Editorial 1 / Call of the wild
Editorial 2 / Doctors at sea
War, peace, pretensions
Book Review / Looking towards the future
Book Review / Fugitive games
Book Review / Monarch of all he surveyed
Book Review / Heroic command
Editor’s Choice / Moral of the echo
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CALL OF THE WILD 
 
 
 
 
Despite pretences to the contrary, the politics of bandhs is inimical to the public cause. It never achieves its supposed ends and remains a disruptive means. The two separate bandh calls by the Congress and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal within seven days of each other next month are the height of political irresponsibility. Having exhausted other methods, the two parties have now taken recourse to bandh calls to compete for the non-left political space in the state. They must have grown extraordinarily cynical to expect the people to fall for their bluff. Nobody will be deceived by their vain attempts to mask the bandh battle with issues like the farmers’ distress over the low price of paddy, increased electricity charges, irregular payment of salaries to school teachers and the “mess” over madhyamik examination results. These issues have been agitating political parties, which put the government in the dock for its failures. But neither the Congress nor the Trinamool Congress had given any indication that they were so concerned over the issues as to call bandhs. It was the results of some civic elections which suddenly prompted them to jump into the bandh rivalry. The Congress fired the first shot, hoping to cash in on the small gains it had made over the Trinamool Congress in the polls, though both parties lagged far behind the left. It was a rare moment of comparative success that the Congress wanted to steal a march over Ms Mamata Banerjee with a bandh. Having lost one more election to the left but anxious not to lose the non-left space to the Congress, she retaliated with her own bandh call.

Given West Bengal’s experience with bandhs and the left’s own record of sponsoring them, it is doubtful if the government can do anything to keep the wheels of business running on those two days. The Marxists’ opposition to the bandhs might spur the Congress and the Trinamool Congress to a comparative show of strength between them. One can only hope that the two parties will see sense and withdraw the bandh calls. There are other ways in which they can fight out their legitimate battle for political space without holding the people to ransom. In fact, the party that withdraws its bandh call is sure to score over the other in earning public goodwill. Recent reports by economic think-tanks like the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy have pointed out that West Bengal topped the states in lost mandays last year. Ironically, the left-sponsored strikes contributed as much to this dismal record as opposition-called bandhs. All attempts by the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, to woo investments will come to naught if West Bengal caps its bandh record with two in seven days.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / DOCTORS AT SEA 
 
 
 
 
A judgment may be a trailblazer even if it is not the first of its kind. In Calcutta, the conviction of two doctors for a patient’s death because of negligence is important in more ways than one. For four years after the death of his wife, Mr Kunal Saha, a doctor based in the United States of America, fought a seemingly impossible battle to establish that the patient had died of “negligent and inappropriate” treatment. The story of that battle is as important as its outcome. The complainant came up against formidable resistance, as if the system had closed ranks to protect its own. Mr Saha had not only filed a criminal case, but also a claims suit in the consumer court and a complaint in the West Bengal Medical Council. The resolutions to all these were delayed, sometimes deflected, until a personal grievance became a cause. For many aggrieved patients and bereaved families, this particular lawsuit acquired almost symbolic dimensions. That a pressure group called People for Better Treatment was born out of it is proof of that. Besides, the courts advised the reform of the rules of medical councils. The state councils have been directed to include non-medical persons so that procedures in the case of complaints are carried out without bias. Also, a time-frame for decisions had to be instituted, so that councils did not sit on complaints endlessly in the hope that they would go away. It is part of the extraordinary impact the case has made that the Medical Council of India has now evolved stringent rules for accountability for doctors.

The story is not a pretty one. Professionals of one fraternity tend to stick together, but in India this tendency among doctors has put accountability at high risk. The social importance of doctors has added to this nonchalance. An unfortunate example of their attitude was revealed earlier when it was proposed that they be subsumed under the consumer protection law. It is unfair to judge a whole profession by the actions of a few members. But it is especially important that doctors submit to rules of accountability because they deal in life and death and, in India, the life and death of many poor and ignorant people. One part of the story that is not at all pretty is the fact that Mr Saha was able to spend enormously in his battle. The search for justice, especially against socially more powerful opponents, is inconceivable for a lot of people in India. So the judgment will act as a deterrent as well as raise awareness. It is also true that doctors are exposed to harsher stresses and greater physical insecurity here than in the West. Some mistakes are unavoidable. Perhaps a malpractice insurance on the model of those in Western countries may be thought of, so that accountability is based on confidence. Since the latest case has raised these issues, it provides an opportunity to make some important reforms in the medical system.

