Editorial 1/ Unreal Script
Editorial 2/ Full of Poses
Death and the director
Why Ahmedabad continues to burn
Document/ Let there be some relief at least
Letters to the editor

Neither the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, nor Ms Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, is once quarrelsome twice shy. Their spat in the Lok Sabha during the joint session of Parliament a few weeks back had a sequel in the annual meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industries. To an extent, the scene was set by the CII itself when it invited Ms Gandhi to speak at the inaugural session of the meeting, and Mr Vajpayee to address the valedictory one. The intention was simple: to get the two most important political figures of the country to speak to a conclave of leading industrialists. The event, however, came to be imbued with the heavy symbolism of prime minister versus prime minister-in-waiting. The latter did not hesitate to play on this symbolism.This was unfortunate but inevitable. It was unfortunate because the CII is not exactly the forum where political rivals should settle their scores. It was inevitable given the personalities involved, especially considering the prime minister’s unenviable prickliness to criticism emanating from Ms Gandhi. Not that what she had to say was in any way objectionable. She pointed to the violence in Gujarat and the damage this has done to India’s image abroad and to Gujarat’s investment prospects. The rest of her speech was a plea for economic reforms laced with a high dose of social responsibility — something that has been the Congress’s theme song ever since Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao invoked the reforms project as the last stage of Nehruvianism.

Mr Vajpayee was quick to make political capital. He chose to deny the symbolism and said that industrialists did not have the power to make or unmake governments. That power, he said, was vested with the people of India. The violence in Gujarat the prime minister brushed aside as a “temporary aberration”. The two leaders thus read from predictable scripts but the net result was that the skirmish between Ms Gandhi and Mr Vajpayee overshadowed the rest of the proceedings. In a typically Indian way the charged political atmosphere prevailed over the dismal prospects of the economy. More solid fare came from Ms Sushma Swaraj, Mr Arun Shourie, Mr Arun Jaitley and Mr Pramod Mahajan. Their presentations conveyed the clear idea that the ICE sector — information technology, communications and entertainment — holds the key to India’s economic hopes. But even here, India is a laggard when compared to China. The latter, as one speaker pointed out, has 130 million mobile phones to India’s paltry six million. Industrialists present at the meeting must have left with the impression that there was a touch of the unreal in the battle of words between Ms Gandhi and Mr Vajpayee, a refusal to confront India’s real problems.


India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, has narrowly escaped president’s rule even though the escape route has been provided by a piece of political opportunism. The new chief minister will be Ms Mayavati who will head a most unlikely coalition formed between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. But even this combination does not add up to a majority in the UP Bidhan Sabha which has 403 seats. The BSP has won 97 seats and the BJP 88. To secure a majority the Rashtriya Lok Dal has been roped in. The terms of the coalition, what made yesterday’s enemies today’s allies, are still unknown. What is obvious is that the negotiations were tortuous and that factors external to UP politics influenced decisions, especially on the BJP’s side. The BJP, after its poor performance in the UP assembly polls, had decided that it would sit on the opposition benches in the legislative assembly. Subsequently, after the violence in Gujarat, it found itself in an embattled position in the Lok Sabha. By striking a deal with the BSP and by offering the crown of the chiefministership to Ms Mayavati, the BJP has ensured its survival in the Lok Sabha. The members of parliament belonging to the BSP will now vote for the National Democratic Alliance which the BJP heads. A coalition in UP has saved a coalition in New Delhi thus confirming the old belief that UP is the face of Indian politics.

The saying that in politics there are no permanent enemies but only permanent interests does not bear repetition. In terms of their support base and in terms of their ideologies, the BJP and the BSP have nothing in common. On the contrary, they inhabit incompatible turfs. Their coming together is based on nothing more than the lure of office, in the BSP’s case office in Lucknow, in the BJP’s case both in Lucknow and New Delhi. The moot question of course is the longevity of a government based on such volatile premises. Uttar Pradesh may have got itself a government but it may not have won political stability. But the people of UP are familiar with this greed for office and the distribution of largesse and vengeance which follows after a new government is sworn in. Ms Mayavati will now take it upon herself to appoint her own men at every possible level. This will be her priority instead of the myriad problems that plague UP. Not that any other chief minister would have done anything different. The new government in Lucknow will also have to contend with some amount of sniping at its flanks by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav who has once again lost out in the race and has then donned a self-righteous mantle. As a party committed to Dalits, the oppressed of the Hindu society, joins hands with the party of Hindutva, the politics of UP enter a new but predictable phase.


