Editorial 1 / Border country
Editorial 2 / Strike of liberty
Healing touch
Book Review / White woman’s burden
Book Review / Defined against
Book Review / Patrolling the virtual world
Book Review / Peace is a distant dream
Bookwise / Always judge a book by its cover
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / BORDER COUNTRY 
 
 
 
 
The new Indian willingness to consider joint patrolling of the line of control by India and Pakistan must be welcomed. This new approach, signalled during the press conference of the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at Almaty, reflects a refreshing new flexibility in India’s policy. Given Islamabad’s lukewarm response to the proposal, New Delhi could even consider revising its plan to include the possibility of inviting a multinational observer force to monitor the LoC. India could extend this invitation to observers from countries that it feels will act in good faith and who could work with an Indian team to detect violations on the LoC and monitor infiltration from across the border. Not only would such a move ensure that Pakistan would not easily be able to make false claims about an end to infiltration, but add sanctity to the present LoC. If indeed the only practical and just settlement of the Kashmir conflict is a permanent division along the LoC, the presence of a force like this could be a precursor to such a final solution. More critically, such a force would not be dependent on Pakistani cooperation and could be stationed on the Indian side of the LoC. In other words, New Delhi could fashion such a monitoring regime unilaterally.

Traditional Indian hostility to the idea of a foreign presence on the LoC has been guided by several considerations. India’s experience of the United Nations’s involvement in the Kashmir issue was far from happy. New Delhi became convinced that vested interests and power politics, rather than principles, were determining the UN’s approach towards Kashmir. India was particularly suspicious of Anglo-American interests in Kashmir and their bias in favour of Pakistan. India sought to emphasise bilateralism, believing that negotiating directly with Pakistan would be easier. The world has changed considerably since India first adopted that approach. The Western world, especially the United States of America, is no longer hostile to Indian interests. Few countries seriously believe that the Kashmir problem can be solved on the basis of an exchange of territories, and most accept that conversion of the LoC into an international border is probably the only way out. Most countries recognize that the real problem today in south Asia is of terrorism and extremism being produced in Pakistan and would be willing to cooperate with New Delhi in any practical effort to prevent cross-border terrorism. India needs to accept that the Kashmir issue has, willy-nilly, been internationalized. The real choice is to either shy away from this new reality behind an ossified and fossilized approach, or to carve out a new imaginative policy that will not compromise on the country’s real interests. Surely, India should have realized by now that dealing with Pakistan directly is probably more difficult than though a more imaginative multilateral approach.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / STRIKE OF LIBERTY 
 
 
 
 
The Calcutta high court decided to look the other way. It dismissed the public interest litigation brought by the Indian Sufi Samaj, asking for an injunction on today’s bandh called by the Trinamool Congress. The court’s shrug, if it can be respectfully so called, was in itself a judgment, in the form of an admonition to the state government and political parties. The high court felt it unnecessary to compromise its dignity by passing an injunction, because the state did not have the machinery to implement it. A state in which bandhs function as unofficial holidays, irrespective of the cause or the party behind them, cannot expect anything better. Here the majority party in government is often the chief instigator. Yet the issue of bandhs has begun to pop up in court quite often nowadays. The Kerala high court judgment that ruled bandhs unconstitutional and illegal and proposed that political parties that use coercion during bandhs be derecognized started a debate which took the issue to the Supreme Court. The crux of the matter is the right to freedom in a democracy. Just as people have the right to protest, people simultaneously have the right to dissent and go to work. The Supreme Court therefore ruled that a bandh could not be forced on anyone. In doing so, it merely reiterated what is enshrined in the right of freedom.

A general statement of rights cannot eradicate the conflict that lies at the heart of the matter. Bandhs are called by political parties for their own ends. They are a show of strength, and result either in peaceful submission or street fights. In any case, the non-political individual is unable to carry on with his daily activities. What is making bandhs such a thorny issue is the new awareness about lost man-days, especially in a bandh-prone state like West Bengal. But nothing that the courts can say will make a difference unless there is a decision to fix penalties for those who violate an individual’s right to freedom. Stoppage of normal life can be penalized only if the political party calling the bandh is made accountable. No excuse about supporters obstructing the public should be accepted. Political leaders will have to bear the burden of their supporters’ behaviour much as football teams have to bear the burden of their supporters’ conduct. This logic brought about the ban on an English club team from playing in Europe when its supporters went wild after a match. There was an opportunity before the apex court to draw on the football example and to make a case law which would lead to an amendment of the Representation of the People Act. Freedom is the cornerstone of democracy and those who threaten it should be made to pay for violating a fundamental right.

