Editorial 1 / Fallen leader
Editorial 2 / Far from the front
Games ministers play
Book Review / Spices for the food of love
Book Review / Growing pains
Book Review / I translate, therefore I am
Book Review / Few sacrifices too many
Editor’s Choice / A Hungarian rhapsody
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

The recent arrest of a prominent leader of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has evoked a mixed response in Kashmir. The APHC, an alliance of various Kashmiri separatist parties, predictably called for a general strike. But for most of the Kashmiri people, the arrest of Mr Geelani seems to confirm that a section of the separatist leadership has become corrupt and self-serving. Mr Geelani, a former chairman of the APHC and a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, has been one of the hardliners within the separatist movement. Not only has he continued to advocate the use of violence and terror, but he has also consistently sought to give a religious colour to the political problems of the Kashmiri people. Moreover, he has been a strident votary of the state’s accession of Pakistan. Within the APHC, Mr Geelani has attempted to isolate moderate voices, including those of Mr Omar Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone, who was recently assassinated. The fact that Mr Geelani’s extremist politics is based on opportunism and expediency has been well known in Kashmir for some years. Revelations about Mr Geelani’s lifestyle and personal wealth will further erode his image in the state.

Not only has Mr Geelani, it seems, been a conduit for Pakistani funds to sponsor terror, but he has also benefited immensely from the troubles in Kashmir. Worse still, Mr Geelani has no scruples about extracting dividends from the establishment that he so harshly condemns. As is well known Mr Geelani had, in the past, contested elections to the state legislative assembly. What has not been publicly known is that the extremist leader continues to draw his pension and that various members of his family benefit considerably from the largesse of the Indian state. In sum, the security agencies have done well to expose the double standards and hypocrisy of Mr Geelani. The challenge now is to ensure that moderate voices within the Hurriyat and outside have the confidence to participate in the forthcoming assembly polls. Quite clearly, a significant decrease in violence is essential to organize free and fair polls. However, if the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, and Pakistan’s military regime translate their private assurance into a changed ground reality, then Kashmir may finally witness an atmosphere free of violence. It will then be critical for New Delhi to initiate an imaginative political process in the state. A dialogue with a section of the separatist leadership and a well-thought out package of political autonomy could help create the conditions in which a large section of the Kashmiri people will enthusiastically participate in the elections. The presence of independent observers will help to convince the candidates that no malpractice will be tolerated. Indeed, ensuring an inclusive and credible election will be the easiest way to eliminate the extremist politics of Mr Geelani and others of his persuasion from Jammu and Kashmir.


The People’s Front was never really alive, but it did exist. And now it is dead. It did have a chance of making its voice heard, by unitedly supporting the candidature of Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for presidentship when the Bharatiya Janata Party proposed it. This would have had a number of advantages, none of which had to do with consensus. Mr Kalam had been Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav’s candidate from the beginning. Apart from the fact that the left should not have expected the convenor of the People’s Front to go along with the idea of a second term for Mr K.R. Narayanan, who is definitely not on Mr Yadav’s list of favourite persons, Mr Kalam’s name would have helped reassert the front’s secular credentials. Since the Congress had agreed to work with the People’s Front on this issue, it too could have reaped the same benefit. More important, Mr Yadav had proposed Mr Kalam’s name at a time the BJP was insisting on Mr P.C. Alexander as its first preference in presidential possibles. It would have been easy to claim that the BJP had been forced to come around to the front’s point of view, especially since Mr Alexander’s name had been withdrawn with such alacrity. But the greatest advantage, of course, would have been that the People’s Front would not have been in a shambles.

The silliness of the left in this matter is inestimable. Apparently all its “principle” amounts to is opposing whatever the BJP proposes. Its political silliness has been matched by the Congress’s, which has decided to support Mr Kalam after the usual dithering. Its decision means nothing now. The BJP’s adroit handling of a potentially embarrassing situation must be seen in the context of the fumbling of the members and friends of the People’s Front. The “third front” has never been effective since the fall of the United Front government, mainly because of the conflicting political interests of the member parties, which were occasionally disguised as ideology. But a “third front” distinct from the two main parties, the BJP and the Congress, can only be effective if there is a certain level of coordination and some give and take. In a small universe of regional parties, local power bases and acrimonious seat-sharing agreements during election time, a front such as this cannot work without focussed thinking. The death of the People’s Front is not a political event of major proportions. It was never a viable proposition because there were too many conflicts embedded in it. Its passing underlines its irrelevance.


