Editorial 1 / Warmer climes
Editorial 2 / No longer remote
The morning papers
Patented confusion
Document / To make roads fit for more travel
Letters to the editor

The establishment of a new council to facilitate close cooperation between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization confirms not just the dramatic transformation that has occurred in international relations since the end of the Cold War, but the beginning of a new era. The council was established at the recent summit near Rome attended by the Russian president, Mr Vladimir Putin, and the leaders of 19 NATO countries. The Rome meeting followed the historic summit between Mr Putin and the American president, Mr George W. Bush, at Moscow, during which both agreed to a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty. The new NATO-Russia council will meet every month, with four ministerial level meetings a year. The areas in which close cooperation is expected include the fight against terrorism, preventing proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, regional peacekeeping and theatre missile defence. More significantly, Russian diplomats will have a presence at the NATO headquarters at Brussels. Russia had entered into a less formal arrangement with NATO in 1997 — the 19-plus-one permanent joint council — but the new council gives Russia greater influence over NATO decisions on crisis management, peacekeeping and joint exercises. Earlier, at Moscow, Mr Bush and Mr Putin had agreed to reducing American and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals by two-thirds. In other words, by 2012 neither side will have more than 2,200 nuclear warheads in their arsenal. Despite several caveats, including the fact that warheads not fitted on delivery systems can be kept in reserve and will not be covered by the agreement, there is little doubt that the treaty is a major breakthrough.

At Moscow, the presidents of Russia and the United States of America also had detailed discussions on removing hurdles that prevent Russia from accessing American high technology, especially in dual use areas. They also seemed to have agreed on a road map for Russian membership of the World Trade Organization. But while the Moscow meeting was important, it was the summit in Italy that could not have been imagined even a few years ago. Clearly, the driving force was the common concern about international terrorism in the wake of the attacks on the US on September 11 last year. It was Mr Putin who put it bluntly. He argued that not only did Russia and NATO have more to unite them than to divide them, but also that terrorist attacks had a clear message for leaders of the democratic world: “Find solutions and find them together.” There are, of course, continued irritants. Washington is concerned over Russia’s ties with Iran, especially in the field of nuclear technology. Moscow is uneasy about NATO expansion eastward and is still not totally reconciled to American plans to develop a national missile defence system . Be that as it may, the two meetings have, as Mr Bush put it, liquidated the legacy of the Cold War.


North Bengal has long been a happy hunting ground for rebel groups because of its geography. Its proximity to Nepal, Bhutan and Assam makes it vulnerable to the rebel activity in those areas. But Sunday’s rebel attack on the Central Reserve Police Force jawans inside the Buxa Tiger Reserve should cause greater worries than before. It was the first attack in which a rebel group used remote-controlled devices to trigger an explosion in West Bengal since the days of the Gorkhaland agitation in the mid-Eighties. More ominous is the suspicion that several underground groups — such as the Kamtapur Liberation Organzation, the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland — have formed an umbrella outfit to coordinate their activities in the region. This is not the first time that links among these groups have surfaced, but the Sunday offensive brings in a new dimension. One reason why these groups seem to have intensified their operations in the area is the pressure on them inside Bhutan. The rebels have long had their training camps in the dense jungles in southern Bhutan, almost contiguous to the Buxa forest. They seem to be relocating some of these in the north Bengal jungles following the Bhutan government’s ultimatum to them to clear out by December 31. There is also a possibility that Thimpu will allow Indian paramilitary forces to enter Bhutan in hot pursuit of the militants still based there.

West Bengal’s chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, appreciates the urgency of weeding out militancy from the area. He has alleged the involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in the rebels’ destabilization game. In order to stamp out the KLO challenge, he must orchestrate his strategy with counter-insurgency plans of the Assam government and the Centre. The other important front on which the battle against the militants must be fought is political. The Kamtapur movement in north Bengal has a chequered history that saw political parties like the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and even some constituents of the ruling Left Front using it to settle partisan scores. It is a perfectly justified and democratic thing to demand more economic development for north Bengal. Accepting this need, the state government recently formed an autonomous board for the area’s development. But it is a devious game to harp on the region’s relative backwardness to stoke fissiparous passions. It is time mainstream political parties realized the gravity of the situation and joined the government to end a violent movement that has little mass support.