   

 
 
HEALING TOUCH 
 
 
BY N.R. MADHAVA MENON
 
 
The agitational approach of the medical profession to the conviction by a city court of two doctors for criminal negligence raises many fundamental issues of far-reaching importance not only for healthcare but also for the administration of justice. It is unfortunate that a section of the medical fraternity is thinking in terms of a strike or bandh against a court verdict while there are other options open to them to correct the judgment if they think it was wrongly rendered. Such a panic reaction is uncalled for, especially in view of the proceedings having been contested in different fora including the Supreme Court for four long years.

What is at stake is not just the status of the profession but the acceptability of the rule of law by a section of the privileged class of society. An equally disturbing development is the claim by some doctors reportedly made to the effect that the complainant was acting with bad intentions at the behest of foreign insurance companies seeking business in healthcare in India. The people get the wrong message about the profession from these reactions which is deleterious both to the profession as well as to society at large.

For quite sometime the medical profession has been at the receiving end for the actions of some black sheep whom they could not discipline with the powers available under the Medical Council Act. In a recent case against the Medical Council of India, the Delhi high court pointed out serious malfunctioning of the council including corruption and prolonged non-disposal of disciplinary cases referred by aggrieved parties against erring doctors and hospitals.

The health ministry of the Union government was compelled to get the norms of professional ethics revised and disciplinary procedures tightened to arrest the deterioration in standards of delivery of health services. Sometime ago when the scope of the Consumer Protection Act was extended to medical personnel, the profession reacted violently, went up to the Supreme Court and threatened that cost of healthcare would go up if they were not exempted from consumer court proceedings.

All these were happening in the background of increasing confrontation between doctors and patients (or their relatives) in different hospitals, government and private, at various places in India. In a major government hospital in Kerala, a lady doctor was assaulted recently by a large crowd for refusing to treat a pregnant woman without payment of a bribe in advance. In Calcutta, another leading hospital reportedly refused treatment without advance payment in emergency cases despite the Supreme Court judgment declaring it a legal duty of every doctor or hospital.

Reports of abuse of the amniocentesis test, stealing of kidneys from unsuspecting patients, imposing unnecessary tests and treatment and using patients to test drugs without informed consent have all contributed to the alienation of people from the modern health delivery system despite its remarkable contributions to healing and the saving of lives. The question, therefore, is one of the larger public interest of developing the profession for the people and arresting tendencies of mistrust and alienation. The irresponsible conduct of a few unprofessional medical personnel should not be allowed to vitiate the doctor-patient relationship and to undermine the capacity of the healthcare system to service a predominantly poor and illiterate Indian humanity for whom the doctor is still god incarnate.

In all humility I would like to submit the following propositions for consideration of the professional bodies whose leadership is understandably agitated at the turn of events after the Kunal Saha case judgment.

One, the profession should keep away from direct action methods of strike, bandh and the like which tend to put the noble profession of healing up to public ridicule and cause alienation. The issue involves larger public interest and people would not allow the independence and professionalism of doctors to be undermined to their own disadvantage. The conflict is not between doctors and patients or courts but between doctors and the unprofessional conduct of few among them who want to escape accountability for negligent conduct.

Whether the doctors in the Kunal Saha case were negligent or not is a question of fact. Which only a competent court can finally decide. It is not prudent for the doctors’ body to publicly protest against a court verdict. It conveys contempt for judicial processes and rule of law. The appropriate procedure is to appeal against the decision to higher courts and prove the judgment wrong. Otherwise, doctors are likely to lose both in the courts and in public esteem.

Two, it is time for professional bodies and leadership to publicly acknowledge the decline in standards of healthcare, seriously initiate steps to arrest the decline and cooperate with the governmental and legal machinery to isolate and punish the guilty elements amongst them. Of course, the decline is everywhere and in all the professions; but that is no consolation for people who are suffering and who depend on professionals for treatment. People through Parliament have given certain privileges to doctors and empowered them to decide themselves who should practise medicine and under what conditions.