   

 
 
WAR, PEACE, PRETENSIONS 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Hypocrisy is having a field day. Tears of sorrow are streaming down the cheek of Indian officialdom — Abdul Gani Lone has been so cruelly gunned down by the Inter-Services Intelligence agents; the voice of moderation in Kashmir is now stilled; this benevolent man, who was all the while trying to work out a reasonable compromise among the contending groups in the valley, is no longer there; but one good thing, the revulsion against the murder will now swing the sympathy of the people away from the extremists. The emerging reality is however of an altogether different genre.

True, Lone was a moderate amongst the leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, he wanted a rapprochement between the different political positions held by constituents of the Conference and was keen that an agreed solution be arrived at on the Kashmir issue at the initiative of the Hurriyat leaders which would have the undisguised blessing of the governments of both India and Pakistan.

The government of India consistently poured cold water on his various suggestions. Lone’s son is married to the daughter of the Pakistan-based Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader. Lone had attempted to work out, in consultation with his in-law, a formula for self-determination for the valley’s people on which the Hurriyat and the two country’s governments could hopefully reach unanimity. To bring about such a denouement, a delegation of the Hurriyat Conference, he felt, should visit Islamabad for discussion with the Pakistan authorities. New Delhi stonewalled the proposal; no visa was accorded to the Hurriyat Conference leaders to enable them to go to Pakistan. Lone was not only a disappointed man; he was also increasingly isolated inside the Conference for his supposed namby-pamby stance with respect to the government of India’s intransigence. That did not save him from being placed behind bars every now and then by the Indian authorities.

Retrospective shedding of tears will be of no avail. Lone and those with a similar frame of mind had offered several overtures in the past to the New Delhi establishment, each of which was spurned. A dead Lone is unlikely to prove a convenient stick to beat either the ISI or the militants in Kashmir with. No backlash against the extremists has been discernible following Lone’s assassination. If anything, the Kashmir crowd are, in the aftermath of the assassination, even more vocal in their opposition to both the National Conference and New Delhi’s diktat. As the funeral procession with Lone’s body wound its way to the burial ground, slogans cheering Pakistan and cursing Farooq Abdullah rent the air.

The season is past and, along with it, the opportunity for a triangular dialogue between the Hurriyat Conference and the regimes in the two countries. What is worse, the Indian authorities are actually under intense pressure at this moment to agree to a tripartite dialogue under the aegis initially of the Soviet president, and in the subsequent round, the American president, George W. Bush. All our kowtowing to the Americans and signing defence deals involving fat sums will not, it seems, deter the arrival of doomsday. Our government is loyal to the United States of America, but Pakistan is even more loyal. According to American assessment, Pakistan will always be a more reliable acolyte compared to India. The reason is obvious. The US hegemony feels assured in the company of military dictatorships; it is a shade less sure of religious fundamentalists. Once bitten, twice shy; the taliban has been a sad experience for them.

To persist with our refusal to sit at the negotiating table under third-party auspices could present a major public relations problem. Both Russians and Americans might, mixing rudeness with politeness, point out that the third party’s intervention is necessitated because of the Indian prime minister’s refusal to meet the Pakistan president while the latter was more than willing.

As for the Russians, we might have to agreed to purchase lots and lots of their over-priced arms, they still know which side their bread is buttered. They hope to get, in the course of the next decade, maybe a couple of hundred billion dollars of economic accommodation from the US, an amount we could never aspire to meet through the bait of arms purchases.

The old adage therefore continues to reign supreme: it is easy to ride a tiger, enormously more difficult to dismount from it. Both national ego and competitive democracy have rendered Kashmir into an intractable issue for us. For understandable reasons, the prime minister-hopefully-in-waiting, Sonia Gandhi, will be no less a hawk over Kashmir. Supernumerary characters like Mulayam Singh Yadav and J. Jayalalithaa cannot fail to join. The leftists may sing a somewhat different tune, but they will be allowed little elbow room.

In the interim, bluffs and counter-bluffs will pollute the atmosphere. It will be to the advantage of both India and Pakistan to have a warlike situation without an actual war. Despite fulminations on either side, there will be, rest assured, no genuine outbreak of full-scale hostilities. The US does not want a war; the master’s will will be done. The Indian sarcasm that the Ghauris, the Ghaznavis and the Abdalis are China-directed and China-erected will cut no ice, for the Pakistanis are likely to smirk back and say that, in another five years, or even less, the entire Indian budget will be underwritten by the US department of treasury. Besides, our authorities themselves long ago foreclosed the possibility of considering the People’s Republic of China as an additional bargaining counter.