It is hardly a private spat between two cabinet ministers of the Union government. The minister for communications and the minister for disinvestment may have their subjective reasons to fly at each other’s throats. But the issues involved are far-reaching and raise basic questions on the intent behind the headlong rush towards dismantling public assets that were assiduously built in two score years since independence.

A major objection to the presence of the public sector in industry and trade is the stimulus it allegedly provides to crony capitalism. Politicians control the public sector units which produce essential inputs and intermediate goods. These are sold to private parties who happen to be favourites of politicians at subsidized rates. Such transactions include the sale of power, water, ores, fertilizers, pesticide, and so on. The practice, it is argued, allows scope for the proliferation of a select group of capitalists who cannot claim any special entrepreneurial talent, but whose only credentials are their repute as ministerial cronies.

This must end forthwith, thunder the critics; the tradition thus set up not only lacks transparency; but it also makes the system scandalously discriminatory; merit is relegated to an obscure corner and pets of politicians have the decks heavily stacked in their favour. What emerges is a travesty of free competition; darkness at noon even within the precincts of the private sector.

Disinvestment supposedly, once and for all, terminates this ignoble phase of crony capitalism, and activates the animal spirit lying dormant in kindred souls. Let the government sell off all its industrial and commercial outfits, let these be taken over by private enterprises, none of which possesses any differential advantage over others such as are causally related to proximity to government. The upshot is the dawn of quintessential capitalism, leading to all-round economic efficiency and maximization of welfare for each and all.

A lovely theory. The recent privatization of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited and its take-over by the Tatas have however demonstrated how hollow the theory is. The Tatas purchased 25 per cent of VSNL’s equity through a bidding process. Since it was open bidding, and others too could join in, apart from the shares the VSNL unloaded via negotiations, additional share-holding amounting to 20 per cent of total equity was also netted by TTSL, thereby enabling it to acquire 45 per cent of equity and total management control.

Of course the old order changeth yielding place to new. The very first act of the newly constituted board of directors of VSNL was to recommend that a hefty sum of Rs 1,200 crore be withdrawn from its reserve funds to acquire roughly one quarter of TTSL’s equity. It was a marvellous coup. A one-sentence resolution led to the diminution of VSNL’s assets and a corresponding accretion of TTSL reserves. Should the operation be honoured with an appropriate sobriquet, it can be described as crony capitalism in the service of predatory capitalism. The minister for disinvestment has acted as best man for crony capitalism so that it could transit to predatory capitalism. Or is it the other way round, predatory capitalism gaining new frontiers in the guise of crony capitalism? Definitions will not and do not make any difference to the reality of things, which is as clear as clarity can be: VSNL’s loss is TTSL’s gain; the magic of inter-corporate investment ensuing in the irresistible advance of a preferred group of capitalists into a luscious segment of the economy without any toil or trouble or financial outlay.

The apologists for the ministry of disinvestment and TTSL — and these include distinguished pseudo-academic journals as well — have ready explanations for the sleight of hand performed. The new management, it is being suggested, did the right thing by buying in TTSL; the link-up will do VSNL a whole lot of good; TTSL owns licences for basic services for six telecommunications circles and will hence be able to pave the way for VSNL’s critical access to direct customers; such access will enable it to have a finger in the pie of huge revenues earned from international long distance services. Compared to the potential swelling of VSNL profits, the investment of Rs 1,200 crore is therefore small beer. But was not an alternative route to El Dorado available to VSNL? It could have created similar access to direct consumers through the intermediary of, for instance, public sector entities like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited with zero additional outlay. Was the strategic sale then not disinvestment just for the sake of disinvestment, not just for weakening the assets position of the public sector network, but also for enriching, through an instant painless process, the assets of a favoured private party?