Even judicial powers have been delegated to medical councils to discipline erring members. The Consumer Protection Act is a response to inaction or inadequate action on the part of the medical councils to maintain standards through peer group justice. In extreme cases of reckless conduct the ordinary criminal law will always be available to deal with the persons concerned. And criminal law is equal towards all and does not distinguish professionals from others. To seek immunity from criminal proceedings on the ground of being a doctor or a lawyer is neither logical nor reasonable. All that one can argue is that if the professional setup is diligent and effective, criminal action would be unnecessary and avoidable. This is how it should be; the profession’s response should be in that spirit and direction.

Three, doctors should be aware of the changed climate of governance today under which basic human rights of individuals have to be honoured in all relationships, particularly those involving the individual and state agencies. Apart from the contractual and professional relationships between doctor and patient, there are a set of standards (law) evolved by the state to ensure protection of human rights in healthcare services. These are not negotiable. They can be enforced by civil, criminal and constitutional remedies against doctors, nurses, hospital authorities and the state.

When the Supreme Court ruled that no doctor or hospital can refuse emergency medical care under any circumstance, the court was enforcing the right to health of citizens. When it was ruled that no doctor or hospital should do sex determination tests excepting under conditions stipulated, the court was enforcing the right to equality or non-discrimination. Thus perceived legal interventions have become inevitable in health services delivery even if these are going to hike the costs of healthcare. The argument that it will interfere with trust and the doctor-patient relationship is no more acceptable as it amounts to saying that doctors’ conduct should not be subjected to human rights standards.

Finally, I would submit that the present opportunity should be used to cleanse the profession of the rotten apples and to develop a management system within the profession which is more transparent, participatory and accountable. Let the medical council exercise its power to enhance standards by mandatory courses of continuing education, strict peer group monitoring and supervision of professional bodies, better public relations through proactive programmes which are instructive and patient-specific. Let the consumer forum hearing complex medical cases be heard by a three member bench comprising of two medical experts (one chosen by each side) and a professional judge. Let the act be amended to that effect in order to inform the opinions with professional judgment. Let there be medical adalats (lok adalats) at frequent intervals organized at the instance of IMA to hear public grievances against healthcare services and to initiate appropriate action.

If these actions are dismissed as not deserving doctors’ time and attention, then one may expect more criminal cases against doctors or even violence and mob fury against them which no one can prevent.

The author is vice-chancellor, West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / WHITE WOMAN’S BURDEN 
 
 
BY CHIROSREE BASU
 
 
WOMAN AND EMPIRE: REPRESENTATIONS IN THE WRITINGS OF BRITISH INDIA (1858-1900)
By Indrani Sen,
Orient Longman, Rs 450

Investigating the centrality of gender in the construction of India’s national identity has emerged as a popular field of study, especially for those heavily into cultural history-writing. Indrani Sen also attempts it, although from a different end altogether. Her aim is to look at how the perception of woman — both white and native —fed into the larger agenda of Empire-building.

Sen begins in 1858, when the British Empire in India has only just formally begun, and the shock and the mistrust of the Mutiny is still fresh in the collective white memory. As a conscious government policy to shore up the “imperial identity”, British women arrive in India in larger numbers as wives of administrators, housekeepers of unmarried bureaucrat brothers, adult daughters re-uniting with parents after their education at “home”, or as missionaries.

This larger presence of the white woman in colonial homes, in the malls of hill stations, at social gatherings and inside andarmahals sets off its own bells that ring in contemporary chronicles, novels, even writings in newspapers and periodicals. Sen looks at how the memsahib and her Indian counterpart are reflected in these writings and tries to unearth the larger design into which they fit.

Female sexuality is one of the central axes around which the representations revolve. Since the memsahib herself was a colonial project, the control of her sexuality was also very much a part of it. For, it was only through the taming of her sexuality, its disciplining, that she could be made to serve the cause of the Empire. Through definitions and condemnations of the deviant, the sensual other — the erotic Indian woman, the white prostitute or the Eurasian woman, the disorderly barrack wives — a “female paradigm” was laid out for the white memsahib to follow, and eventually for the Indian woman, emerging from the veil un- der the kindly light of reformism.