The tragedy of the two nations will not be diminished either by cross-border name-calling or by cross-border shelling. The decision-makers in India will have to fall back on American sustenance, because their own people would have been meanwhile squeezed dry; funds intended for development will be ruthlessly channelled for purposes of defence, and the budgetary deficit will be subsidized by affluent foreigners. The Americans will not like us to go to war; they will not however mind selling us weapons, even if such sales have to be covered by funds advanced by the Americans themselves. The upshot will be a sizeable increase in the overall indebtedness of the Indian nation to the Americans, marking a further step forward in the march towards dependency.

Things will be no different in Pakistan. The elite there, consisting of army generals, big landlords and rich businessmen, will continue to enjoy high living, the poor will get further immiserized on account of the war effort. Even a phony war needs some fodder: people settled on both sides of the line of control should feel honoured; they will be consecrated as martyrs to the cause.

A residual thought. There is much talk these days about activizing the so-called “civil society”. Once the conscience of enlightened sections in both countries is, the argument runs, sufficiently roused, a miracle will set to work, the wrongs in both polities will be swiftly taken care of. The civil society in this country is at present much exercised over the bestialities perpetrated in Gujarat. It has admittedly not been able to help restore members of the minority community in the state to a position of total safety and security but at least the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its cohorts are under some restraint in the more recent weeks. Why must not this human rights group now turn its attention to stop the nonsense of aggravated state-sponsored war hysteria in both countries? For instance, as the prime minister and his many-splendoured defence minister move from one army zone to the next seeking balidan from the jawans and common people, anti-war groups too could try to penetrate into these zones and call the bluff of the prime minister in council.

The level of human awareness does indeed move up over time. The folly of war will be well understood by even the most simple-minded as long as hyperbole and rhetoric are eschewed. War not only means sacrifice of human lives, but it also erodes national resources to their limit, further impoverishes the vast majority of countrymen and paves the way for speedy domination of our land by scheming foreigners.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE 
 
 
BY PIYUS GANGULY
 
 
AZAD HIND: WRITINGS AND SPEECHES (1941-43) OF SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE
Edited By Sisir K. Bose and Sugata Bose,
Permanent Black, Rs 495

The same Subhas Chandra Bose who asked for help from fascist powers during the liberation of India, observed in 1936, “the new nationalism of Germany is not only narrow and selfish but arrogant”. At the same time, Bose was impressed with the iron discipline and organizational methods of the fascists.

Bose tried to explain this apparent duality through his writings and speeches which were broadcast on the Azad Hind Radio (Berlin). A nationalist with a single-minded devotion to the attainment of India’s freedom, Bose did not mind supping with the devil if it served his purpose. Bose tried to defend his stand by saying, “The internal politics of Germany or Italy or Japan do not concern us… The enemies of British imperialism are our friends and allies.” But this is too simplistic a reasoning. Bose’s overtures to the Germans for cooperation in the struggle for India’s freedom drew a blank for various reasons. First, he realized that any tie-up with Germany in a liberation war would be resented by the Soviet-friendly Indians. Second, he was misled by the Russo-German non-aggression pact and did not bargain for the German attack on Russia.

Bose’s speeches and writings are redolent with the conviction that the Axis powers would win the war — yet another political miscalculation. But his views on British domination and the subsequent exploitation of India were more accurate. He rightly predicted that the war will “culminate in the dismemberment of the British Empire” and condemned any move to help Britain’s war efforts since its victory would only help perpetuate India’s continued slavery.

This volume also carries Bose’s famous Kabul thesis (March 22, 1941). In 1920, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi took charge of the Indian National Congress. Bose outlines clearly and critically the conflict within the Congress. “The Gandhi movement is becoming static and hidebound”. Whatever revolutionary fervour the movement of Gandhi had was sapped mainly by the acceptance of ministerial office than by any other factor. The Left consolidation committee was formed in 1939, and spearheaded by the Congress socialist party and the Forward Bloc it posed a viable challenge to the right-wing Congress. But it finally disintegrated because of inter-party fallouts.

Of Bose’s views views on Gandhi of special significance are his comments on the fact that Indians had learnt how to battle an enemy without using arms. “The two-fold objective of the non-violent guerrilla warfare which the masses are now carrying on should be first, to paralyze the civil administration in India and second, to destroy war production in India.”