Given the murky nature of goings-on both in the corporate world, and the political sphere, it could even be that the ministry of communications too had its own favourite of a private party and it hates to be tripped up by the ministry of disinvestment. Speculations concerning the matter can indeed be endless.

It is conceivable that the minister for disinvestment wanted to kill several birds with one stone: he wanted VSNL to be transferred to the private sector, he wanted to sabotage the expansion of integrated telecommunications services in the public sector; and finally, he wanted a preferred private party to expand its assets at zero cost to itself but at enormous cost to the public. And the minister for communications could perhaps be sore not only on account of the shrinkage of his departmental ambit, but,who knows, also on account of his failure to advance the cause of the private crony he himself favours.

The minister for disinvestment’s horizon of expectations need not be unduly constricted either. From crony capitalism to predatory capitalism is only one short step. The next step is the transition of predatory capitalism to monopoly capitalism. Perhaps the minister has a certain perspective plan already worked out. Now that the Reliance group has taken over the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited, and more similar lateral integrations are possible in the course of the next few years, the Ambanis could come to have total monopoly over the petrochemical sector in the country.

The minister might have a similar development in mind for the telecommunications sector, with the Tatas acting as flagship of telecommunications monopoly. In due season the entire spectrum of industry, commerce and other services could be neatly parcelled up among several monopolies. India would then be rendered into a world of monopolies in the truest sense.

A residual question would still be relevant. From the holy beginnings in 1991, we have witnessed a substantial order of disinvestment. The hypothesis that the demolition of the public sector induces foreign investment to come in has however been belied, thereby also frustrating the hope of fast output growth. Orthodox economics offers few glimmers of growth optimism with respect to the proliferations of monopolies too. Monopoly output, according to theory, is invariably less than output under competition.

The prospect therefore is transparently clear. In the name of competition we will have disinvestment and private monopolies, resulting in thinning national capital stock accompanied by a diminishing rate of output. All this is supposed to be high-grade economics.

Which is why economics is known as the dismal science.


By Sheila Dhar,
Permanent Black, Rs 195

Those who are familiar with Sheila Dhar’s writings will readily admit that she is a raconteur par excellence. The Cooking of Music reveals Dhar at her best as she weaves the most elegant of narratives to talk about music, musicians and music lovers. The slimness of the work does not detract from the depth of her passion as she sets out lucidly some of the basic principles of North Indian classical music and suggests an empathetic approach to its appreciation. She likens the aesthetic experience of music — from its conceptualization to its execution and to its enjoyment — to food. The analogy fits quite perfectly, involving the close and intimate interaction between imagination, application and a handed-down repertoire of tastes and traditions. Perhaps it is not entirely fortuitous that the great masters of music in North India were great cooks and epicureans — there are delightful anecdotes to illustrate the point.

The book has two underlying themes. The first is a careful analysis of the nature of Hindustani music, its philosophical and inspirational foundations, its evolution and its myriad forms. The second is a series of snapshots of modern India’s musicians in the changing social context of music. What stands out in this analysis is the complete absence of jargon and a clear delineation of the fundamental traits of the system, namely the centrality of the raga or melodic movement and its transmission to the listener — the live chemistry of participation, a vital factor in Indian music. The author then proceeds to talk of the gharanas embodying distinct styles associated with families that in turn were dominated by the temperamental leanings of their pioneers. The leading gharanas, namely Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, Jaipur-Atrauli and Patiala and their leading advocates are discussed with insight to make the point that each of these schools had a unique musical personality and had the potential to attract to itself musicians and aspiring musicians with shared interests.

In the snap shots Sheila Dhar presents, the most evocative is that of Begum Akhtar, arguably one of modern India’s greatest ghazal singers. Combining an exceptional musicality with an understanding of poetry, her music seemed to dance to the poet’s song. At the same time, her life captured the poignancy of the period of transition in Hindustani classical music in the early 20th century, when traditional practitioners were displaced by modern publicists, who sought to relocate classical music within an altered setting. Among the earliest to record for gramophone companies, Begum Akhtar evolved from an eager performer announcing her name urgently at the end of a ghazal in a 78 rpm disc, to a creative musician, a cult figure and above all, a woman who wrested her identity even as she straddled two different worlds.