To explicate this grand imperial design, Sen discusses the novels of Philip Meadows Taylor and Flora Annie Steel and the earlier writings of Rudyard Kipling besides delving into many of the minor works of the times. She singles out Taylor and Steel because the former was known for his sympathies for the Indian cause and the female reform movement, and the latter for her suffragist background. Yet both, Sen labours to show, in their own ways epitomized colonial expectations from the heroine-martyrs of the empire. Taylor, while championing the Indian cause, could not escape, what Sen calls, the colonial trope of India’s need to be “rescued” by the English, and Steel, despite her feminism, demanded the same control of female sexuality as her fellow imperialists.

As the preface points out, delineation of these contradictions becomes central to Sen’s postulate on the invention of the white woman in colonial India. To the reader, however, the pursuit of the grand design becomes a trifle tedious. This is particularly true in Taylor’s case. Take for example his famous mutiny novel, Seeta, where Taylor harps on the plight of the Hindu widow who has been denied the right to commit sati by English legislation at the hands of her own men. The comments of some of the characters in the novel on the Hindu widow are assumed by Sen to represent Taylor’s own views. Since Taylor marries his principal protagonist to a white colonial administrator, this is also seen as Taylor showing Seeta a way out of the hell. Isn’t Sen reading too much into the text? Taylor may have indicated that Hindu widows were not faring too well, but Seeta’s marriage to Cyril may have been occasioned by the demands of the story, and not necessarily by the “rescue factor”.

Despite such irritants, however, Sen weaves an interesting tale of the Empire’s engineering of the female image to suit its needs, an image re-affirmed by the needs and fears of British life in India.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / DEFINED AGAINST 
 
 
BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
 
 
CIVIL SOCIETY: HISTORY AND POSSIBILITIES
Edited By Sudipta Kaviraj and Sunil Khilnani,
Cambridge, Rs 895

What is civil society? The precise way in which a term enters English is a metaphor for its future history as a concept. Although the editors of this volume assume that its appearance in English usage was via the Latin translation, societas civilis, of Aristotle’s Greek term, koinonia politike (political community), its first appearance in 1598 was the result of an English translation of a French translation of Aristotle.

The great strength of this volume is that rather than delineating a paradigmatic conception of civil society, it demonstrates the ways in which the concept is perpetually being translated. Its meaning usually comes from what it is defined against. Interestingly, for Aristotle himself, the term was defined in opposition to ethnos, a people united by what we now call ethnicity. In its first appropriations in Christendom, civil society was defined in distinction to the City of God. As John Dunn’s characteristically lucid essay on Locke suggests, for Locke, civil society was synonymous with political society and defined, in opposition to the state of nature, to refer to a political state, contractually legitimized, united in an understanding of the terrestrial obligations of human beings, with standing laws and powers of enforcement. It was also an antonym of despotism, which for Locke was akin to being in the state of nature.

Civil society began to be defined in opposition to the state during the late 18th century and referred to a form of society constituted by reciprocal commercial exchange. Gareth Stedman Jones gives an account of Hegel’s canonical reformulation, to refer to a sphere, distinct from the family and the state, where individuals related to one another in terms of their distinctiveness and individuality. For Hegel such a sphere included the market, but it also referred to more. Significantly, it also contained groups that could stand in legally founded dissidence to the state.

Joseph Femia gives an account of two Marxist reformulations of the concept. In Marx’s own rendering, civil society referred to the sphere of economic exchange. For Antonio Gramsci it was part of the “superstructure” where the contest over hegemony and cultural reproduction took place. As Sunil Khilnani points out, this history has left its indelible and confusing mark on the way civil society is discussed in the West. In post-communist societies, it drew its emotive power from valorizing associational life outside the state; in conservative renderings, it refers to associational life that can help combat the atomization of modern society; in neo-liberal circles, it refers to the market; and in republican circles, it refers to a form of political action where we relate to one another as equals, deliberating upon matters of common concern.

To complicate the process of translation, seven essays in the volume deal with the possibilities and problems of civil society in the South. For Jack Goody it represents a site of episodic common resistance to the state in Africa; Sami Zubaida also stresses its oppositional character in the Middle East. While Thomas Metzger delineates the weakness of civil society in China, Anthony Pagden and Luis Leiva stress the concept’s republican connotation in Latin America, its aspiration for a politics free of the corruption of normal party politics and the violence of the state. Rob Jenkins shows the absurdity of trying to create civil society through foreign aid, while Sudipta Kaviraj stresses the need to bring out intelligible points of connection between the concept and indigenous traditions. Partha Chatterjee’s insightful essay deals with the inadequacies of the concept when it comes to dealing with forms of political action seen in India.