But by 1942, Bose had changed this opinion. In Azad Hind he wrote, “it is necessary for the Indian people to take up arms in their struggle and to cooperate with those powers that are fighting Britain today. But this task Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence, will not accomplish. Hence the need for a new leadership.” In the same article, Bose visualizes a strong Central government for India, without which public security cannot be safeguarded. The Centre will be backed by a well-organized disciplined all-India party which will be responsible for maintaining national unity. The state will guarantee complete religious and cultural freedom for individuals and there will be no state religion. The “Free Indian” will have to look after the welfare of the labourer, providing him with a living wage, sickness insurance and so on. Similarly, the peasant will have to be given relief from excessive taxation.

Bose’s speeches and writings also clarify the planning and detail that went into his actions — political, military and diplomatic. Yet, it is a pity that despite his thoughts and ideas being made available to both politicians and the common man, not a single vision of his has come to fruition.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / FUGITIVE GAMES 
 
 
BY ISABELLA THOMAS
 
 
THE IMPRESSIONIST
By Hari Kunzru,
Penguin, £ 7.50

One of the more rarely lamented implications of the global traffic in information is that it is becoming unlikely for an individual to appropriate an entirely new identity without aspects of their previous incarnation spilling into their present. The state, even in the most liberal of democracies, has had an increasingly invasive policy of building up information about its citizens — partly to protect them, and partly to protect itself. Families and individuals have likewise amassed records and photographs of themselves, the extent of which would have astonished the earlier generations. In the past, after all, it was only the very rich who were counted and painted and noted. In a time of apparent homogenization, in which identities are being ruthlessly blended, it is nonetheless harder than ever to get lost.

The Impressionist follows the life of a man who was born at a time when it was still possible to metamorphose seamlessly into another identity. Through misfortune, bad temper, opportunity and the vagaries of love and loss, the protagonist, Pran Nath, is able to reinvent himself five times in the course of the novel. The “impressionism” lies in his talent for taking on the personality of another. It is also implicit in the reticence and the muffled edges of the identities to which he lays claim.

The characters the boy comes to inhabit have a hollow, inessential pyschology to them. This gives the narrative a flattened, unsearching quality. But the author is clearly less interested in the travails of the mind of such an ambivalent character. He chooses to watch from the sidelines, and occupies himself with the details and the hurly-burly of those whose lives are touched by Pran Nath. There is a roaming, journeying theme — through time and continents — and one is led up numerous dark alleys without it being clear how or why one has been ushered into such an unlikely setting. But Hari Kunzru is as absorbed in the effects of the British empire’s rapacious instincts, its relentless conjuring of identities, as in the creation of countless new selves which Pran Nath manages with such ease. The imperial project — in its scale, breath-taking arrogance, ruthless prejudices, scientific reasoning and passion for lists — is at all times the object of the novel’s mocking undertone.

Pran Nath has been born to a wayward, tempestuous mother, Amrita, who dies in childbirth. His assumed father, Pandit Amar Nath, a punctilious and neurotic court pleader in Agra, discovers his son’s illegitimacy fifteen years later, when he himself is about to die of a virulent strain of Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic. In a vain last-ditch attempt to save himself from the disease, the father has plunged himself in a bath of onion rings which he half-scientifically imagines will sweat out the virus. While he is thus submerged, the boy’s nurse regales Amar Nath with the truth of his cuckoldry, thus breaking her own vow to the mother’s family to preserve the secret of Pran Nath’s conception. The nurse has finally lost her patience with the boy’s obstreperous behaviour.

On her journey to her arranged wedding in Agra, Amrita’s carriage gets caught in a flashflood, drowning her guardian and her porters and washing her into the arms of a pale-faced officer with the British colonial government in India. He happened to be roving the region examining the topography of the lower plains. He too is drowned. But in a cave during the flood, the impressionist is aggressively, inexpertly conceived.

The nurse’s revelation triggers the expulsion of the spoilt, unfeeling rich boy from his comfortable home. His plight elicits no sympathy from those he once knew. His reputation for cruelty, and his inability (at that time) to imagine the adversities of others have rendered him friendless. After traipsing the streets with beggars, he ends up in a brothel and is eventually sold as a hijra prostitute to the Nawab of Fatehpur. The Nawab offers him to a paedophilic British major named Augustus Privett-Clampe. In spite of his abuse of the boy, the major falls for his subject, and begins to teach him the rudiments of the English lexicon, which sets the boy up for his next two incarnations.