A classic is a work which persists as background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.— Italo Calvino, “Why Read the Classics?”. It happened, inevitably, every morning, through most of May. The steady ghastliness of what the papers would bring into our lives, in that early hour when we are still trying to wake up properly. For those of us who would be going out to work later, this is perhaps the quietest hour — often dream-haunted, hopefully free of too much talk, and rather private. Yet, it is also when most of us read the papers, or watch a bit of television. This is, therefore, a time for words and pictures as well, culled, almost passively, in a state of mind and body which is very much like reverie, and to remain with us, in some form or the other, through the rest of the day. Photographs, events, reports, comments, analyses.

This is the space in which Gujarat has been happening for many of us in this city. And our experience of this everyday theatre is often deeply divided. There is, on the one hand, the sense of a distance — the removes of Godhra, Naroda Patia, Ahmedabad, Vadodara. The remoteness not only of talukas, villages, slums, walled cities and relief camps, but also of an order of fear, zeal, bodily harm and brutality which most of us who were born well after Partition have hardly ever witnessed directly. On the other hand, some of the most persuasive images and accounts of these events come into our lives — particularly our life of feelings and imagination — in this hour of solitary reading. More than any other time, this is when the seeds of the day’s ferment could be planted in the core of our consciousness. Yet, this is also a time of slowness and passivity, and of trying to overcome both; a time for dawdling in the margins of the day, before we open the door and walk out into the world.

This dichotomy — remoteness and immediacy, normalcy and aberration — in our experience of Gujarat brings with it the sense of a surreal marginality to events which we nevertheless feel are changing the human coordinates of our daily lives. It drives a wedge, for instance, between consciousness and agency, between what we read, watch, believe in, think or feel, and what we get up and do in our normal lives. This leads to larger questions. How do things happen to us? How do we experience things which are happening to other people? Are things happening to other people also happening to us? How far away does something have to happen so as not to have happened to us?

For most of us, then, the events in Gujarat take place in the spaces of reading and viewing. The violence reaches us as pictures and stories, having its most immediate impact on what we believe and imagine. It was therefore a bizarrely appropriate juxtaposition when the front page of this paper on May 8 brought together what appeared to be two very different sets of stories and pictures. The top story, “Dark-age death by fire & stones”, spoke of stabbed and charred bodies in Gujarat, while the anchor informed us that Cervantes’s Don Quixote had been voted the best work of fiction by the world’s leading contemporary writers.

Above a little picture of Quixote on his horse was one of K.P.S. Gill shaking hands with L.K. Advani in New Delhi. Gill, presumably having just put his request to the home minister for forces from the Centre and Punjab, is staring abstractedly into middle distance. And Advani has an incredibly brazen grin on his face. This grin seems to be reducing Gill’s apprehensions to an exuberantly public joke, while reassuring him that everything was going to be alright. The home secretary, Kamal Pande, is looking on in the background with a wise and indulgent smile, the sort of smile elders beam on fresh-faced graduates at graduation ceremonies.

Why was it so strange to look at this picture while reading, in the anchor, about what people love reading — about Cervantes, Proust, Homer and Shakespeare? Everything that this picture and the accompanying report exuded seemed to be utterly at odds with what we like to think the classics stand for, the civilized worlds they conjure up, their enduring humanity. Yet again there was that wedge — between the civilized and the barbaric, between readers and killers. Even as this page yoked these worlds together, it seemed — and still seems — unforgivably tenuous and effete to think of Gujarat and the classics in the same breath.

Yet, at the centre of much of this violence in India is an epic poem. Is this not an attempt, however wrong-headed, to situate the matter of a poem in the actual world, to prove its enduring relevance to human experience? And is this not how we often define a classic? Among the best works of fiction voted, in the same survey, by a hundred noted writers from all over the world are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, together with the Iliad and the Odyssey. A curious detail in my own recent encounter with the Greek epics suddenly made it seem less tenuous to talk about the classics and Gujarat as part of the same continuum of experience.