As I was reading Chatterjee’s essay, Haryana was experiencing a novel agitation. Groups of farmers were refusing to pay electricity bills, and when forced to do so, promptly ended up taking a few government servants hostage. Do we have a vocabulary to describe this sort of “political action”? Clearly, at one level, we can describe it in conventional terms as illegal action: not paying electricity bills, taking hostages, and so on. Yet the term, “illegality”, makes sense only if there is a settled consensus around what constitutes legality. The type of illegality exemplified in not paying bills, or taxes for that matter, is more or less ubiquitous and is a feature of our political society.

What force does the term “legality” have when “illegality” is the norm rather than the exception? What does the authority of the “state” mean in such a context? Is this sort of action political? It is, if we mean by politics simply any form of collective action aimed at securing resources. But this definition of “political” is too wide and will cover any form of political action. And if it is politics, it is a sort of action for which the distinction between legal rules that constrain action and those that do not is irrelevant. It is not a movement of civil society in any conventional sense either. It is not bourgeois civil society in that it is not operating on any principles which we might associate with the market: exchange or respect for existing property rights. It is not civil society action, if by civil society we mean a form of associational politics that operates outside the sphere of the state and is conducted through voluntary associations like clubs, parties and so on. Yet it is not straightforward criminality either. The protagonists think they are defending their rights. They appeal to community and moral authority to underwrite their claims. For Chatterjee, this is the sort of postcolonial politics that the term civil society fails to capture.

The implications of Chatterjee’s argument are deeper than he recognizes. It is not simply that the distinction between state and civil society needs to be supplemented with a term, “political society”, which can best describe the sort of actions we routinely witness in our politics. Rather it should remind us that the terms of our political vocabulary, “state” or “civil society”, are unstable in their referents, no clearer than the expectations we attach to them.

If this rich and imaginatively conceived volume reaches an overriding conclusion, it is this: civil society is simply a way of referring to an endlessly deferred aspiration, to search for a politics that is an invitation to transcend the anarchy of statelessness, the oppression of the state, the pettiness of interest, and the sordid realities of power. It will remain, as Khilnani puts it, “fugitive in its senses.”

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / PATROLLING THE VIRTUAL WORLD 
 
 
BY RAJENDRAN MANOHARAN
 
 
CYBER LAW — THE INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
By Pavan Duggal,
Saakshar, Rs 630

Those in power are obsessed with the need to control. But the internet — the revolutionary communications system that has set new standards in the way governments function and corporates do business — is notoriously difficult to regulate. This not only makes the internet a very powerful tool, but governments the world over have also come to acknowledge its role in giving power back to the people.

Nevertheless, most countries have devised laws to control the world of information technology. While the United States of America and Britain have a different set of laws for cyber crimes, in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, the same laws govern both the virtual and the real world.

Cyber Law — The Indian Perspective by Pavan Duggal, a leading legal expert on cyber laws in the country, is a comprehensive commentary on almost all aspects of cyber law in India — cyber-theft, cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, cyber-fraud, cyber-defamation and so on. The book begins with an introduction to cyber law, the need for a cyber law in India, goes on to trace the history of the first Indian cyber legislation — the Information Technology Act, 2000, and also goes on to give a critical analysis of the act.

In addition, there is a detailed commentary on each section of the act. Duggal goes into the complexities of policing the internet in the context of recent global treaties and conventions, as also the established principles of Indian jurisprudence. The book gives examples in order to simplify complicated legal concepts.

Cyber Law also contains a chapter on the controversial issue of “Digital Signatures”, and their legal validity in India. There is also a detailed chapter on “Electronic Governance”. A chapter, entitled “Penalties and Adjudication”, explains the legal penalties and remedies that are available in cases of electronic crime. Any entity or individual, whether corporate or government, which has been a victim of a cyber-crime, may seek statutory damages of upto Rs 1 crore.

Yet another chapter gives a detailed analysis of cyber-crimes and offences. Duggal takes care to mention all the developments, right upto the beginning of May 2002, and also includes the sea-changes that have taken place after September 11. He also gives details of recently signed international cyber crime treaties.

Hacking, which is a penal offence under section 66 of the IT Act, has been explained in detail with the help of cases registered under the act. Duggal also goes into the practical challenges that confront the judiciary and law-enforcement agencies while interpreting section 67 of the IT Act, which deals with online obscenity. All major reported cases in the country are also mentioned in detail.