Reading a new collection of scripts by the Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, in contemporary Calcutta is a disconcerting experience. One wonders whether Bergman is dead, or Calcutta. The Fifth Act — published this year by Seagull Books — is the English translation of four scripts assembled by Bergman himself in 1994, more than a decade after his sumptuous farewell to cinema with Fanny and Alexander. This was when he died for Calcutta. But these texts, written for the theatre and television, are evidence of the continuing life of Bergman’s creativity even after his decision to “hang up” his camera, as he had put it then.

These are invaluable “late” works, obsessively reflecting on the origins of his art in the theatre. But they also show how, with the help of a brilliant group of veteran actors, a master of “classical” cinema and theatre adapts himself to television, without compromising the essence of his mature creativity. Three of the four scripts — After the Rehearsal, The Last Scream and In the Presence of a Clown — ended up as TV films in the Eighties and Nineties. Bergman has also recently finished Anna, a sequel, for television, to his 1973 series, Scenes From a Marriage.

Yet, despite this inventiveness, The Fifth Act is a terminal collection. The epigraph from Peer Gynt (“You won’t die in the middle of the final act”); the greyness of the protagonists, all given to relentless elegizing; the recurring image of an empty, old, darkened theatre, haunted by Shakespeare, Ibsen and Strindberg (the spirits of the craft); the memento mori clown, Rigmor, sodomized by the mad inventor of “living talking” cinematography — all these become part of a grisliness which pervades these pieces. “It’s death, you understand. It’s nibbling at me like an eager little rat,” says Henrik Vogler, the theatre director in After the Rehearsal, directing Strindberg’s Dream Play for the fourth time. “He is 109 years old, or maybe just 62,” according to Bergman’s stage direction.

In the late Bergman, this ever-present, and often macabre, sense of mortality has become part of a larger preoccupation with the contemporary value of his achievements. In Images: My Life in Film — written in the Nineties, after watching forty years of his own work in film over the span of a year — he recalls a book, Bergman on Bergman, which was based on a series of interviews. He describes his interviewers for this earlier book as “little by little reconstructing a dinosaur piece by piece with the kind assistance of the Monster himself”.

The Fifth Act dramatizes four such reconstructions. And the Monster Himself is always there. He is a masterful but exhausted creature, “the old man of the theatre”. As a Lear-Prospero, he repeatedly transforms a “boundless continent of mysterious shadows” into “staged chaos”, with his “depraved, dusty, shitty instrument”. This instrument is either the camera or the stage with its actors.

In fact, the collection’s introductory monologue expresses a curious indifference to the question of the right medium for these pieces, an indifference which is both unmistakably modern and audaciously classical: “I wrote the texts in this book without giving a thought to their possible media, using a method something like that of the harpsichord sonatas by Bach…They can be played by string quartets, wind ensembles, guitar, organ, or piano…It looks like drama but could just as easily be film, television, or simply texts for reading.”

Bach is important here, as he has always been for Bergman. In Jorge Luis Borges’s story, “Shakespeare’s Memory”, Professor Sörgel’s only antidote to the terror and oppression of having actually inherited Shakespeare’s memory is “strict, vast music — Bach”. The strict and the vast, but especially the strict, are integral to Bergman’s classicism. It is difficult to think of the emotionally exhausting rigours of the vintage Bergman — each film a dark night of the soul — in terms of what we normally associate with the classical. Yet, for Vogler in After the Rehearsal, the art of the theatre is close to the art of the fugue: “I think that our art is moral. By moral I mean bound by law. If you break the law you will be punished and the punishment is unambiguous: you will not reach your audience.”

Rehearsals are, therefore, a form of rigorous work, in which the only acceptable approach to the boundlessness, difficulties and darkness of artistic creation is through the “mechanism of repetition”. This phrase again recalls much of Bach’s contrapuntal work, and also the minimalist music of more recent times, which could not have been composed without Bach. Vogler’s words to the young actress, Anna, reappear almost exactly as Bergman’s own in his autobiography, The Magic Lantern. Here again, Bergman distances himself from the art of “improvisation”, and from “the spontaneous, the unconsidered, the imprecise”.

