Editorial 1 / Tarnished silver
Editorial 2 / President’s men
History of a quarter century
Fifth Column / After the war, the betrayal
Book Review / The doctor noted her words
Book Review / Growth of the art historian’s discipline
Book Review / An insider’s view of a different age
Bookwise / Whose baby is it anyway?
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / TARNISHED SILVER 
 
 
 
 
For 25 years the left has been seen to be right in West Bengal. This perception has been articulated in the voting preferences of the majority of the people and has been embedded in the self-image of the left itself. The people have chosen the left because, obviously, they believe that the left best represents their interests and aspirations. The left itself has been haunted by very few doubts about the rightness of its policies and attitudes. This self-image has been fortified by the massive margins by which it wins in the hustings. On its silver jubilee, the Left Front can thus look back with some satisfaction on its long and seemingly unending tenure in office. It came to power in 1977 on the tide of popular expectations and popular disenchantment. The people of West Bengal were weary of Congress rule, of its failures to keep its promises and its ready descent to a kind of lumpenization. The left promised a different kind of West Bengal. The difference would be palpable, its advocates said, in all spheres of life in the state. Under the chief ministership of Mr Jyoti Basu, from 1977 to 2000, the left lived on the dividends of this promise. Except in the domain of agriculture and land rights for sharecroppers, there was nothing more substantive than a promise of change.

Whatever change there was, especially in the economy and education, spelt disaster for West Bengal. Irresponsible trade unionism sponsored by the left resulted in the flight of capital and an erosion of work culture. By the Nineties, the shadow of economic ruin loomed large over West Bengal. In education, the left, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), disregarded merit in favour of nepotism and patronage. There followed a noticeable decline in academic standards and a complete eradication of excellence. These failures are now being acknowledged publicly by not only the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, but also by other prominent members of the left fraternity.

The real change lies in this recognition. The left no longer believes that it has been right all along in everything. Smugness has been replaced by some introspection. The leadership in this has been provided by Mr Bhattacharjee. Quite rightly and in keeping with his Marxist credentials, Mr Bhattacharjee has identified the economy as the motor of the changes he wants to bring about in the state. He has decided to bring back investment. He has taken steps aimed at instilling confidence among investors and work culture among the working people. Mr Bhattacharjee openly wields the idiom of liberalization and economic reforms, and it appears that his agenda for change has the support of those in the CPI(M) who previously had been living in the weird world of Jurassic Park. There are signs that Mr Bhattacharjee’s desire for reform and excellence might touch education to free it from the vice-like grip of the party. West Bengal is poised for change. How long can it afford to remain thus? How long can it continue to inhabit the twilight realm between promise and achievement? Mr Bhattacharjee’s resolution of these questions will determine whether silver will turn to gold.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / PRESIDENT’S MEN 
 
 
 
 
It has been a long, rough road, but the going might now get better. Mr Hamid Karzai was sworn in as president of Afghanistan after the loya jirga or grand assembly accepted the cabinet he had chosen. Mr Karzai had earlier won the president’s vote with a huge majority in the grand assembly comprising more than 1,500 members. This in itself was a watershed of sorts, since his election represented a genuinely democratic exercise in Afghanistan. The grand assembly presented an impressive spectacle: it came very close to the ideal of representing all ethnic types, tribes and groups of different political persuasions. Mr Karzai had had a difficult task in hand. Supported by the United States of America, he had to project himself as a credible leader who would take the country towards peace and democracy by fighting against terrorist forces and reconciling warring tribal factions. Mr Mohammad Zahir Shah, the king, also proclaimed Mr Karzai as his candidate. A Pashtun himself, Mr Karzai has the backing of the Northern Alliance too, with its strong Tajik and Uzbek membership.