Another interesting chapter in the book is “Gray Areas of the IT Act, 2000”, which deals with some of the deficiencies of the Indian cyber law, which the author says, is “otherwise...a good legislation”.

The chapter, “Evolving Cyber law Practices — A Guide for Corporates”, emphasizes the need to ensure compliance with the provisions of the IT Act. Not only that, Cyber Law also goes into the provisions relating to interception of electronic information and the safeguards that need to be adopted in order to prevent the misuse of this power.

At the end, it also refers to many famous cyber terror cases in our country like the Red Fort case, the Taj Mahal case, the Supreme Court email threat case and the like.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / PEACE IS A DISTANT DREAM 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
 
HEAVEN'S EDGE
By Romesh Gunesekera,
Bloomsbury, £ 16.99

There may be military states around the world where growing a garden is considered subversive, freeing birds, a crime and a belief in ecological balance, unheard of. Romesh Gunesekera’s unnamed island may thus not be mythical at all. It is not hard to conceive of a world where things natural are considered too “dangerous” to be permitted. But “eco-warriors” willing to kill to preserve a pristine personal world, willing to sacrifice life and innocence to ensure a survival, free of crime and spirit-crushing control, are not very plausible in a land where airplanes and passports exist.

Marc and Uva, the principal protagonists, are brought together on this once-mystical eastern island embittered by the ravages of a long war. Marc, the narrator, discovers a freedom of spirit on this journey in search of a sense of belonging that he had not found in privileged London. But cruelly, Marc and Uva are torn apart. Marc then sets out for Samandia, an “Eden” that he believes Uva will instinctively gravitate towards to find him.

With him are Kris and Jaz, fellow fugitives from the strong-arm tactics of the state. In their struggle for survival, they fight pitched battles, and encounter much sorrow and hardship. The journey is quite interesting though Marc’s two comrades remain a little under-developed as characters. Marc is believable as the desperate young man, moving towards love even as he flees death.

We are not told of the politics of the island nation, only that the strife had forced Marc’s grandfather to flee in his youth. For the young man from London, the war is real and the danger palpable — yet he is enchanted by the beauty and sensuousness of the land where he has found his love and a sense of purpose.

However, after the inevitable reunion of the lovers, who have struggled with death for each other, they accept, with a struggle, that they will live as perennial hunters. “The only way to stop a killer is by killing her, or him, first,” says Uva.

So why not try to leave this land of violence? But that is never an option. The love of the land, seeped in blood, takes precedence over the need for peace. Both, Marc and Uva, seem sufficiently tormented by the trail of death in their wake, but neither wants a clean break from the hunt. “Sometimes you have to act as if life in itself is of no value, unless it be your own.” But choosing this path must have been hard for Uva, who first appears to the reader freeing a captive emerald dove.

Gunesekera is more involved with weaving a magical tale of passion and freedom than with maintaining causality. Had he written Heaven’s Edge as a fable, far removed from the modern world, the choices of his characters would have had the much-needed validation.

The horrors of a military state are recreated convincingly without going into the historical causes. There is a suggestion of indoctrination by a propaganda machine, res- tricted underground pleasure zones, and curbs on movement, trade and even thought — the full horrors of it are left to the imagination.

It is the character of Marc’s grandfather, Eldon, which shines through. A fierce pacifist, Samandia had been his paradise. But chased away by the violence, he gave it up to search for peace. But for Marc, there is no going back. It is not just any life together that he and Uva seek. They will only settle for this life, “everlasting”.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE / ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 
All the deadly sins Can be bought in tins With instructions on the labels. — W.H. Auden

This is the age of packaging. Everything from consumer durables to locomotives is packaged. And slowly but steadily, the package has come to be more important than the contents. And why not? Packaging has become so important to the modern buyer because he has little time to examine the product closely. Publishers have come around to the view that the same rules apply to books. What does packaging mean and does it lead to higher sales — the only criterion of success?

In its totality, packaging means design and layout of the entire text, page by page, with or without the pictures that would make the book easy to handle and read. The cover is equally important because it is the cover that first attracts the potential buyer to the book.