Filming or directing a play is “an illusion planned in detail”, and the script is where it must all be put down. In The Fifth Act, the open script on a music stand is always part of the haunted stage. It is an almost magical prop, holding — and often withholding — in itself the possibility of infinite repetition. It stands next to Vogler in the grey, indirect light of the old theatre, “its pages scribbled over with the illegible notes, arrows and crosses”. The director is also, therefore, a ghost writer, apart from being a musician manqué (Bergman called his early filmscripts “scores”).

This free-ranging mastery is, in a way, the imperious old Wagnerian dream, and helps us understand Bergman’s ancestry as an European artist-dinosaur. But in him, this grand legacy speaks a starkly puritanical, anti-Romantic, and hence Classical, language. (Wagner in the garb of a strict Swedish pastor.) Even Berg- man’s house on the island of Fårö, with its own screening room where he often watches his own films, has become a private Bayreauth of classical cinema, a “counterweight to the theatre”, embodying the principles of “simplification, proportion, exertion, relaxation, breathing”. Yet, Bergman’s most unconsoling film about schizophrenia, Through a Glass Darkly, is set on this magic island.

The counterpoint to Bach in Bergman’s classicism is, of course, Mozart. The “self-discipline, purity, light and quiet”, the “order and kindness” which Vogler wants at his rehearsals are all enduringly realized for Bergman in the music and drama of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute. Bergman had directed it on stage and filmed it for television in the Seventies. Vogler’s, and his creator’s, vision of the director’s profession as “a pedantic administration of the unspeakable”, organizing and ritualizing by means of an inner discipline, is as close to the art of Shakespeare’s Prospero as to that of Mozart’s priest, Sarastro, whose essence is heard in the beautiful, grave music of the Temple Guards’ chorus. For Bergman, at the “keel” of this music is still Bach, but leavened by Mozart’s celebration of profane love.

Love, purity, kindness and stillness are not, however, the qualities one normally thinks of in relation to what happens in Bergman’s films and writings. And the pieces in The Fifth Act are no exceptions. He has described his own films as “conceived in the depths of my soul, in my heart, my brain, my nerves, my sex, and not the least, in my guts. A nameless desire gave them birth.” In Bergman’s art, the nerves, the sex and the guts are taken up into a discipline and a sensibility which define themselves in terms of classical notions of order and craftsmanship. And this brings us back to the Monster, for Bergman’s best films are never too far away from the monstrous cruelty of High Art.

In Through a Glass Darkly, the schizophrenic Karin’s father, a writer, feels little remorse when Karin finds out, in a lucid moment, that he keeps a detailed diary of the progress of her illness for later use in his writing. And this “cold eye” is central to Bergman’s classicism. “I have a little butcher in me,” says Vogler to Anna in After the Rehearsal. Although he has seduced Anna — his ex-lover’s young daughter — at every level, the play ends with Vogler’s terrible remoteness. “My sadness has nothing to do with you,” he tells her before she disappears into the shadows. From Keats’s Grecian urn (“Cold Pastoral”) to Thomas Mann’s portrayal of Goethe as the great classical artist in Lotte in Weimar, the “absolute gaze of art” has always been “at once absolute love and absolute nihilism and indifference”, implying “that horrifying approach to the godlike-diabolic which we call genius”.

The Fifth Act ends, however, not with the coldness of art, but in the chill of death. Cinema and the theatre are locked in a competitive struggle throughout this collection. In the Presence of a Clown comes last, and here this struggle is actually watched over by the figure of death: Rigmor, the clown, is forever waiting in the wings. With Carl Åkerblom, and his fiancee, Pauline, struggling in an “icy winter country” to present their “Talking Cinema Drama”, Bergman’s film journeys from the desolation of insanity, through the vitality and inventiveness of pure theatre, towards death and nothingness. This could have been a Shakespearean celebration of the triumph of theatre over cinema, of one kind of illusion over another. But the film ends on an altogether bleaker note: “Pauline walks over to the bed and lies down on Åkerblom. She moves a hand up to his eyes, and then her hand…closes them”.

Bergman has often used images of death when talking about art. In Images, art is “a snake’s skin full of ants. The snake is long since dead, emptied, deprived of its poison, but the skin moves, full of bustling life”. But the famous Dance of Death, at the end of The Seventh Seal, becomes an apocalyptic vision of the death of cinema itself in Bergman’s own account of how it was shot: “Assistants, electricians, a make-up man and two summer visitors, who never knew what it was all about, had to dress up in the costumes of those condemned to death. A camera with no sound was set up and the picture shot before the cloud dissolved.”