The “grim struggle” between the Greeks and the Trojans is going on in book XI of the Iliad. The Greek Menelaus, “of the loud war-cry”, has captured the Trojan Adrestus alive, and is wondering whether to kill him or to go for the ransom Adrestus is promising him. But he is scolded by his brother, Agamemnon, “My dear Menelaus, why are you so chary of taking men’s lives?…We are not going to leave a single one of them alive, down to the babies in their mother’s wombs — not even they must live. The whole people must be wiped out of existence, and none be left to think of them and shed a tear.” “The justice of this”, the bard continues, “made Menelaus change his mind.” So Adrestus is killed. Nestor then calls out to the Greeks, “Friends, Danaans, fellow soldiers; no looting now! No lingering behind to get back to the ships with the biggest share! Let us kill men. Afterwards, at your leisure, you can strip the corpses on the field.” This, Homer adds, “put new heart and daring into every man”.

The wonderfully infectious gleefulness of the Greeks on a murderous romp is now familiar to any reader of the many reports on the Gujarat genocide. But the detail about the babies in the womb immediately arrests attention. The most compelling image to have come out of the accounts of arson, looting, rape and massacre is that of Kausar Bano’s unborn child. “They cut open her belly, took out her foetus with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burnt her as well,” her sister-in-law, Saira Banu of Naroda Patia, tells a fact-finding mission in a relief camp. This episode has now acquired a horrific life of its own, the way stories often do — both in Gujarat among the brutalized women in the relief camps, and in the minds of those trying to imagine the atrocities from a distance.

Syeda Hameed’s scrupulously documented report on minority women in Gujarat puts this account in a box, entitled “a meta-narrative of bestiality”. Her panel recognizes the importance of this event, but sets it apart from the other testimonies — not simply because of its extreme nature, but because of the peculiar status it has acquired through incessant telling and retelling. “Sometimes the details would vary — the foetus was dashed to the ground, the foetus was slaughtered with a sword, the foetus was swung on the point of the sword and then thrown into a fire. Each teller of the story owned it. It was as if it was their own story.”

Here the activity of recording facts, of marshalling documentary evidence, comes up against a terrible, dark ambivalence which arises inevitably in the wake of a trauma of such an extreme and collective dimension. “It was as if it was their own story.” Vicarious trauma, or the act of imaginative identification with actual experience in extremis — as the testimonies, dreams and fantasies of Holocaust victims have repeatedly shown — is disconcertingly akin to the process of fabrication, of making stories, by which compelling images could turn into myths. This is the inevitable fallout of such an event, a form of psychological damage which is just as “real” a fact or event as the other experiences and their afterlife documented in these reports, even if the language of empirical evidence seems at a loss with what to do with it.

Hameed’s team has seen photographic evidence of “burnt bodies of a mother and a foetus lying on the mother’s belly, as if torn from the uterus and left on the gash.” (That “as if” again, testimony to how Gujarat compels the imagination.) But the body cannot be identified as Kausar Bano’s. Shabnam Hashmi reports having been shown photographs of seven such unidentified bodies.

Hameed’s panel feels that this does not matter: “In all instances where extreme violence is experienced collectively, meta-narratives are constructed. Each victim is part of the narrative; their experience subsumed by the collective experience. Kausar is that collective experience.” And this is why we must learn to distinguish between such psychic consequences of trauma and deliberate propagandist fabrication. It is an immensely difficult and risky distinction, but it has to be made in all its complexity in order to grasp what is happening in Gujarat. And “grasp” in more senses than one: not only to understand the nature of these events, but also to not let them slip out of the realm of what could be proved and recorded, the realm of what did actually happen.

The massacre of unborn children in the Iliad, and the repeated citings of the same act in the Gujarat testimonies seem to point to a shared, and perhaps timeless, realm of human potential and possibilities from which springs a vast range of words, images, dreams, fantasies, stories, myths and — on a par with these — acts, what human beings actually do to one another. The classics have never hesitated to represent and reflect on the entire spectrum of human cruelty, most often with the utmost amorality and unsqueamishness. We like to think of them as transcendent. Perhaps it would be better to think of them as the toughest, sometimes the grimmest, survivors. They endure precisely because they can accommodate everything, every use and abuse, every act of reading.

Epic poems — like death-camps, war-zones and pogroms — are sites of absolute licence, where entire communities of men and gods could play out without restraint, individually and collectively, the most barbaric desires, the deepest hatreds and equally, often indistinguishably, the most cherished ideals of heroism and nobility. This is why Homer and the home minister could sometimes end up in the same early-morning muddle.