Over the years, three types of packaging for books have come to predominate. One, those with attractive covers — rather like bright-coloured flowers which tempt insects. Two, those that establish their profundity with stern, dull covers. For example, the early Penguin paperbacks that used upright typography against dour backgrounds. Finally, those which indicate their contents with the help of illustrations on their jackets. In a sense, the packaging process is a kind of “fly-catching” exercise designed to entice the buyer.

But packaging isn’t entirely a con game. Proper packaging requires a thorough knowledge of various kinds of typefaces and sizes and their suitability for the book that is being published. Page-layout, especially if there are pictures on the page, is a specialized job for which the designer has to work in close coordination with the illustrator and author. With increasing computerization of the manufacturing process, the designer must have a thorough grasp of various software packages and their applications.

The cover of a book has assumed great importance, since most covers nowadays have an illustrated full-colour background and not just upright typography. Since good artists are difficult to come by, many publishers use colour slides from various sources. This could mean either commissioning a photographer to take pictures of the subject or acquiring slides from picture libraries for a fee. This could sometimes be as much as 10 per cent of the manufacturing cost — an unviable expense unless sales volumes are sufficiently large.

But in the final analysis, does packaging help push sales or does the old formula — right price, attractive discounts and easy availability — still decide whether a book sells? There is no easy answer. If the packaging is done with a careful eye to design and layout, it helps because no reader today wants to get bogged down by poorly set pages that make reading difficult. But if packaging means slapping some bimbos on the cover with nothing much inside, then the book disappears pretty fast from the shelves. Sadly, this is happening more and more, especially with Indian publishers. But then, you can’t bluff all the people, all the time. Content and presentation are what matter, finally.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Three annas for the mulligatawny

OOTACAMUND: A HISTORY
By Frederick Price
(Rupa, Rs 295)

Ootacamund: A history by Frederick Price is a charmingly archaic exposition of the history, institutions and attractions of this beautiful hill-town in the “Neilgherries”. First published in 1908, Price wrote this treatise at the request of His Excellency Lord Ampthill, governor of Madras in the first decade of the last century. A vivid portrait of an age, and of a community, emerges from Price’s accounts of the locations, buildings, public institutions and the eminent colonials to have lived or passed through Ooty. The appendices include the statement of charges at the Ooty club in 1851 (soups: hare, mock turtle, oxtail, macaroni, vermicelli, vegetable, mulligatawny, per plate with bread, 3 annas), and a list of houses in 1858. Mrs Havelock lived in Mowbray Cottage, Reverend Sewell in Burton Cottage and Captain Trewman in Glenrock.

THE BEAUTY BOOK
By Rekha Sheth
(Penguin, Rs 200)

The Beauty Book by Rekha Sheth is a “complete manual for skin and hair care”. It is premised on the following nugget of wisdom: “The need to look good in today’s fast-paced world goes beyond vanity. Looking good skyrockets self-esteem but also portrays an image of proper hygiene and fine health.” Apart from acne and aesthetic surgery, Sheth has sections on male skin care and blepharoplasty.

THE TWENTIETH WIFE
By Indu Sundaresan
(Penguin, Rs 295)

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan is a historical novel about Mehrunnisa, better known as Nur Jahan, Emperor Jehangir’s twentieth and last wife. There is more than a whiff of Victoria Holt in this account of an undoubtedly unusual woman, which is to continue in a forthcoming sequel. “Who was this woman hidden behind the veil, around whom legend swirled wraithlike?” asks Sundaresan in her afterword.

MRS DALLOWAY
By Virginia Woolf
(Rupa, Rs 70)

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is a beautiful, perhaps even great, novel about a day in the life of a 52-year-old Londoner, Clarissa Dalloway, as she wafts and muses through Oxford Street, Bond Street, Picadilly, Westminster and Bloom- sbury on a fine June morning, buying flowers for her party in the evening. Interlaced with the drift of her thoughts and gaze are the interior lives of a number of other Londoners, coming together in a web of human lives and accidents. Friends, husband, ex-lovers and neighbours are woven together in the sharp but humane vitality of Clarissa’s sensibilities, her great capacity for life, in all its light and darkness. “She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone: she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Behave yourself

Sir — Brazil has been revered and loved by soccer fans the world over not only because of their superb performance on the field but also because of their demonstration of fair play. Unfortunately, this image has been put to test by Rivaldo in Brazil’s recent play off against Turkey. Rivaldo’s faking of an injury in the world cup encounter was unprofessional and completely uncalled for (“Turk see red at referee ‘injustice’”, June 4). Such simulation goes against the spirit of the game. Rivaldo’s theatrics have seriously marred FIFA’s attempts to bring in some form of discipline and fair play in this tournament. The disciplinary committee’s promptness in probing the matter and the resultant fine of 10,000 Swiss francs are laudable (“Rivaldo let off with a fine”, June 6). FIFA has demonstrated that no matter how famous a footballer, Rivaldo is not above the law. Rivaldo should realize that he has had a close shave from being banned for life.