For two months now, rioters and mobsters have run amuck in the streets of Ahmedabad, leaving behind a city scarred by vandalism and benumbed by its third tragedy in as many years. In 2000, Ahmedabad suffered its worst floods since 1927. The earthquake that ravaged large parts of Gujarat the next year did not spare Ahmedabad either. But in February 2002, the thin veneer of calm that had descended on the city was ripped asunder with a brutality that has seen little precedent elsewhere. Even as incidents of arson and rioting continue unabated, the social fabric of a 500-year old city seems to be coming apart.

For a brief while, that is from the Thirties to the Fifties, Ahmedabad enjoyed a period of social, political, and economic cohesion. Dominated by the cotton textile industry, the guild system of business relationships ensured that owners and workers worked towards orderly and peaceful conflict resolution. A series of events from the late Sixties to the early Nineties undermined this system.

The first was the Hindu-Muslim riot of 1969, the worst communal violence anywhere in India from 1947 until 1992. A local conflict transmuted itself into a month-long carnage that left some 1,500 people dead, 90 per cent of them Muslims. In this and in conflagrations that would later follow, not only did political and social leaders fail to contain violence, some of them were the chief instigators of such violence.

Communal violence indicated both the fragility of the social set up and the unscrupulousness of politicians in exploiting these social cleavages. In the Eighties, issues of caste/community too would trigger violence and suppression. When the then chief minister, Madhavsinh Solanki, increased reservations for the other backward classes in government services and in education, the upper castes reacted with severity, leaving some 275 dead in Ahmedabad and disrupting the life of the city for the next six months. Solanki’s appeals to lower castes through his KHAM — Kshatriya, Harijan, adivasi and Muslim — strategy alienated large sections of the middle and upper caste population.

From the Nineties onwards, a new dimension was added by the mushrooming Hindutva brigade, and its clamouring for new avenues to assert itself with renewed vigour. For the expanding and modernizing middle class, Gujarat’s participation in the rath yatra violence was seen as a search for a new identity. It sought to validate its past and protect its future as urbanization and industrialization seeped in rapidly, along with the breakdown of the caste society. More assertive castes — such as landowning middle castes like the patidars — looked for ways to validate their enhanced status.

Together with this search for identity, caste and communal divisions and partisan political conflict spilled over into the cultural arena. In 1997, Bajrang Dal activists invaded the Husain-Doshi Gufa, and burned canvases of M.F. Husain. Their ire was provoked by his paintings that depicted Goddess Saraswati nude from the waist upwards. Incidentally, these had attracted no special criticism when they had been first created in 1976. But now they were attacked for being disrespectful to a Hindu goddess and to Hindus. Later, fashion parades and beauty contests were forcibly interrupted. In early December, Hindu militants forced theatres in Ahmedabad to stop screening the film, Fire.

In this decade, political corruption, the antecedents of which can be traced back to the chiefministership of Chimanbhai Patel, twice chief minister in in 1973-74 and 1990-94, reached endemic proportions. Though Patel could boast of providing Gujarat with a relatively stable leadership and promoting impressive industrial growth, his lack of scruples sent the wrong signals to the state machinery.

Criminalization of society, evasion and defiance of the law became endemic. This manifested itself especially in the burgeoning construction industry. The legal restrictions on the use of urban land, coupled with the failure of the local and the regional government to provide infrastructure and building permits in time, abetted unauthorized and unregulated construction. Eighty per cent of the slums came to be situated on plots owned by private landlords who formed a petty-capitalist class with strong links with the local polity.

Unauthorized and unregulated construction also became common in the newer, middle and upper-middle class areas of Ahmedabad. Legal restrictions on land-use encouraged the growth of a new class of criminal entrepreneurs who illegally occupied land through their powerful political connections. The destruction of the 2000 floods was attributed in large part to such unplanned, unregulated construction.

Gujarat’s policy of total prohibition was accompanied by rampant bootlegging, encouraged by the police and politicians. Crime, particularly economic crime, had become a way of life in Ahmedabad. Even more devastating to the city’s economy was the collapse of Ahmedabad’s historic textile industry. In 1984 and 1985 alone, 14 mills closed, laying off 40,000 workers.