After the November 2001 ministerial meet of the World Trade Organization at Doha, where the opposition from developing countries like India was all but neutralized, another round of negotiations has begun with the ministerial level trade conference of central Asian and Caucasian countries at Tbilisi, Georgia from May 21-22. In theory, the WTO operates by consensus and all its 142 member countries, including 37 African states, have the right to participate in negotiations affecting them.

In practice, however, key decisions are arrived at in smaller informal meetings between representatives of rich countries and sometimes a few key developing countries. Often poorer countries go unrepresented even at open meetings because they do not have enough personnel to send to the numerous, and often simultaneously held, meetings. If a country is not present or does not speak up at meetings, it is taken as supportive of the “consensus” position. Even when there is vocal dissent, developing countries’ concerns are often excluded from the statements.

Take the example of patent rights that were discussed at Doha, as they have been at every meet. In 1994, the WTO’s trade related intellectual property rights agreement directed member countries to amend their laws in order to maximize the rights of patent holders. Of the many such holders of patents are multinational pharmaceutical companies who help keep drug prices up by virtue of the patents that give them temporary monopoly in the market. The “unequal” agreement of the Uruguay round in 1994 assured such commercial interests.

TRIPS gives countries the option to use generic alternatives for patented drugs in emergencies, as the United States of America threatened to do recently to bring down the price of the patented drug, Capra. But exercising this option requires strong political will, economic clout and high-powered lawyers to stand up to pressures from drug makers and their home governments.

Developing countries had proposed a statement at Doha to the effect that “nothing in the TRIPS agreement shall prevent members from taking measures to protect public health.” But the US, Switzerland and other rich nations opposed this. Instead, they proposed a somewhat different language: “We affirm the member’s ability to use...the provisions in the TRIPS agreement which provide flexibility to address public health crises such as HIV/AIDS and other pandemics…in particular to secure affordable access to medicine.” This might sound similar but, analysed legally, it means little change in the status quo for the developed countries and their companies.

Rich countries have offered to change the deadline for patent law compliance by “least developed countries” from 2006 to 2016. But this excludes deve- loping countries like Brazil and India which have the capacity to produce and export generic drugs.

The World Bank estimates that “full” trade liberalization could add between $ 200 billion and $ 500 billion to developing countries’ income. But actually rich countries take advantage of the openings they force in markets in developing countries while they steadfastly guard their own markets. This is particularly true in the case of agriculture. Farmers’ subsidies in the US, Europe and Japan have gone up to almost $ 1 billion a day — more than six times what these countries provide in development assistance. Together with tariffs and quotas, these make it difficult for poorer countries to compete in developed countries’ markets. Worse, agricultural exports from rich countries drive small farmers out of business in poorer countries, threatening domestic food security as well as undermining export potential.

The Uruguay round of trade negotiations had promised greater access to markets in rich countries for third world exports. This has not happened. The Doha declaration only mentioned abolition of export subsidies but said very little about tariff and non-tariff barriers on imports, production subsidies and price-supports in developed countries that lead to unfair trade advantages.

Developing countries wanted a re-evaluation of existing agreements before starting a new series of negotiations, as well as legal and administrative systems to implement trade laws. Some of the 104 “implementation” issues developing countries want to address include anti-dumping barriers in the US, lower industrial tariffs in many developing countries, and rich countries’ failure to provide technical assistance to enable developing countries to comply with trade regulations and compete effectively. Poor countries have also resisted the use of intellectual property rights to patent life forms, which threatens their control over genetic stock vital for agricultural production.

But instead of addressing these concerns, rich countries have pressed for a new round. The proposed agenda for this round includes extending WTO negotiations to include policies for regulating investment, competition, transparency in government purchasing and trade facilitation. The new round could bring even larger areas of economic life under complex WTO regulations. Yet all previous trade agreements recognize in theory that developing countries have disadvantages that may warrant “special and differential treatment”. That is, the countries should be given better market access, greater flexibility in implementing trade laws, and be allowed to sign agreements with developed countries that do not require full “reciprocity”.

The Uruguay round assumed that such treatment would be temporary, and that developing countries could quickly adopt the general standards after brief transition periods with the aid of technical assistance from rich countries. But the “special and differential treatment” provisions were not made mandatory. Their implementation depended on the political will of the rich countries. Developing countries have demanded that these provisions should be reviewed and made mandatory. But the draft declaration of Doha does include any commitment of this sort.