At the moment therefore, things look good for Mr Karzai, as good as they can possibly get. A certain amount of discontent had to be overcome initially, especially since the king’s refusal to try and restore the monarchy or to involve himself in the presidential race made his loyal supporters unhappy. Many of them felt that the king’s decision to support Mr Karzai was taken outside the precincts of the loya jirga at the instance of the US. The other side of the same story is the suspicion of many about Mr Karzai simply because he is the US’s chosen candidate. The strength of Mr Karzai’s position lies in the fact that the country seems serious in wanting to defeat terrorist forces as the first step to development: hence the bonding between the Northern Alliance and the president. His cabinet has been carefully chosen in an effort to please all factions, and he has been successful in keeping out the warlord, Mr Abdul Rashid Dostum, without too much trouble. He will face many problems in the coming 18 months before the general elections, but the time is in Mr Karzai’s favour. The turnout at the loya jirga revealed the eagerness of the citizens of Afghanistan to enter into a political process after the taliban’s exit.

   

 
 
HISTORY OF A QUARTER CENTURY 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
There are two popular — and rather simplistic — theories about the Left Front rule in West Bengal. The sympathetic one sees the regime as one of social, political and even economic progress unmatched in any preceding period. The other theory presents the Marxist tenure as one of unmitigated disaster, decline and decay. At the core of each theory there is an illusion created by deep-rooted political and class prejudices. The first theory’s illusion is enshrined in the legend of the Bad Old Days. The second draws its inspiration from the fiction of the Good Old Days before the marauding Marxists came. History, as we know, is neither legend nor fiction.

But the legend of the Bad Old Days did help to create the Left Front’s history of its 25-year uninterrupted rule. In 1977, when the front formed the first government, it actually rode the crest of a popular wave against the legend of the bad and the ugly. Not only the left, but the Janata Party or any of the motley combines against the Congress baddies looked good anywhere in India. The political and intellectual opinion in favour of the assumed virtues of communism and socialism also favoured the ascent of the left in Bengal, where, more than in any other state, the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Cuba offered role models to students, peasants, workers and the middle classes.

That is how they came — riding on legends they created, but also on the real history that they scripted through long years of mass mobilization. But how did they stay on? And what happened to Bengal while they were here?

Only the extraordinarily biased observer will deny that the agrarian changes brought by the Left Front’s land reforms have been the main strength of its staying power. These created, not a huge economic change, but a massive social and political power base that has stayed behind the left despite small fluctuations. There was a sound theoretical basis for the left to create and sustain this power base. By the time it came to power, it realized that the heyday of Bengal’s industrial power was over.

With the industrial horizon clouded by the decline of mercantile enterprise, agriculture remained a vast and largely untapped source of mass mobilization. Being in the government offered a unique opportunity of using development and the party for mutual benefits. Development was projected as the party’s gift to the people and the party became the arbiter of development. If the party offices replaced the block development offices in the villages, the people did not complain because the government offices were never seen as delivering the goods. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s discipline helped it create a formidable election machinery out of this newfound and massive support base to enable it to win election after election.

It is not just the goods — the grants of money, the land deeds, and so on — that the poor received at the party offices. Far more importantly, they got something which they had never imagined they would get — the taste of power. Still unlettered and still steeped in poverty, they found rights and power which they had not know for themselves.

The problem now, not only for the peasants but also for other sections of the society, was to find out what to do with these rights and the power. And that is where the Marxists floundered and eventually failed the state and the people in a big way. At the crudest level, the failure was evident in the pervasive partisanship that made them distinguish between partymen and people and evolve a system of rewards and punishments accordingly. What began as an extension of basic democracy gradually degenerated into a mindless extension of narrow party politics. The doctrine of loyalties spread its tentacles everywhere — from government jobs to education and to art and culture. The rulers publicly tried to justify it in the name of broadening of democracy but it actually worsened into a subversion of democracy. Nothing that the party thought was not good could be good.

But the process betrayed a more fundamental flaw — the paucity of ideas and concepts for a meaningful and forward-looking reconstruction of the state and society. This is where the doctrine of decline has its relevance in understanding the left regime without, of course, its illusion of the golden past. The left’s thrust of so-called democratization demolished in one stroke the idea of excellence. It was not only the middle classes — in education and various professions — who were standard-bearers of excellence, although they were its most visible and articulate examples. The standards of excellence had given Bengal an edge in earlier decades not only in education, the arts and the professional spheres but also in trade and commerce.

Industrialization and the growth of the middle classes were complementary to each other. But, under the left, universities and professional institutes were no longer breeding grounds of the great and the good; they now turned into battlegrounds for ensuring the greater common good as defined by the party.