Despite this litany of apparently disastrous events, new avenues were also opening in Ahmedabad. By the early Nineties, it had attracted the highest industrial investment among all states. All but 88 of its 18,028 villages are electrified. New entrepreneurs had started off new industries, often with government assistance. Increasing wealth, especially within the business community supported a flourishing new restaurant and club scene, as well as new shopping centres. There was an increase in immigration, mostly informal labour.

At the same time, Ahmedabad’s voluntary agencies continued to work for the improvement of the poor and the oppressed. The most well-known of these remains the Self-Employed Women’s Association. The SEWA Bank has a share capital of only Rs 107 lakh although its savings accounts total Rs 1,187 lakh. SEWA’s participation in government projects has been even more intense in the rural districts, especially in Banaskantha and Kutch districts. In the mid-Nineties, the municipal corporation of the city turned to several of these NGOs to undertake joint initiatives in slum re-development and urban greening, suggesting a radical new initiative in public-NGO collaboration.

The fast changing urban landscape in Ahmedabad ensures that diverse public cultures get prominance at different points of time. With the earlier pattern of urban cohesion undermined by the decline of the textile mills, Ahmedabad now continues to pull in different directions. Howard Spodek, a sociologist, describes it as a city “out of control”, with its many voices clamouring for expression. These are the voices that have created the recent history of the city.

In recent years, new voices have begun to surface — the increasing influence of non-resident Indians in local thinking and in local power structures. Bimal Patel, one of Ahmedabad’s young architect-planners, describes Ahmedabad as a capitalist city which is bound to see some chaotic development at times. Ahmedabad remains a city characterized by its diversity, its decisions made by thousands of people involved in the process — the builders, the businessmen, the architects, the local authorities, the common man and others with him. These sectors of the urban community must work towards rebuilding a sense of community in the public life of the city which is still “out of control” after several decades of urban upheaval.


The people accompanying us said that stray attacks started on February 28. People would come in groups, there would be resistance from the area. Some firing was also resorted to... On March 1, at 2 pm the entire area was cordoned off completely by the police and huge mobs of thousands gathered all around it. The delegation saw the wall which had been broken by the mob to get into the area. The rioters were armed with swords and other weapons like iron and wooden rods and well-equipped with inflammable material. They came in waves and seemed very organized and prepared. When they could not demolish certain structures, they brought trucks and drove them into their targets.

A 12-13 year old boy, Basheer, was shot dead. The police shot Sageer Ahmed dead and his body was later burnt by the mob. We were told that about 35 in this area had been killed and about 500 injured. They named Bapu Jhadapiya, brother of the Gujarat home minister, Goverdhan Jhadapiya, and said that he had been openly moving with the police and directing the mobs. They also mentioned Bharat Rana, an RSS supporter...and said that he and others had all been using mobile phones during the attack. They also said that some badly affected areas fell under the parliamentary constituency of the Central home minister, L.K. Advani, so how could they hope for justice. They asked how he could look after and protect the country when he could not protect those who lived in his constituency. They mentioned that even on the day that he visited, looting and burning were continuing.

The Madarsa, where about a hundred children used to live and many more used to study, was also attacked and desecrated. We saw charred bags of grain and many books, including Qurans we were told, burnt to ashes, empty liquor bottles in a heap on the floor of the main hall, on the blackened walls of which had been scratched “Andar ki baat hai, police hamaare saath hai” (The hidden truth is that the police is with us); “Shiv Sena zindabad”; “Narendra Modi zindabad”. The mob also set fire to the interior of the mosque. Even though the residents have tried to clean it up and have started praying in it, the ceiling is still black, the mimbar is badly damaged, fans and lights are mangled and the charred remains of floor mats and books could be seen. It was only when the army arrived at 6 pm on March 1 that the mayhem was stopped.

