals and urban development. Politically, the globalization debate also shifts the emphasis away from the central role of the nation state to global governance or civil society. In this, development studies emerge as a typical post-World War II branch of the social sciences.

TAGORE BY FIRESIDE
By Maitraye Devi
(Rupa, Rs 70)

Maitraye Devi’s Tagore by Fireside gives us “intimate word-pictures” of Rabindranath Tagore based on his four stays in Mungpu with the author. The tone of the book could surprise the contemporary reader not used to such intensity of worship. This is an important document for those who want to trace the apotheosis of Tagore in a certain kind of Bengali imagination. The role which “Gurudev” himself had to play in this process is also fascinating, and often disconcerting, to read about. Adulation could be fun, and it is reassuring to see that Tagore was human enough to enjoy it like most other people. The repeated Johnson-Boswell analogies in the numerous puffs to the book are ridiculous. Protracted badinage, even by the allegedly great, could become tedious, as it does in this devoted account.All this probably worked better in the original Bengali. In English, it merely sounds cloying.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A testing time

Untimely entry Sir — The unexpected victory of the far right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the first round of the presidential polls in France has shocked the country and left political analysts groping in the dark for a possible explanation (“Le Pen’s surge shames and scares France”, April 23). Perhaps the political stagnation of the past few years and Le Pen’s staunch nationalist stance led the people to elect him over Lionel Jospin. If Le Pen ultimately emerges victorious, the minorities will have a hard time in France. Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-European Union policies will certainly lead to an increase in racist attacks. As it is, France is already reeling under a spate of such violence. Moreover, Le Pen’s opposition to a “supranational, federal, federalizing Europe” will further alienate the country from the rest of Europe, which means it will have little say in European affairs. If the French wish to save their country from the eventual doom, they should elect Chirac.
Yours faithfully,
Aparna Das, Calcutta

Evil hour

Sir — “Rape horrors in report” (April 17), which talks of young girls being gang-raped by the rampaging Hindutva brigade in Gujarat, should serve as an eye-opener to those who support the Hindu right-wing agenda. The atrocities being committed on the minorities in that state are inhuman. Support for the extreme right wing organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, which are out to create sharp divides between communities, are bound to extend this phenomenon elsewhere in the nation. And this will only serve to weaken India internally. Much of the support for the Hindu right comes from the Hindu non-resident Indian community, whose members have left their own country for greener pastures abroad. Should they be allowed to weaken the social fabric of India?

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s justification in Goa for the Gujarat rampage, which included mass gang rapes, came as a rude shock after his tearful act in the Ahmedabad relief camps. It is time politicians like Vajpayee stopped being hypocritical about Gujarat. Otherwise, Hinduism will inextricably come to be associated with rape and pillage.

Yours faithfully,
Bharat Azad, Calcutta

Sir — What purpose does “Rape horrors in report” try to serve by merely trying to indicate which community the rapists in Gujarat belong to and who their victims are? There is no dearth of mischief-makers, religious fundamentalists and self-proclaimed nationalists in various parts of the country who are awaiting to incite their fanatic followers towards vandalism and violence. Under the circumstances, suppression of facts is undesirable. Yet, such reports, if made public, might result in the spread of communal tension. This might even set off a chain reaction across the country. On such a sensitive issue as the one mentioned above, it would have been sensible to wait for some more time till medical and police proceedings were carried out and testimonies of rape victims could corroborate the witness accounts.

We must not fail to ponder on the root causes of the Gujarat massacre and the aftermath. Not only should there be mobilization of public opinion, but those responsible for the horrifying incidents and the callousness of the administration should be meted out exemplary punishments without delay.

Yours faithfully,
Paritosh Datta, Calcutta

In all unfairness

Sir — The West Bengal government’s prohibition of private tuitions seems illogical (“New lessons for a new economy”, April 17). The government reasons that teachers who give private tuitions perform badly in their capacity as teachers in the classrooms. The obvious question that follows is can the ban on private tuition ensure a better performance on the part of the teacher? It is the teacher’s commitment to his profession that is ultimately responsible for his performance.

To hold private tuition responsible for the abysmal state of affairs in education in unfair. Lack of infrastructure in most state-run schools, colleges and other educational institutions and the burden of a huge syllabus have resulted in the growing trend of private tuition. Moreover, the growing size of the class makes it impossible for the teacher to pay attention to the problems of every student. Instead of banning private tuition, the government should have looked into these problems.

Yours faithfully,
Avishek Ganguly, Bally

Sir — The circular passed by the government of West Bengal, prohibiting school teachers in educational institutions run or aided by the government from giving private tuition, is commendable. The example should be followed by the Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations, New Delhi and the Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi. These boards should ensure that the rule is also implemented in schools affiliated to the ICSE and CBSE boards.

Students of many such schools are often under the impression that lessons left incomplete in schools will be finished by the private tutor. Thus, students who take tuitions benefit from such a system. Both the Delhi boards should bear it in mind that the quicker corrective actions are taken, the better for the educational system.

Yours faithfully,
Pranab Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — It seems that the state government has taken a bit too long to ban private tuitions by college and university teachers. However, it will be a difficult task for the authorities to keep track of teachers who violate the government regulation. Also, it needs to be seen whether the implementation of this ban will achieve the desired results.

Yours faithfully,
Basudeb Moulick, Calcutta

Sir — The controversy over private tuitions draws attention to the dismal condition of the educational system in our country. The huge number of students and the inability of the teachers to cater to the individual needs of students leave the latter with very little option but to go for private tuitions.

Moreover, college and university students are often engaged in part-time jobs, which makes it difficult for them to attend regular classes. The only way they can catch up with the syllabus is through private help. Also, longstanding problems in educational institutions like student strikes and other forms of disturbances often hamper the holding of uninterrupted classes. This forces students to take private tuitions to complete the enormous syllabus prescribed by the universities. Before creating a hullabaloo over the issue, the government, the teaching community and students need to introspect a little more on both the advantages and disadvantages of private tuition.

Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Ahmed, Howrah

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