Yours faithfully,
Mukul Gupta, Calcutta

The unviable option

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar in “Futile gestures” (May 21), leaves us puzzled by his suggestion that the only choice before India is further “talks” with Pakistan. In a sweep of linguistic flourish, Aiyar rubbishes the recent packing off of the Pakistan high commissioner and other steps taken by India as “futile”. He also describes military action as “an act of instant self-gratification”. Yet Aiyar as a former member of the Indian foreign service ought to know that diplomacy can only succeed if the parties genuinely abide by its principles. But past experiences show that Pakistan has scant regard for diplomacy as a solution to Kashmir. Otherwise, how do you explain its incursions into Kargil while Atal Bihari Vajpayee was flagging off the Lahore bus?

The need of the hour is to make Pakistan pay in concrete terms for sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir. Military action may prove to be costly but military inaction would be costlier still. It is easy to invoke the statesmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru if one conveniently forgets the Chinese aggression of 1962 or talk about Gandhian non-violence from the comforts of our sitting rooms. The stark reality is that Pakistan has respect for neither statesmanship nor non-violence. It seems to understand the language of the gun better, and who knows, it might prove a more effective tool to address the problem.

Yours faithfully,
Rudrashish Datta, Howrah

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar deserves praise for strongly deriding the government’s proposition of a war with Pakistan. In reality, the Centre cannot be oblivious of the fact that a full-fledged war with Pakistan will ruin India economically, and if the conflict turns nuclear, both the countries will cease to exist. It is thus a government ploy to go on mongering war to distract popular attention from more pressing problems or its own failures. The war is a trump card which the government is determined to play to divert the spotlight on Gujarat. It is a shame that a country which allots a mere Rs 7,000 crore to the agricultural sector should give a whopping Rs 70,000 crore to defence.

If the Centre wishes to end the imbroglio with Pakistan, it should initiate a sincere dialogue with its neighbour, even allowing for third party mediation if the situation so demands. India can also take a cue from Canada or Indonesia which held referendums in Quebec and East Timor respectively to end the crises in their countries.

If the people of Kashmir want autonomy, it should be granted. This may help preserve the country’s resources which can then be utilized meaningfully. The National Democratic Alliance is fooling itself if it believes that the war propaganda and the consequent hysteria will make people rally around it. Maybe the people of this country should follow the example of the Americans who went against their government in the Vietnam war.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Long way to go

Sir — The editorial, “The road back” (May 28), is timely and a proper assessment of the Congress position in the present political scenario. The truth is that although it rules in 14 states, the Congress has failed to work out a strategy that will help it perform better in the non-Congress states. Its dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy continues to remain the party’s principal drawback. Even now, the inexperienced Priyanka Gandhi is looked upon as a saviour by most Congresswallahs. This does not augur well for the party.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — A dispassionate analysis of Sonia Gandhi’s political career will show that she still lacks the expertise needed to steer the Congress to the Centre. She is extremely uncomfortable while confronting her political foes during parliamentary debates. In fact, her oratorial skills leave much to be desired. In selecting a leader, the Congress should act sensibly. A member of the Congress who has been working at the grassroots level and has the requisite political maturity should be nurtured and groomed for the coveted seat.

Yours faithfully,
Subroto Deb Roy, Calcutta

A dog’s life

Sir — I was astonished to see the picture of the five golden Labrador-Retriever cross pups who have been named after Queen Elizabeth and her progeny on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the queen’s reign (“The royal retrievers”, May 29). In the East, it is deemed a great insult to name a dog after a person. Indeed, what a contrast our tradition posits when compared to the West.

Yours faithfully,
Akhter Kamal Siddiqui, Calcutta

Sir — The caption for the five golden Labrador Retriever pups on May 29 reads that they have been named after the queen and “her siblings”. But “Charles, Andrew, Anne and Edward” are the names of her children.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Moitra, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company