Equally compelling stories follow — of both musicians and the new breed of listeners, some of whom were expatriate Indians for whom the art form was something of a security blanket in an alien environment. The story of Shahid Akhtar Khan, who worked as a loader with Pakistan International Airways at the John F. Kennedy airport and was the proud owner of a magnificent harmonium, is as hilarious as it is moving. It underscores most gently the emotional attachment middle-class Indians felt to music as a sort of ancestral heritage and as an insurance against loneliness. Thus for Shahid, the harmonium was not just an instrument, “it was a credit card, an entrance ticket to a warmer and more friendly world, a priceless possession which lent him value and eminence”.

Dhar is, however, not impervious to the new face of listening or its perils. She comes up with a tongue-in-cheek account of the modern audience of yuppies, devouring “guzzles” — an account that leaves the reader chuckling, but sad too.


By Rohinton Mistry,
Faber, £ 5.50

Space, and the lack of it, are the great obsessions in the crowded city of Mumbai. The need for space, in our lives as well as in our hearts, is the theme of Rohinton Mistry’s latest novel, Family Matters.

The aged Nariman Vakeel, retired professor of English, lives in a large house in the unfortunately-named Chateau Felicity with his stepchildren (the impatient Coomy and the gentle Jal) and his unhappy memories. Nariman, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, nevertheless goes for a walk every day, in search of space and fresh air. When he falls and breaks his ankle, on one of these walks, Coomy and Jal decide that caring for their bedridden stepfather is really too difficult — and so they take him, stubble, dentures, bedpan and all, to the cramped two-room house of his daughter, Roxana. But while Roxana’s house may be small, her heart is warm and welcoming. She, her husband Yezad, and their children, Jehangir and Murad, care for Nariman with as much tender patience as they can muster amidst the difficulties of mounting expenses, dwindling savings and the lack of privacy and silence.

The Mumbai that Mistry writes about is not a paradise imagined in exile, but a mean, menacing and very real city. It is this city that we live in, where it becomes all too easy to lose touch, and to tear down the fragile web of human relationships which softens the dreary urban landscape. Yezad, who once found support in his daily conversations with Vilas, the letter-writer, at the Jai Hind bookshop, has no time for his friend once he loses his job. His employer, Vikram Kapur, whose family came to India after the Partition, loves the city passionately — “my beautiful Bombay’s baby pictures”, he tells Yezad as he shows him the pictures of Marine Lines in the Thirties. However, it is the same city that kills him in the end.

And yet, if there is a lesson in Mistry’s slowly unfolding, ultimately tragic, story of a family and the city they live in — it is that the family does matter. Not merely ties of blood but also those of banter, of the larger family which is the city itself, of its potential for warmth and compassion. It is not purity of race that ultimately matters, but purity of the heart. “I am a born and bred Bombayvala. That automatically inoculates me against acts of outrage”, says Yezad: but Mistry’s story shows that redemption is possible only when the men and women of the city, instead of allowing themselves to become desensitized, continue to feel pain and suffering — their own and that of others around them. When the peon, Husain, remembering the violent deaths of his wife and children in the riots, is in a black depression, Kapur talks to him as he would to a sad child, trying to distract him and cheer him up.

As Nariman lies there in Roxana’s front room, the violinist, Daisy, comes to play for him every evening. When Yezad, growing increasingly orthodox with age, argues with his son, Murad, for having a non-Parsi girlfriend, it is Jal who offers to let Murad stay in his part of the house. If the city hurts its children, it begins the healing too — and is therefore worthy of love. Mistry points out that we must love the world in which we live: “Buildings and roads and spaces were as fragile as human beings. You had to cherish them while you had them.”

Family Matters is about the pain of the very old and the very young; about growing pains, the helplessness of age, and the need to be loyal and ethical in all things. The characters are drawn with tenderness, even love: especially Roxana, whose goodness is the shining heart around which the story unwinds. Happiness is elusive, it tells us: catch it now, at this very moment, hold it in its evanescent loveliness, before it vanishes. One also reads, in this novel with its many misty-eyed moments, a sense of personal loss, perhaps that of exile. “Emigration is an enormous mistake…the loss of a home leaves a hole that never fills”, says Nariman Vakeel. Simple words — “a hole that never fills” — but it is just this austerity of prose that fills the pages with intense sadness.