After the massacre at Amritsar by the British, unrest in the British quarters during a hunt provides Pran Nath with an opportunity to escape. Using his paleness and his ear for English diction drummed into him by the major, and motivated by his curiosity about his father whose faded photograph he carries with him, Pran Nath becomes an errand boy to an unhappy English missionary couple in Bombay.

After long reflection on what might motivate Britain’s imperial journey, the impressionist meets the luckless, newly orphaned Jonathan Bridgeman, who is on his way to university in England after a life on a tea plantation. Bridgeman is murdered, perhaps unsurprisingly, in a dark alley during anti-colonial violence in the city. Our mutable friend soon realizes his opportunity, and assumes the personage of Jonathan Bridgeman, heir to a fortune and a place at Oxford.

By the time Bridgeman falls in love with the daughter of an anthropologist — which takes him on a mission to Africa to conduct a census of the Fotse people — one is less surprised by the sheer audacity of the journey Kunzru is taking us on. He has hung his narrative on a broad recognizable curve of history with sharpened glimpses of known events: the Spanish flu, the massacre at Amritsar, World War I, the depression. This is as much a novel about hazards and coincidences and the strangest of connections. The bravura of Pran Nath’s journey echoes Virginia Woolf’s Orlando striding through time, continents and sexes, and that in itself is mesmerizing. But the ambitious breadth of the novel’s historical project diffuses the intensity of the narrative.

Only when the anthropologist’s daughter turns Bridgeman down because of his conventional life, in favour of a black jazz pianist named Sweets, does Bridgeman begin to brood on his over-zealous efforts to fit in with the British way of life. In Africa, he slowly begins to rebel against conducting the census, questioning its use. The emptiness of his Bridgeman self begins to unravel: outward forms are easy to impersonate, unfurling new selves like conjurer’s flags: “Easy except when that becoming is involuntary, when fingers lose their grip and the panic sets in that nothing will stop the slide. Then becoming is flight...” This is an extraordinary essay on the ease and difficulty of adopting an identity, and a flickering portrait of a fugitive.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / MONARCH OF ALL HE SURVEYED 
 
 
BY PURABI PANWAR
 
 
ALEXANDER: CHILD OF A DREAM
£ 9.99
ALEXANDER: THE SANDS OF AMMON
£ 5.99
ALEXANDER: THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
By Valerio Massimo Manfredi,
Pan, £ 5.99

Valerio Massimo Manfredi says that his aim in writing the “romance” of Alexander in a contemporary style has been “…to recount, in the most realistic and involving way possible, one of the greatest adventures of all time”, in the “Author’s note”. Manfredi, an Italian historian, journalist and archaeologist, manages to meet this aim in this biography of Alexander the Great in three volumes: Child of a Dream, The Sands of Ammon and The Ends of the Earth.

The first volume begins with a collection of maps of ancient Greece, and some other maps showing the routes taken by Alexander during his conquests. The author hints at the heroic status Alexander is to attain, from before he is born. As the four Magi witness an omen of failure, Olympias, Alexander’s mother, comes to an ancient sanctuary to seek a blessing for her unborn child. “The name of her child came on the wind that blew impatiently through the age-old branches, stirring the dead leaves... The name was: ALEXANDROS.”

Manfredi includes myths about Alexander that elevate him to the status of a demi-god. In fact, deconstructing the myths about Alexander and presenting him as a strong and ambitious human being would have been more in keeping with the 21st century.

The strong visual descriptions in the novel make the characters and incidents come alive. Manfredi describes Alexander’s eyes, “deep in the left one was a sort of black shadow that made it seem darker as the light changed”, in an attempt to herald the restlessness and ambition that were to be a part of his nature.

Every student of Indian history is familiar with the meeting between Alexander and Porus. Manfredi does not disappoint the reader with his description of the encounter, though one has to read through two volumes and more than half of the third before one reads about Alexander’s experiences in India, and realizes that there is much more to the Macedonian general’s exploits than this.

In an age when there is hardly any heroism except in fantasy tales like the Harry Potter series, this fictionalized biography provides interesting reading. The narrative is packed with characters and incidents and it is difficult for a reader not acquainted with the period or its history, to remember them after just one reading. A postcolonial reader would consider Alexander the first imperialist, establishing his rule on all countries he conquered.