There is only on one point that developing countries may be said to have won: developed countries readily accepted the demand not to include “labour standards” in the new round of talks. But this is no victory because labour standards affect developed countries as well. Thus, developing countries have lost a major weapon to improve their labour standards and to protect their industries from the onslaught of Chinese exports. Since MNCs in some developed countries are deeply involved with Chinese export drives, developed countries are not interested in including “labour standards” in future WTO negotiations. That is because such a thing would harm their own interests too.

Witness this. American workers lack the minimal legal protection against layoffs that exist in Japan, most of Europe and in parts of the developing world. The past two decades have seen a lengthening of working hours, stagnating wages and an appalling state of health and safety standards. The US is at the end of the list of 15 industrialized countries in workplace injuries. In the US, 6,000 workers get killed annually, another 50,000 to 60,000 die of work-related diseases and seven million are affected by such diseases on the job each year. The US spends about one dollar per citizen on worker safety programmes.

Women workers in the US have no paid maternity leave. There are also a lot of child labourers in farms, in garment factories and at construction sites. There have been reports of slave labour by Thai immigrants in a Los Angeles garment sweat-shop, handicapped Mexican children peddling in New York subways and under-aged farm workers in rural Florida. The US has so far refused to sign the International Labour Organization’s convention 138, which bans most labour by children under the age of 18. Workers in the US are also fired regularly for trying to organize and educate themselves about their rights.

The most important factor behind the comparative advantage of Chinese goods is the low cost of labour. China has no trade union rights for workers. Chinese workers are treated in a militarist fashion which amounts to serious abuses. Much of the labour force comprises young women who come from villages at the age of 15 or 16 and have to go back by the age of 30 when their efficiency has diminished. If the developing countries want to compete with China and adjust or reform to comply with the kind of labour market flexibility being sought by business communities and their policy-makers, there will not be any human rights for workers even in the organized sectors in those countries.

The argument that the ILO can promote better labour standards and thus there is no need for the WTO to interfere is meaningless. The ILO has no teeth. Even Japan has not ratified the ILO’s discrimination in employment and occupation convention, 1958, which covers discrimination based on race, nationality and colour. Gender discriminations in the workplace is common in Japan. If the ILO cannot influence Japan or the US, how can it influence labour conditions in China which defies every international treaty?

At Doha, developing countries made no objections to the inclusion of “environmental standards” which will lead to increased costs of combatting industrial pollution and will have negative effects on industrial exports from developing countries. Which in effect means that the Doha conference has been a hands down victory for the developed world. Do the developing countries stand a chance in the next round of negotiations that has already ensued?


India has one of the largest road networks in the world. The country’s total road length as on March 31, 1996, stood at 33,19,644 kilometres. The ninth plan laid emphasis on a coordinated and balanced development of the road network in the country under (i) primary road system, covering state highways; (ii) secondary and feeder road system covering state highways and major district roads; and (iii) rural roads including village roads and other district roads.

Substantial outlays were proposed for road development in rural and tribal areas. During the eighth plan, $ 400 million was spent on Central sector roads and $ 3,000 million on state sector roads. Under the ninth plan, the allocation is $ 2,000 million for the Central sector roads programme....

The Centre is responsible for the national highway system totalling 51,966 km. In 1947, approximately 2,500 km of road links and thousands of culverts and bridges...were required to be constructed to have an integrated and continuous network.

There was an increase in missing road links with the addition of new roads to the national highway system in later years. Up to March 31, 1999, road-links, including diversions, realignments, and constructed, totalled 4,717 km, widening and strengthening single lane section to double lane carriage was done in 25,685 km, widening to four-lane completed in 845 km, strengthening of weak two-lane pavement has been done in 14,790 km. In addition, 560 major bridges and 3,078 minor bridges were also completed. During the eighth five year plan, a sum of about $800 million has been spent on the development of national highways; $350 million and $340 million have been spent on national highways during 1997-98 and 1998-99 respectively and budget allocation of $510 million has been made for the year 1999-2000. Though the national highways constitute only two per cent of the total road length, they carry nearly 40 per cent of road traffic.