Mistry’s first two novels, Such A Long Journey and A Fine Balance, have both won him Booker nominations. With Family Matters, in which his prose is lovelier than ever before, he might be third-time lucky. And he would deserve it.


Edited By Rukmini Bhaya Nair,
Sage, Rs 540

Translation, basically a linguistic act of conversion, has long outgrown its literal connotation to incorporate various other resonances. Postmodern thinking has quashed the traditional notion of translation as an unobtrusive transfer of idiolects and “phrase regimens” from the source to the target language. Translation has gradually become a device of connecting cultures, of discovering secret niches of power within a culture and more important, of defamiliarizing and contextualizing a text nourished within a specific culture at a given point of time. A translated text is thus, by no means, a mimetic reproduction of the original, but a re-appropriated and re-validated version of it which guarantees, as Walter Benjamin would have us believe, its Uberleben (afterlife).

In the multilingual and pluralistic perspective of India, translation forms that part of the postcolonial dynamics which has strong bearings on the politics of representation. This, in turn, informs the construction of a postcolonial subjectivity. When Jhumpa Lahiri says, “I translate, therefore I am”, “translation” becomes synonymous with the exploration of the author’s angst as a postcolonial subject as she negotiating several layers of reality.

A translator cannot escape a sense of aporia. The nature of his dilemma is both qualitative and quantitative. What to translate and what to leave out or unaltered? How and how much to translate? Why translate at all? What exactly is a translator’s role? A disseminator-cum-mediator of cultures, an arbiter of idiomatic quarrels between two languages, an author without authority, an inquisitive critic of the original text or simply a linguistic agent with a sophisticated information processing system?

Translation, Text and Theory approaches five fundamental questions raised by translation studies in India. These concern the how, when, where, what and why of the act of translation. These are discussed under the following rubrics: “Cultural Attitudes”, “Historical Perspectives”, “Pragmatic Considerations”, “Linguistic Descriptions”, “Philosophical Foundations”.

Among the contributors, Sujit Mukherjee insists on the translator’s need to devise his own methodology, while Samantak Das deals with the sociology of translation, defining translation as a means of resistance against Western orientalism and pointing out alternate phases of “domesticating” and “foreignizing” texts in the history of translation of Bengali literature. Lachman M. Khubchandani views translation as a cultural filter and Tejaswini Niranjana considers subsequent translations of the same text to disrupt the false notion of historical continuity.

Chapters two to five unravel various facets of translation studies, with emphasis on its interdisciplinary nature. Several theories that are doing the rounds in the academic circles are taken up for discussion. The editor, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, contributes the last essay of the volume, describing “the felicity conditions” for the speech act of translation in graphic detail.

The book assembles a host of postcolonial theories on translation which are constantly shaping and reshaping what Nair calls “the paradigm of India”. The image that emerges of the postcolonial translator is of someone struggling with an intractable text-material of foreign or native origin. This finally becomes symbolic, even symptomatic, of the translator’s attempt at resolving the paradoxes within his own identity.


By Indira Goswami,
Sterling, Rs 195

Indira Goswami’s account of her life is not for those on the lookout for something to lift their spirits. The Jnanpith award winning author’s “unfinished” autobiography has an extremely melancholic strain running through it, and is likely to have a saddening effect even on the cheerful and the content.

This is not to belittle the truly remarkable experience of a life lived with intensity and passion. One has to admit that her life has been extremely challenging — demanding strength and courage at every point. It could not have been easy for a sensitive, young person, already given to dark thoughts and vague fears, to deal with a conservative society that suspected pregnancy as the reason for her attempted suicide. This is not the end. There are rituals that demand disturbing animal sacrifices, the loss of the one person she loved most dearly and finally found happiness with and her subsequent loneliness.