The result is there for everyone but the party faithfuls to see. If there is an exodus from Bengal today by students to other states, it is not because they cannot earn their college or university degrees here. It is because they think, rightly or wrongly, that the degrees here are not good enough for good careers. If good doctors stay away from Bengal, it is not because they cannot earn enough money here but because they think they cannot get and give their best in the politics-polluted atmosphere here. If industrialists prefer to open units elsewhere, it is not because they have better skilled workers in other states but because they are not convinced that the rulers here understand the ideas of modern industry.

Nine years after ruling the state, Jyoti Basu realized it was time to take a sharp turn if Bengal and his government had to survive. He realized that he needed capital to save labour and that investment would no longer come in the public sector. The turning point came at the 12th congress of the CPI(M) in Calcutta in 1985, when Basu steered through his proposal for private capital and joint ventures in the teeth of opposition from old ideologues led by B.T. Ranadive. But the party still remained mired in old dogma and Basu failed to overcome party pressures to implement new ideas that he at last found.

Ironically, it was the reforms regime ushered in the early Nineties by Manmohan Singh that seemed to have opened the party more to ideas of reform. It also coincided with the collapse of socialism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. With Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Left Front seems to have taken more decisive steps to reinvent itself for the modern, dogma-free world. The fact of the Left Front history of the past 25 years is that it made for some progress, caused a great deal of decline and is now set to change things to regain its place in an age of reforms. Much time has been lost in chasing illusions; the return to the reality of new ideas has to happen more quickly and emphatically.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / AFTER THE WAR, THE BETRAYAL 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“This is not democracy. This is a rubber stamp,” said Sima Sa-mar, minister for women’s affairs in the interim Afghan government. Looking around the enormous tent erected on the grounds of the wrecked Kabul Polytechnic to house the 2,000 delegates to the loya jirga, the grand council cal-led to choose a government until elections are held in late 2003, she continued: “Everything here has already been decided by those with the power. This jirga includes all the warlords. None of them is left out.”

There they were in the first and second rows: a roll-call of the thugs and murderers who have ruined Afghanistan. They were there because the United States of America, at the moment the real ruler of Afghanistan, wanted them there. Washington wants a cheap one-way ticket out of Afghanistan, and they are it.

When the taliban regime was overthrown late last year, the US had the choice to stay and help build a new Afghanistan. But the British and Russians will both tell you that foreign armies who stay too long in Afghanistan always end up regretting it. Besides, the George W. Bush administration doesn’t do nation-building.

Since Bush has little to show for his Afghan expedition — no Osama bin Laden, not even Mullah Mohammed Omar — he needs to show the Americans that something positive has been accomplished, so democracy has to come to Afghanistan. But not real democracy — that would take years of effort and billions of dollars in development funds, and even then it might not work. Just a show of democracy, and then out within a year or less.

No better

A recent Human Rights Watch report on the selection of delegates in six provinces says that intimidation was rife, beatings and false arrests frequent; more often than not, the province wound up being represented by the neighbourhood warlord and his men.

The highway banditry and illegal road tolls that were suppressed by the taliban are reappearing everywhere. The poppy crop that the taliban successfully banned has been replanted, and Hamid Karzai’s government is too weak to enforce the law against poppy farmers.

Afghanistan was not better off under the taliban, but it was not a whole lot worse off. The Americans might reply: too bad, but we didn’t really go there to improve life for you Afghans. We went there to root out a terrorist group that inflicted a great hurt on the US, and was given shelter by the taliban regime. Now it’s upto you Afghans to pick up the pieces if you can. Bye.

Fair enough, if this were the first contact between the US and Afghanistan, and if the Afghans were really incorrigible tribals who had spent their entire history in a low-grade civil war. But, neither of those things is true.

Afghan leaders have been trying to modernize the country for almost a century now. Twenty years ago, barely a head-scarf was to be seen in Kabul, let alone a burqa. The grounds of Kabul Polytechnic were then filled with young Afghan women in jeans studying for engineering degrees.