We visited 5 camps in Ahmedabad where Muslim victims were being provided with shelter. We visited one camp in Ahmedabad where there were Hindu riot victims. The administration could not tell us of other Hindu camps, although according to them there may have been 4 to 5. The camps were: Shah Alam Dargah (9,000 people), Sundram Nagar (3,500 people), Bapu Nagar Aman Chowk (8,000 people), Juhepura Sankalit Nagar (3,000 people) Dariyakhan Ghummat and Kankaria Primary School 7 and 8 (700 Dalits). With the exception of the Kankaria camp, the camps are all being run by members of the Muslim community, with help from NGOs and citizen’s groups. It seemed tragic that it is the community most affected which had to support its members. They are catering to victims who are pouring in from a 40 km radius. Thirty-two Hindu families of the Narsee ji Mandir area, near Shah Alam area, who are living in the mandir since February 28 because they were afraid and because 3 or 4 of their homes were burnt, are also being fed and looked after by the Shah Alam camp organizers. It took the government till March 5 to recognize that there were thousands of people in camps in terrible distress. A government report was issued on that date, a copy of which is available with the delegation, stating the quantum of relief to be made available to each victim in terms of grain, oil and Rs 5 per head per day for the purchase of vegetables, masalas etc. Yet when the delegation visited the camp a week later, it found that the Shah Alam camp and the Bapu Nagar camps have received altogether 1,500 kgs of rice each along with some tins of cooking oil and packets of powdered milk. No cash assistance has been received by any of them. This just about covers one day’s requirement. In Ahmedabad we also saw FCI godowns with stacked foodgrains, but clearly distributing it in relief camps is not what the government plans to do. There were numerous injured survivors in the camps but till a day earlier the only doctors were volunteers from the community. Two government doctors visited the Shah Alam camp for two hours, but even though there are many women in the camp who need urgent attention, there are no lady doctors. Three babies have been born in the Shah Alam camp and one in the Bapunagar camp with no medical assistance.

to be concluded



They’ve got blood on their hands

Sir — If Narendra Modi and George Fernandes think that by participating in a peace march they will be redeemed of their sins, they are very much mistaken (“March in shadow of Modi roshni”, April 29). Every report of every fact-finding mission to the state has said again and again that one spontaneous event could not have triggered off violence of such gruesome proportions. Communal riots do not even begin to describe what is happening in Gujarat — it is nothing short of a government-abetted genocide. And the systematic indoctrination of hatred starts right from the school-level, where students hear of how Adolf Hitler brought “dignity and prestige” to Germany by his “Nazi solution” (“In Gujarat, Adolf catches ‘em in schools”, April 29). The impunity with which the law and constitutional guidelines are being flouted in Gujarat — the Gujarat board violated strict instructions of a parliamentary committee to delete inflammatory passages of the kind mentioned above — one gets the feeling that the saffron brigade has appropriated the state from the Indian Union for its nefarious experiments with communal division.
Yours faithfully,
Sushmita Barua, Calcutta

Generous helpings

Sir — It was wonderful to read about Kartar Lalvani’s generosity and his willingness to fund the Kitchens’ search for their missing son, Joel (“Generous Indian pays for IAF greed”, April 22). India’s image abroad, already blackened by the incidents in Gujarat, has been further tarnished by the Indian air force’s charging the Kitchens £ 18,000 for the search operation in the Himalayan foothills to locate their son. More shamefully, despite accepting full payment, the IAF has completed only 50 per cent of the job. Even worse, the Kitchens’ fervent pleas that the IAF should continue with the search on humanitarian grounds were rejected. It is a pity that the greed and corruption so widely prevalent in civilian society have seeped into the defence establishment as well.

But would Indian politicians have been so uncooperative and complacent if the son of a famous politician or minister in the Central government had similarly disappeared? Indian politicians waste crores of public money in expensive trips abroad and in disrupting parliamentary proceedings at the slightest pretext, but when it comes to spending a few lakhs to help an old couple look for their missing son, they become tight-fisted.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The Indian air force should not have called off the search for Joel Kitchen. Instead, it should do its best to rescue him so that his parents, William and Angie Kitchen, do not have to return to England empty-handed. Indians might be very proud of their long and glorious tradition of generosity, but the reality today is quite different. Humanitarian values and benevolence have become a rarity in today’s world.

That the IAF charged the Kitchens a sum of £18,000 and then called off the rescue operation because they had no more money to give is shocking. Surely it is the duty of every responsible citizen to come to the help of those in distress without expecting anything in return.

The IAF’s shameful behaviour should be contrasted with the generosity of Kartar Lalvani who not only paid for the Kitchens’ visit to India but also made use of his business contacts in India to help them in their search for their missing son. It is heartening to see that Lalvani has not sacrificed his ideals and has instead used his money for a noble cause.