Yet, the account of her death-obsessed childhood, her isolation after being widowed and her struggle to get back to her normal activities tends slightly towards the neurotic, and ends up giving an oppressive tinge to the narrative. But to not understand this depression would be the failure the author and her life. The fact that she carried a store of sleeping pills with her after being widowed, and the sense of tragedy it evokes, indeed makes the narrative oppressive, but it also draws attention to the sheer courage with which she took life on. Sadly, the tragedy streaks the story in such strong colours that the triumph of the spirit hardly gets a chance to shine through. And the tragedy is not offset by happiness made more precious by its elusiveness. And the narrator ultimately tends to wallow in self-pity. She fails to rescue her story from becoming one-dimensional.

The first impression of the book is one that lacks the passion that is so much a part of Goswami’s fiction. The resigned, all-accepting tone would have been poignant if her customary fire had surfaced at times to throw the misfortune into relief. In its absence, however, the tone becomes slightly lacklustre and flat.

However, on closer scrutiny, the reader discovers a quiet intensity, a curious, relentless quality that lies below the placid exterior. The passage that describes her husband’s death is very emotional and moving. One disappointment for the reader is that though she does talk about the process of writing, which the reader feels must be what keeps her going, she does not go into the subject at any great length.

The dark streaks of pessimism and gloom notwithstanding, An Unfinished Autobiography offers an interesting insight into Goswami’s life. Her recollections of her stay in Vrindaban are particularly evocative. There is an honesty intrinsic to her lucid description of events, relationships and people. She comes across as a human being capable of deep empathy and serious self-questioning — both invaluable, and often undervalued, traits in a writer.

The book offers a welcome and intimate glimpse at the inner life of a writer whose fiction has always been full of vitality and passion.


By Sandor Márai,
Viking, £ 12.99

Sándor Márai’s poignant novel is about the intractability of human relationships. It explores the texture of friendship in an unusual way and context. The history of this novel is also unusual. Sándor Márai was born in 1900 in Kassa which was then in the Austro-Hungarian empire. In the Thirties, he was one of the leading literary figures of Hungary. He was a committed anti-fascist but in 1948 he fled from Hungary because of communist persecution. He first went to Italy and then came to the United States. He killed himself in 1989 and never knew that communism had collapsed. There are no known extant copies of this novel in Hungary even though it was first published in Budapest in 1942. This translation is from the German version.

The novel is set in an old castle surrounded by forests at the foot of the Carpathian mountains. In that castle lives an old aristocrat, a general in the Habsburg army, and his nanny. The general, despite employing a retinue of servants, lives the life of a recluse. He is waiting for something and it is not his own death. And he has been waiting for 41 years and 43 days.

He is waiting for his childhood friend to re-appear. His friend had disappeared suddenly without a farewell 41 years ago. But the general knew his friend would come back and truth would be established. So he waited.

His friend, Konrad, does come to have dinner. Márai sets the scene by going back in time to tell the story about the relationship of the two men since they first met, aged 12, in the military academy. The general’s father was one of the leading aristocrats of the Viennese court. Konrad’s family was of noble origin but had fallen upon impoverished times. But this distance did not stand in the way of the friendship. Neither did their different characters: Konrad, serious and withdrawn, and passionate about music; his friend, the aristocrat and rising socialite.

The friends begin talking at the dinner table and the conversation carries on till dawn. One hesitates to use the word conversation because for all practical purposes it is a monologue on the part of the general with occasional comments from Konrad. The general goes deep into their past; the relationship both of them had with the general’s wife; he reconstructs in detail the events of the day on which Konrad suddenly went away.

As the dawn light comes into the drawing room and the candles burn themselves out, the reader is left wondering if the two men were ever friends. Is it possible ever to know the motives that lie behind human emotions? What does trust mean and entail in human relationships. Is it always the flip side of betrayal? Can one love without trust and without betraying? Márai probes these profound issues and has no easy answers. The general and Konrad were, of course, friends. Can one event destroy the bonds that held them?

Over the chamber drama of human relations looms the shadow of a vanished empire and its lifestyle and its code of honour. There was a beauty in that world. It is the story of one man trying to live by the dying embers of that vanished world.

The pace is slow and the writing masterly. The novel leaves a sublime and ineffable afterglow. The reader knows that he has finished that rare book for which the epithet great is not an exaggeration.