Sharp insight

The conservative tribal areas hated modernization, but what turned it into a 22-year civil war was the insight of the former US secretary of state, Henry Kiss-inger, that if he secretly armed the tribes against Kabul, he could sucker the Soviet Union into coming to Kabul’s rescue. The Russians duly invaded in 1979, the US ran even more arms to the tribes, and Kissinger got what he wanted: Russia’s Vietnam.

Afghanistan’s modern infrastructure was destroyed and millions of Afghans were killed or driven into exile, but after 10 years the Russians pulled out. Kissinger boasts that it helped to bring down the Soviet Union, which is rather like the butterfly in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories who stamped — and felt responsible because King Solomon’s temple then collapsed.

Having helped to wreck Afghanistan, Washington walked away, abandoning it to a long civil war and the tender mercies of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Now the US is walking away again, behind a flimsy facade of democratization. But given the dismal record of past interventions, maybe this is the least bad outcome to a miserable episode in Afghan history.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / THE DOCTOR NOTED HER WORDS 
 
 
BY AVEEK SEN
 
 
DR SIMON FORMAN: A MOST NOTORIOUS PHYSICIAN
By Judith Cook,
Vintage, £ 4.55

Anything could become social history, if properly told. The life of the English astrologer-physician, Simon Forman (1552-1611), is a particularly rich quarry. An array of famous, infamous and unknown Elizabethans and Jacobeans came to him for treatment and predictions. Forman kept detailed case histories of most of these clients, especially the women, many of whom ended up in bed with him. His own history — from farming parents in rural Wiltshire to fame, prosperity and a coat of arms in London — is a case study, like Shakespeare’s, in Elizabethan social mobility.

Apart from the casebooks, the Forman archive consists of pamphlets on medicine and predictions, a book on longitudes, an autobiography, a diary and The Book of Plays, recording his experiences in the London theatres. Forman had vivid dreams, was often involved in litigation, loved watching plays and had what appears to be an insatiable appetite for sex. His story could be told, therefore, as an early-modern medley of ambition, paranoia and libido, conducted at the fringes of the Court, the universities and of sensational events like the Essex rebellion and the Overbury murder trials, with the New World and the New Science lending it an afterglow of historical value.

A.L. Rowse subtitled his Seventies edition of the casebooks “Sex and Society in Shakespeare’s Age”. In the archive fever of the New Historicist Eighties, Forman Studies acquired respectability. In 1983, Representations published Louis Montrose’s brilliant reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, using Forman’s dream of Elizabeth I to show how the monarch ruled the fantasies of her male subjects: “I dreamt I was with the Queen, and that she was a little elderly woman in a coarse white petticoat all unready…Then said I, ‘I mean to wait upon you and not under you, that I might make this belly a little bigger to carry up this smock and coats out of the dirt.’”

Cook is an investigative journalist who has written the lives of Daphne du Maurier and Christopher Marlowe. She has also written thrillers set in Elizabethan England — Death of a Lady’s Maid, Murder at the Rose, Kill the Witch. This explains why this book reads like a slightly woolly-headed mix of Religion and the Decline of Magic and Shakespeare in Love, and why one mistrusts Cook’s references, skims through her historicizings, smirks at the numerous typos, but ends up enjoying the book in spite of one’s scholarly scruples — as one might catch oneself enjoying a low biography of Sylvia Plath.

In the diaries, Forman’s code word for sex is “halek cum”, and there is a longer code for sex with emotions, as with his first love, Anne Young: “The 29th February was the first time ever I did halekekeros harescum cum A.Y.” Cook interlaces Forman’s medical practice — “carbuncles, kibes, boils, cankers, bubuckles and whelks” — with rampant and multiple haleking: up to three women a day apart from his wife. With his housekeeper, Bess Parker, it would always leave him with “a pain in my left thigh in the sinews under the buttocks like a scalp or cramp…that I could not sleep nor scant stand the next day.”

The casebooks present a series of interesting women — the poet and musician, Emilia Lanier; the notorious poisoner, the Countess of Essex — most of them paying, in some form or the other, the wages of haleking. The red-haired Alice Blague, wife of the dean of Rochester, and much haleked by Forman himself, is thus diagnosed: “afflicted with melancholy and much wind. It makes her heavy, sad, faint, unlusty and solitary.”