Yours faithfully,
Indranee Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — Why is such a big deal being made about the fact that the Indian air force asked for money before agreeing to search for Joel Kitchen? As has rightly been pointed out by IAF sources, anyone who asks for its help has to pay for it. Why should the Kitchens be an exception? It is irrelevant in this context whether the British air force would have conducted the search free of cost had the situation been reversed. That Kartar Lalvani is being made out to be something of a hero by the media for having helped the Kitchens is an indication of the decline of values in our country. Hasn’t Lalvani only performed his duty?

Yours faithfully,
Kavita Deshpande, Raipur

Hole in the pocket

Sir — Thanks to the “liberal” policies of the Centre and various state governments, government employees nation-wide have become apprehensive about their future. The report, “Plan to shrink provident fund withdrawal options” (April 25), comes as a further blow to the already beleaguered employees. The salaried class depends on the provident fund as a nest egg in case of financial emergencies. If these restrictions, which decree that the sanctioned amount must be repaid, come into force, employees will be seriously burdened when making the repayments, which have to be done every month.

Under the circumstances, employees will soon cease to think of the provident fund as a viable investment option. Many may be lured by attractive advertisements of private sector finance companies, most of which have dubious reputations. It is unfortunate that far from continuing to fulfil its responsibility of ensuring the economic security of citizens, the present government seems bent on leaving them at the mercy of unreliable private agencies.

Yours faithfully,
K. Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — The proposal to take away the powers of the Employees Provident Fund Organization is a dangerous one. Investing Rs 1 lakh crore of the hard earned money of 2.15 crore employees in insecure financial instruments is fraught with risks. That this proposal is the result of a clash of egos between Sharad Yadav and Yashwant Sinha makes one wonder at India’s politicians.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Sridharan, Kanpur

Sir — The report, “PF rates” (April 5), said that there might be a downward revision of 0.5 per cent in the PF interest rate. It would be good if this lower rate did not apply to senior citizens, who depend almost entirely on the PF for their livelihood.

Yours faithfully,
P. Misra, Joka

Sir — The salaried can invest in the general provident fund as also the public provident fund, but the self-employed have the PPF only. Also, the Rs 60,000 ceiling on investments in PPF applies equally to the self-employed and salaried. The government should consider increasing this ceiling for the former. The interest rates for the PPF and the GPF should also be made the same since both are PFs. If this is not possible, the authorities should continue with the interest rate given at entry, as is done in the case of recurring deposits.

Yours faithfully,
Hara Lal Chakraborty, Calcutta

Cross connections

Sir — The government is eager to provide new telephone connections in rural and suburban areas and had declared that the connections would be given within a month. In February 2000, I had deposited Rs 3,000 against a demand note, for which I was given a receipt. But it is April 2002 now, and the connection is yet to materialize. My repeated visits to the telephone exchange have been in vain.

Now I find that those who had applied after me have been given telephone connections. What is the reason for the two year delay in servicing my application?

Yours faithfully,
M.C. Sarkar, Asansol

Sir — Such is the state of affairs at Calcutta Telephones that getting a new telephone connection seems easier than getting one disconnected. Recently, I went to the Jadavpur telephone exchange to ask for the disconnection of my phone. The officials there told me to go to the Ranikuthi exchange, from where I was instructed to go to the Garia exchange to deposit my phone instrument. I spent three days doing the rounds of the various exchanges.

When I reached the Garia exchange with the instrument and the junction box I was told that the latter was not needed, but that I should produce the wire that connects the two. Unfortunately, none of the previous exchanges had told me this. In the end, I had to buy the wire, going through endless harassment in the process. In this age of competition, Calcutta Telephones must strive to make things simpler for consumers, otherwise it will be left far behind in the market.

Yours faithfully,
Partha Hui, Calcutta

Honesty is the best policy

Sir — On April 3, 2002, I hired a taxi to take my son, who was sitting for the higher secondary examinations, to the examination centre at Jagabandhu institution in Ballygunge. I got off the taxi near the school but inadvertently left my handbag behind. It contained money, cheques, important papers and my photo identity card. In my anxiety to retrieve the bag, I called up the West Bengal taxi association and the taxi workers’ union, but failed to give them the taxi number. Thus I was relieved when the taxi driver, Dinesh Sharma, and the cab owner, Kartick Bhowmick, found my house the same night and returned my bag. These two gentlemen showed an honesty and integrity not commonly found nowadays.
Yours faithfully,
Swapan Kanti Das, Calcutta

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