Men, women and bullshitting

(Books Today, Rs 200)

Khushwant Singh On Women, Love and Lust is a collection of little pieces from the Seventies onwards on Indians and sex. Singh’s reputation as a dirty old man and the spiced lightness of his prose (“like bhel-puri on the sands of Chowpatty beach”) could often obscure the accuracy, and indeed the seriousness, of his interest in the erotic. These essays are founded on a simple observation: “No people in the world are more confused in their attitude towards sex than we Indians.” These pieces often explore this confusion in Indian attitudes to women, particularly the “cultural unease” with the woman as a sexual being. “Sex in Indian Life” — with the writer spying on the newly-wedded Saxenas consummating their marriage in a railway compartment — is a tour de force of social observation and comic-erotic writing. There is a masterpiece on travelling Indian males and foreign prostitutes: “compulsive whore-mongers...since seduction requires time and sophistication”. There is, of course, a great deal here of what Singh has elevated into an art-form — “bullshit”. But read alongside his fine essay on Amrita Shergil, or the beautiful piece on mourning his recently dead wife (to whom this book is dedicated), Singh’s views on women, lust and love come through as unsentimental, sympathetic, never sanctimonious and always entertaining: “everyone is deeply lonely within himself and is equally motivated to share that loneliness as well as to preserve it against trespass. We express our liking by denuding ourselves, by laying bare our hearts and inviting the person we like to trespass into our inner solitude. Then comes a stage when the desire to preserve that inner solitude becomes stronger than the desire to share it and we say to ourselves and to the person we think we love: ‘Thus far and no further.’”

By C.Y. Chintamani
(Rupa, Rs 195)

C.Y. Chintamani ‘s Indian Politics Since the Mutiny reprints the author’s 1935 lectures, delivered at Andhra University, on the development of public life and political ideas and institutions in India from 1858 to 1935. The relevance of this pompous and archaic piece of history-writing remains a mystery.

By Shelly Batra
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Shelly Batra’s 20 Minutes To Total Fitness provides much information and detailed instruction on various aspects of fitness. The material tends to look a trifle complicated, and calls for a fair amount of preoccupation with health and fitness on the part of the reader. There are tables, charts, questionnaires and the like. But the writing is ponderous: “Exercise is any rhythmical activity which elevates the heart rate above resting levels, and involves the use of a single large muscle group, or the coordinated use of several muscle groups.”



Make the most of it

Sir — The West’s fascination with all things Indian once again came to the fore with Paul McCartney’s marriage (“Indian touch at Sir Paul’s wedding”, June 12). At this much publicized wedding, the food du jour was Indian vegetarian cuisine. While McCartney’s penchant for Indian food could be traced back to his Indian trips, one wonders why the rest of Europe is as obsessed with India. Just take a look at Selfridges’ Bollywood blitzkrieg or the popularity of Devdas or Bend it like Beckhamto see the reach of this India craze. And now, Ayesha Dharker’s one-minute role in Attack of the Clones is being touted as the biggest ever Indian breakthrough in international cinema. What Indians need to realize is that this desi-love has nothing do with aesthetics or the quality of Indian film, art or cuisine. It has everything to do with Indian kitsch being the flavour of the month. If we bring ourselves to accept this, marketing gurus in India could pull out all the stops and exploit the craze for all it is worth.

Yours faithfully,
Rohan Bhatt, Calcutta

Too little too late

Sir — It is heartening to know that the hardline Hurriyat leader and president of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has been arrested from his Srinagar residence under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (“Hot pursuit begins at home”, June 10). The arrest of Geelani, who claims to be a “true Pakistani” but carries on living in India, should have taken place earlier. It is not surprising that incriminating documents connecting Geelani and his two sons-in-law, Altaaf Fantoosh and Iftikar Geelani, to the Inter-Services Intelligence and terrorist organizations like the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan have been recovered from their Srinagar and New Delhi residences. It is also risible that a man who calls himself a Pakistani and is spreading anti-Indian views in the country has been accepting and receiving an annual pension of Rs 7,100 for being a former member of the assembly. It is because of leaders like Geelani that the Kashmir issue has taken on a religious colour now.