Anyone interested in the art of warfare, strategies and tactics which give it a cerebral dimension, would find Alexander fascinating. Although Alexander had very capable advisors to help him, the final decision was his, often taken in a seemingly reckless manner but tempered with intuition which hardly ever let him down. An effective and intricate network of intelligence provided him with vital information. He also benefited from the unflinching loyalty of his soldiers. As for the women in his life, except for his mother, Olympias, and to an extent Barsine, the others are mere props. On the whole, all three volumes make for an excellent read.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / HEROIC COMMAND 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
WITH HONOUR AND GLORY: WARS FOUGHT BY INDIA 1947-1999
By Jagjit Singh,
Lancer, Rs 595

After Independence, India has fought five wars with China and Pakistan. In sheer economic and demographic terms, China has always been stronger than India and was instrumental in starting the 1962 war in which India was ultimately defeated. But, how come Pakistan, with economic and demographic assets that are much less than India’s, has always been able to start conflagrations and get away with it? And what has been the military nature of these confrontations? The author, Jagjit Singh, a retired major general, addresses these questions in the book.

The four wars which Pakistan fought with India were marked by the integration of civilians in the regular Pakistan army, a feature that was absent in the case of the Indian army. According to Singh, this was a deliberate strategy on the part of Islamabad to offset India’s superior conventional army. During the 1947-48 war, the Pakistan army along with 5,000 Northwest Frontier tribesmen invaded Kashmir. The Pathan tribals acted as guides and saboteurs for the army as well. This technique of using tribals and other civilians living in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir alongside the army was used by Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and 1999.

Despite being large in number, India’s armed forces have always been scattered along her borders. This has always resulted in India being at a military disadvantage to Pakistan. Singh also claims the Indian army never enjoyed a significant technological edge over its opponent. It is the courageous leadership of the officers that has enabled the Indian army to protect the country. In most battles between the Indian and the Pakistani armies, platoons and companies fought close-quarter battles for capturing mountain peaks and villages. Singh, with the help of statistics, argues that the Indian officer’s tradition of leading from the front enabled the Indian infantry to fight back intruders.

The lack of this sort of leadership among the American officers during the Seventies, resulted in the failure of the United States of America’s army against Vo Nguyen Giap’s forces in Vietnam. The Indian officer cadre, therefore, deserves credit for displaying heroic command. Yet, despite Singh’s assertion, Pakistani officers have also risked their lives by leading their soldiers in various wars. In fact, religious indoctrination of the Pakistani officer cadre which started under the Zia regime by exacerbating fanaticism, accelerated the trend of heroic leadership while they fought the kafirs of India.

Singh’s argument that the inadequate interface between the Indian political and military leadership prevented the Indian polity from extracting the optimum benefit from India’s military effort, merits serious attention. The Indian political leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru onwards never allowed the military leaders any say or access at the highest strategic level.

At the end of 1948, the Indian army had gained an upper hand in Kashmir. They demanded a further six months to throw out the Pakistan army from the whole of Kashmir. However, Nehru on the advice of other politicians ended the war on January 1, 1949. Therefore, a large chunk of Kashmir remains with Pakistan even today. Similarly, after taking Dacca in 1971, the Indian service chiefs wanted to either launch a decisive attack against west Pakistan or at least try and bargain on the Kashmir topic with Islamabad on the basis of 93,000 Pakistani military personnel captured in east Pakistan. But Indira Gandhi ignored both these suggestions.

Instead of aiming to inspire army men by narrating tales of heroism and courage under fire, Singh’s book attempt’s to show the pros and cons of India’s defence system. He also states that unlike other democratic countries, India is the only one in which military bureaucracy plays no role in national policy-making.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE / MORAL OF THE ECHO 
 
 
 
 
FIVE MORAL PIECES
By Umberto Eco,
Secker & Warburg, £ 5.80

Umberto Eco may not always be profound but he is never dull. He is, for those not in the know, a professor of semiotics in the University of Bologna, and is an acknowledged authority in his field. But he shot into international renown with the publication of his first novel, The Name of the Rose, a detective story set in a medieval monastery in which the telling of the story was woven into the medieval world of signs. Eco’s other two novels did not quite touch the heights of the first novel in terms of entertainment, erudition and control over the craft of writing.

Eco is also a well-known columnist for a number of Italian newspapers and these pieces, always serious and topical but written with an enviable lightness of touch, have been put together in a collection of essays. This volume is one of those. The five essays, held together by a common engagement, are important reflections on aspects of modern life.