There are altogether nine ongoing projects funded by external loans for the improvement of national highways, comprising one loan (US $ 306 million) from the World Bank, three loans (total US $ 672 million) from the Asian Development Bank and five loans (total Japanese Yen 36,915 million, approximately equivalent US $ 450 million) from the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, Japan. The World Bank loan includes six national highways sub-projects in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal and one state highway project for reconstruction of bridges in Orissa. All the sub-projects are in progress. The first ADB loan (US $ 177 million) provides for development of national highways in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and state highways in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. All works have been substantially completed by March 1998. The second ADB loan (US $ 250 million) provides for improvement in Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan and of state roads in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The national highway projects in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have been substantially completed. Remaining projects are in progress. The third ADB loan covers national highways projects in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal. All the projects are in progress. The project for the improvement of the Mathura-Agra section of NH-2 in Uttar Pradesh, under one of the five loans of OECF is in progress. Out of the remaining four loans, the procurement process has been recently completed for two, and is in progress for the other two...

State highways and district rural roads are the responsibility of state governments and are maintained by various agencies in the states and union territories. Roads are being developed in rural areas under the Minimum Needs Programme, the objective being to link all villages with a population of 1,500 with all-weather roads. The government also assists in development of certain selected roads in states...

India has got about 14,500 km of navigable waterways which comprises rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. At present, however, a length of 3,700 km of major rivers is navigable by mechanized crafts but the length actually utilized is only about 2,000 km. As regards canals, out of 4,300 km of navigation canals, only 900 km is suitable for navigation by mechanized crafts. About 1.60 million tonnes of cargo is being moved by inland water transport, a fuel efficient and environment friendly mode. IWT is also known for higher employment generation potential. Its operations are currently restricted to a few stretches in the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Barak river, the rivers in Goa, the backwaters in Kerala and in the deltaic regions of the Godavari-Krishna rivers. Besides the organized operations by mechanized vessels, country boats of various capacities also operate in various rivers and canals.

To be concluded



A different ball game altogether

Different strokes

Sir — Ireland may not be one of the favourites in the soccer World Cup this year, but it has certainly created the biggest controversy that will give the World Cup fever its biggest boost (“Coach slaps red card on captain Keane”, May 24). Mick McCarthy, the Irish coach, has created history of sorts by sending back his captain, Roy Keane, for foul-mouthing him in public. Keane was Ireland’s only player who could lay claim to an international stature, and as such, it was not an easy decision for McCarthy. Since both the individuals involved have taken an unrelenting and principled stand, the remaining members of the squad had no option but to take sides. McCarthy is lucky that his boys have rallied behind him. But his job has become tougher than ever. Ireland’s performance in the tournament will either vindicate his stand, or turn him into the biggest villain of the country, knowing the kind of popular emotion football evokes in Ireland. Is the Irish coach ready to face the challenge?

Yours faithfully,
Krishnakali Sengupta, Calcutta

Beauty myths

Sir — Mukul Kesavan’s “Aggressively unbeautiful” (May 26), shows that very little research has gone into the article. While Kesavan tries to make a case for gender disparity by elaborating on the unequal looks of male and female actors in Indian cinema, he does not manage to build a strong enough argument for his case. First, a man’s and a woman’s beauty can never be measured by the same yardstick. Second, such judgments will always remain subjective. After all, there are many who think Karisma Kapoor looks horsy, Rekha like a mannequin, Saira Banu is mousy and Meena Kumari looked quite dead pan. Besides, beauty is not personalizable. One thus cannot make sweeping statements about “good looks”.

Although Kesavan claims that commercial cinema is made for the benefit of the Indian male, who mainly buys the tickets and thereby determines whether a film will be a hit or a flop, one cannot disregard the role of women in deciding a film’s success. Contrary to what Kesavan says, Hindi films are actually escapist in their portrayal of life. After all it is only in films that beautiful girls always end up with handsome boys. In real life this is rarely the case. Indian society considers the concept of male beauty irrelevant. Which is why in matrimonial columns looks of women become their main attribute while the subject is not even mentioned where the prospective grooms are concerned.