It was surprising to watch Geelani move about freely after his arrest, talking to reporters without his handcuffs on, and saying that he did not know why he had been arrested. Petty criminals and pickpockets are handcuffed, or their hands and waists are tied with rope after being arrested by the police. Why should a terrorist and anti-national like Geelani be treated differently? Geelani was allegedly receiving money from an expatriate, Ayub Thakur, who is suspected to be serving as an agent for the Inter-Services Intelligence. Which means Geelani should be penalized for spying against his country.

Hopefully, this arrest will put pressure on other hardliners like Abdul Ghani Bhat, chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. If anti-nationals like Geelani are brought to book, the situation in Kashmir will definitely improve. There is only one fear. Given the propensity of our investigating authorities to foul up cases, Geelani too might find a legal loophole to slip out of. If Geelani is given bail on account of political pressure, ill-health or other reasons, it would send a wrong signal to the common man.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — Although the arrest of Syed Ali Shah Geelani is a move in the right direction, one cannot but marvel at the timing of the arrest. India and Pakistan may have moved away from the brink of another war, but the details of Geelani’s case show the kind of pro-Pakistan activities that are still taking place in India. They also highlight the fact that terrorist organizations which have been banned by the United States of America are still carrying on their operations from overseas. The facts would definitely hamper the return to normalcy in bilateral relations.

One must not miss the other significant aspect of the arrest of Geelani. It is important to note how the POTA can be manipulated to suit political interests. It seems that those in power in Srinagar wanted to divide the Hurriyat leadership and sabotage serious moves of initiating a dialogue by arresting Hurriyat leaders under POTA. Despite a statement to the contrary by the Jammu and Kashmir police chief, it is obvious that Geelani’s arrest is supported by political hawks in New Delhi.

By involving income tax sleuths in the raids on the residences of Geelani and his family, the authorities have tried to create an impression that the leader was arrested for having assets disproportionate to his income. Such charges of siphoning funds from Pakistan and other countries have been made for years. How come it is only now that action is being taken against Geelani and his family?

Yours faithfully,
Chiranjib Haldar, Calcutta

Sir — Instead of gloating over the arrest of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, our police, intelligence departments and income-tax officials should hang their heads in shame. The Geelani household expenses run into Rs 1,50,000, although the leader has a declared income of Rs 1,500 a month. But surprisingly he had not come under the scrutiny of the income tax department. And what does it say about our intelligence departments? Although they knew and had evidence that Geelani was accepting funds from a conduit of the ISI, it took them years to bring charges against Geelani and arrest him. One only hopes that Geelani’s arrest is not a flash in the pan and marks the beginning of a new era of efficiency among the police and intelligence in India.

Yours faithfully,
Ratul Bhagat, Vadodara

Cases in point

Sir — I wish to point out the following in connection with, “No seat in any college and a big hole in the pocket” (March 18), by Bappa Mazumder. The fourth paragraph mentions that “Debajyoti Ghosh and his father, Dipen Ghosh, were both arrested in 2000 and freed on bail”. This allegation is false as I was never arrested in any case. The fifth paragraph says Dipen Ghosh was arrested on August 5 for case number 201 of the Gariahat police station. My name never appeared in this case and therefore the question of my being arrested does not arise. The sixth paragraph says, “The father-son duo were arrested again by the detective department in connection with Lake police station case no.276 and no.277 of 2000”. Though my name appeared in these cases, I was never arrested by the detective department or the Lake police station nor chargesheeted in any of the two cases and subsequently I was cleared in the cases by the court. The tenth paragraph indicates that Dipen Ghosh was arrested in connection with Jadavpur police station, case no.327. My name had never appeared in this case. In the twelfth paragraph, the sentence “Chanakyapuri police station in Delhi landed up in Calcutta hot on the families’ trail” indicates that I was involved in this case. But this is not true.

The report has harmed my reputation and I wish to reiterate that I was never involved in any of the transactions mentioned in it.

Yours faithfully,
Dipen Ghosh, regional manager, Central Warehousing Corporation, 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

Maintained by Web Development Company