The book opens with an essay written on the immediate eve of the Gulf War. This has a relevance in India today with pressure mounting on a war with Pakistan. Eco writes about how much the nature of war has changed after World War II: “you cannot make war because the existence of a society based on instant information, rapid transport, and continuous intercontinental migration, allied to the nature of the new technologies of war, has made war impossible and irrational. War is in contradiction with the very reasons for which it is waged..War today annuls all human initiative...War cannot be justified because — in terms of the rights of species — it is worse than a crime. It is a waste.”

In another essay, Eco looks at the press and how it is faring in the age of television. “The function of the fourth estate is certainly that of keeping a check on and criticizing the other three traditional estates (together with economic power and that represented by political parties and the labour unions.)”. But the press — and Eco’s argument is based largely on the Italian experience — has been deflected from this task by the advent of television. Mass media, he says, “are transformed from a window on the world into a mirror, and viewers and readers survey a political world lost in contemplation of itself, like the queen in Snow White.’’ Eco’s essay is an invitation to the press and its staple, the world of politics, to look more at the world and less in the mirror.

The most delightful essay in the book is an open personal letter that Eco wrote to an Italian cardinal. Eco poses here a very significant question: what does it mean to be moral or ethical when one does not believe in God? Eco argues there are certain fundamental points of agreement with what he calls a “natural ethic” and the principles of an ethic founded on faith in transcendence.

The essays are shot through with a certain kind of pragmatism and tolerance. They recognize that it is impossible to exist in a civilized way without these two virtues in a world that is multicultural. Eco is a strong upholder of the view that the contemporary world, despite apparent differences, has been made one through technology. A united world cannot ignore the values embedded in tolerance.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Voyeurs, critics and storytellers

THE MINISTER'S WIFE
By Amaresh Misra
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Amaresh Misra’s The minister’s wife is a well-written thriller whose protagonist, Ajit Vajpayee, is egged on to spy on a minister’s wife by a louchely unsavoury character. Ajit is compelled to accept, primarily because he is a hopeless voyeur. What follows is complicated, violent and twisted. There is a great deal of sex, of all possible kinds, surprisingly well-composed and genuinely disturbing, interlaced with Hindu fundamentalism and Bihari caste-politics. Misra’s book has a cold, hard edge and a disconcertingly neutral gaze fixed on the perverse: “The man was right. They had much in common. Both were condemned to a lifetime of voyeurism, to desperate, memory-driven shagging, and empty lives. The mission had to be undertaken.”

INDIAN LITERARY CRITICISM: THEORY AND INTERPRETATION
Edited By G.N. Devy
(Orient Longman, Rs 525)

Indian literary criticism: Theory and Interpretation edited by G.N. Devy is a useful anthology of writings by Indian critics, theorists and aesthetic philosophers from Bharatamuni and Al-Badaoni to A.K. Ramanujan and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Devy seeks to counteract the general amnesia which seems to have come upon contemporary Indian critics regarding India’s indigenous critical tradition from classical to post-colonial times. Devy’s short introduction could have provided a little more rudimentary and background information. There is a brief headnote to each entry, but no bibliography for those who want to move on from the extracts to more extensive reading. However, Ramanujan on Tamil poetics and Bimal Krishna Motilal on Bhartrihari are a treat. There are many printing errors.

COMPLICATIONS: NOTES FROM THE LIFE OF A YOUNG SURGEON
By Atul Gawande
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Atul Gawande’s Complications: Notes from the life of a young surgeon takes true medical adventure stories beyond Reader’s Digest-style hypochondria into fairly smart writing. The setting is very ER, but there is more than a streak of the grotesque in this book. It opens with a man shot in the right buttock. Goriness apart, this book is also about uncertainties and dilemmas, “what happens when the simplicities of science come up against the complexities of individual lives”.

THE KAMBA RAMAYANA
Edited By N.S. Jagannathan
(Penguin, Rs 395)

The Kamba Ramayana edited by N.S. Jagannathan is P.S. Sundaram’s excellent translation of Iramavataram, the 12th-century Tamil version of the epic by Kamban. This is a Chola “deconstruction” of Valmiki. Kamban was the son of a temple drummer with exceptional opportunities for self-education in Tamil and Sanskrit classics. “His is the grand manner of leisurely narration, lovingly lingering over particular episodes”. The introduction is written in the benign shadow of A.K. Ramanujan.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

All for a holiday

Sir — Political frivolity has reached unprecedented heights in West Bengal. This was once again attested by the Congress beating the Trinamool Congress to calling a Bangla bandh (“Bangla bandh on June 14”, May 29). But the Congress has long taken a backseat where disruption of public life is concerned. It is the Trinamool Congress which has won hands down in the game. What seems to have been totally forgotten by the political parties in their attempt to outdo each other is the recent Supreme Court verdict against forcible bandhs. The contempt for the apex court is condemnable. But there will be none to do that in West Bengal, where two Friday holidays will come as a bonus. Pranab Mukherjee and Banerjee have held up grievances of teachers and farmers to justify their attempts to train the political spotlight on them again after a long interlude. But do we need to make hapless teachers and farmers the scapegoats while enjoying our long weekends in June?