Yours faithfully,
Ipsita Chatterjee, Lilluah

Sir — Mukul Kesavan makes a blanket statement in “Aggressively unbeautiful” that Indian women are beautiful while Indian men are ugly. What could have made Kesavan come to such conclusion? Is it because he considers himself ugly or is it because he has seen very few good-looking men around him? Kesavan seems biased against Indian men. Just as there is no dearth of good-looking men in India, there is no lack of bad-looking Indian women. However, till Kesavan changes his myopic vision he will not be able to see that or provide a balanced opinion to his readers.

Yours faithfully,
Arindam Pal, Calcutta

Sir — Mukul Kesavan sums up quite accurately why Indian heroes are ugly and Indian heroines beautiful, and why this combination has seen box office success for decades. The connection made between the ugliness of the average Indian men and the preponderance of ugly actors in Indian cinema is unique.

But Kesavan fails to mention that much like this realism which is reflected in Indian cinema, foreign films are also realistic at times. For it is not always that we find good-looking actresses teaming up with just as good-looking actors. Sometimes both the hero and heroine score dismally where looks are concerned.

Also to state that Indian cinema always shows ugly actors and good-looking women is not correct, especially in today’s cinema. What with the new chocolate boy heroes such as Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna, it seems that Hindi film-makers are no longer catering to the average Indian male but also to the average Indian woman who would like to believe that she is not destined to be stuck with a K.L. Saigal or a Dilip Kumar lookalike.

Yours faithfully,
Raunak Sen, Calcutta

Sir — Mukul Kesavan seems to suggest that unattractive or indifferent looking individuals are purposely chosen to be leading men against beautiful or at least “personable” ladies, keeping in mind the average male audience. What he says about the leading ladies of Indian cinema — “they were all attractive and personable women” — is equally applicable to the male actors. While all of them may not have been good-looking in the conventional sense, they were certainly all personable.

Kesavan also does not explore the notion of complementarity between a man’s qualities and a woman’s beauty. K.L. Saigal may have been “the ugliest leading man in the history of world cinema”, but what mattered was that he could sing, a quality indispensable to Indian cinema during his times. Kesavan gets close to the truth when he delves into the Indian psyche that vests all agency in the male. Indians looks for “qualities” in the male. So while our heroes have each been identified with particular attributes of their own, our leading ladies have had the uniform function of looking good, first and foremost. The average male audience may identify with their not-so-attractive screen heroes, but that does not explain why the latter have had better screen life than their female co-stars.

Yours faithfully,
Sharmistha Gooptu, Calcutta

Look out for them

Sir — I was shocked to see a recent advertisement of Calcutta Telephones. It showed a young woman with a caption that read, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” The double entendre is disgusting and demeans women. Government-held telephone companies are suddenly facing tough competition in a market which they monopolized till now. But that is no reason for Calcutta Telephones to stoop to such levels.

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Das, Calcutta

Sir — The Calcutta police should be congratulated for bringing Kalyani Bre- weries to book for its irresponsible advertisement which tried to lure adolescents to take up drinking beer (“Sweet 16 turns sour in beer blitz”, May 17). In this age of consumerism most companies have forgotten their responsibility towards society. Profit-making being the top priority, advertising firms and their clients have both decided to keep no stone unturned in their efforts to sell their products. In the course of this they spare no thought for the social implications of their actions. Let us hope that the police action will restrain companies.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — A motorcycle cavalcade of at least a dozen motorcyclists, sporting the new slogan of a popular brand of whiskey on the back of their bright yellow T-shirts, was seen driving along Lindsay Street on the afternoon of May 22. The advertiser did not realize that these motorists create a distraction to others on the road and could lead to an accident. The authorities concerned must stop such methods of advertising.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur


Sir — Every day we lose a large amount of money in the form of small change. The lack of coins in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 paise often stop people from asking for change. That the United States of America till today mints cents, dimes and quarters should be a lesson for us. Five, 10 and 20 paise coins should be minted again so that the common man does not get short-changed at every level from paying bus fares to paying the electricity bill.

Yours faithfully,
P.V. Madhu, Secunderabad

Sir — People in possession of soiled or torn currency notes face a stupendous problem. They are either unable to use the notes or have to throw them away. No bank has a separate counter to deal with the exchange of such notes for those of better quality. It is bad enough that people are stuck with money that cannot be used. Should they be made to stand for hours in long queues in government banks without any guarantee that the bank will replace the soiled notes?

Yours faithfully,
Shiv Shanker Almal, Calcutta

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