Yours faithfully,
Keya Roy, Siliguri

Restraint first

Sir — The editorial, “Out of control” (May 21), rightly points out that India is facing one of the “most serious security challenges” in recent times. The Kaluchak attack has provoked India to launch retaliatory action against Pakistan. It is still uncertain if this retaliation will be limited to diplomatic offensive or end in a full-fledged war. What should be kept in mind is that even a limited war can escalate into a full-blown conflict causing much loss to life and property. For Pakistan will never retrace its steps in Kashmir. It has shamelessly exploited the circumstances so far. Even the presence of American soldiers in Pakistan has not been able to restrain its proxy war across the borders.

Instead of exercising the military option, India should consider political and economic alternatives to contain Pakistan. By severing diplomatic ties with Pakistan, labelling it a terrorist state and by embargoing international companies that operate in Pakistan, India may get an edge in the campaign. India could also consider supporting dissident movements in Pakistan such as the Mohajir Quami Movement.

The abrogation of the 1960 Indus water treaty may not be able to inflict immediate damage on Pakistan as building of storages to stop the flow of water to Pakistan will take a long time. India could reduce the flow without completely stopping it. Before starting a war, India should refer to Pakistan the United Nations security council resolution 1373 which mandates countries to abjure support for terrorism. If Pakistan ignores it, India can go ahead with its military operation, giving the international community little reason to complain.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have reached such a nadir that the former seems ready for any eventuality, including a conventional war. As a result, the government has already deployed paramilitary forces along the border. The best way to force Pakistan to change its course should include military action in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. This should be accompanied by cutting off of economic resources which enables Pakistan to continue its war of attrition there. India should consider adopting strong economic, political and diplomatic actions which will adversely affect Pakistan.

The editorial, “Out of control”, draws attention to the fact that if military action indeed needs to be taken, India should first sensitize the world about its concerns and compulsions. India needs to conduct its war on a number of fronts which will require a multi-dimensional strategy. India should first get this strategy right before starting the war.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Sir — The anti-Pakistan rhetoric, whipped up daily by the media and political lobby, does not seem to have made much progress in addressing the problem of terrorism from across the border. In fact, it is doing much damage to India’s image abroad as a responsible and mature nation. Even if India were to initiate a limited warfare and make incursions within the PoK to destroy militant outfits, would it put an end to terrorism in Kashmir? Israel’s experience with Palestine shows otherwise.

It is inconceivable that terrorism in the region would be rooted out while economic, political and social dimensions of the Kashmir problem remain unattended. By ordering over 700,000 troops to frontline positions bordering Pakistan, and thereby adopting an aggressively military posture, India seems to have already exhausted one of its options without actually going to war. Shouldn’t such posturings have been made only after all diplomatic routes were explored? There seemed an undue haste in smothering the diplomatic channels, as evidenced in the recent packing off of the Pakistani high commissioner from India. The two countries have already blocked each other from using flying space over their territories.

India’s stated position is that it does not want any third party intervention in resolving the dispute. However, the political establishment in India has not missed a chance in registering its disappointment with the United States of America, which is seen to be not doing enough to rein in Pakistan in sponsoring terrorist attacks on the Indian soil.

Plunging into a war with Pakistan over this issue would surely help the cause of the terrorists. Is it not time our leaders took a break and reflected a little on a more sensible strategy for Kashmir?

Yours faithfully,
D. Roy, Manchester, UK

Identity crisis

Sir — It didn’t take too long to recognize the Ghosh in Mukul Kesavan’s article, “In search of antiquity” (May 12). It was surely the writer, Amitav Ghosh. But one wonders if the omission was part of Kesavan’s style or the writer was too anxious not to reveal Ghosh’s identity. For despite the innocuous charm that pervades this narrative of memory, travel, and youthful obsession, the angst of a generation comes through with a disturbing sharpness. This is all about a generation’s search for an identity. And maybe Kesavan thought Ghosh would mind being identified with it.

Yours faithfully,
Sharmila Sen, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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