A regular playgoer, Forman provides disappointingly prosaic accounts of watching The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline. But he finds himself right inside Shakespeare’s play-world when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks through the murk: “Observe how Macbeth’s queen did rise in the night in her sleep, and walked and talked and confessed all, and the doctor noted her words.”

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / GROWTH OF THE ART HISTORIAN’S DISCIPLINE 
 
 
BY SUGATA RAY
 
 
ARCHITECTURE IN MEDIEVAL INDIA: FORMS,CONTEXTS, HISTORIES
Edited By Monica Juneja,
Permanent Black, Rs 1,095

The anthology edited by Monica Juneja has contributions from leading scholars on medieval art and architecture, and focuses on the study of politics, culture, buildings and architectural themes. The essays are primarily reproduced from publications which are not generally available or are currently out of print. The book, which has contributions from over 25 Western and Indian scholars, also includes occasional illustrations.

Juneja’s introduction is pedantic. She tries to locate herself within the post Seventies transformations in art history, which was trying to establish itself as a discipline, along with the development of cultural studies.

Traditional Indian scholars have tended to focus on the historical and metaphysical significance of art with scant attention to the frames that operated within the social processes of production and perception of culture. Current historical and anthropological ideas about culture and tradition, located within the premises of “New art history”, have not only challenged such a focus but also the way one reads these works. Juneja provides a suitable historiography of the discursive unfolding of Indian art history as a discipline.

The selected articles are divided into four sections on the basis of problems approached rather than simplistic categorizations of discourses within specific time frames. At the beginning, the ethnographic mode of writings of the early colonial scholars like James Fergusson is posited against the “nativist/ nationalist” discourses of authors like Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Maulvi Zafar Hasan. It is the later sections which not only provide an interesting reading but also show us how the crisis in the discipline arose owing to a strong adherence to formal studies. Thus art historians like Wayne Begley, Ebba Koch, Catherine Asher, whose works have been represented here, bring the “context” into focus. These scholars show that the considerations of the aesthetic, ideological and political concerns have to be based on a broader range of innovative thinking about the social context of art.

Certain other problems dealt with in the last two sections are the question of “regions”, “patronage” and the political rhetoric situated within the work of art. However, a certain propensity is seen in the way writings of a particular genre within the schools of art history, emerging mainly from the academic institutions of the West, have been selected. As this volume interrogates “Forms, contexts, histories”, it would have been better if different existing trajectories of art history writings were considered instead of focussing on one particular school. Nonetheless, this anthology provides an extremely relevant perspective within the disciplinary space of art history as it interrogates the trajectories through which architectural history developed in India.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / AN INSIDER’S VIEW OF A DIFFERENT AGE 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
THE MIND MEANDERS
By Haridas Bhattacharjee,
Published by the author, Rs 225

This book could not have been better titled. It moves effortlessly from one incident to another and the anecdotes are not apparently connected. The only link is in the author’s own mind. Most of the stories narrated here convey the impression of a man who enjoyed his life and the company of the people he met. This is not an easy achievement in old age when most men are prone to become crabby and bitter. A word is, therefore, necessary about the author.

Bhattacharjee is better known in Calcutta circles as the man who married the film star Kanan Devi, the beauty who in her prime broke many a heart and was the heart throb of thousands who saw her on the screen. But this introduction, interesting though it is, is irrelevant for the purposes of this book since Kanan Devi makes less than a cameo appearance in this book. Bhattacharjee was born in Burma and was preventive officer in the Rangoon customs. He later joined the Royal Indian Navy. When C. Rajagopalachari became governor of West Bengal, he chose Bhattacharjee to be one of his ADCs. Bhattacharjee continued to serve the next governor, Kailashnath Katju, but resigned from the post to join Tollywood to direct films. Unfortunately for readers with a propensity for prurience, Tollywood does not feature in any big way in Bhattacharjee’s tells.

The bulk of the stories provide an insider’s view of life inside Raj Bhavan under the two governors that Bhattacharjee served. My favourite is his account of the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, ever the charmer of ladies, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Yellow Drawing Room surrounded by good looking ladies, wives of bureaucrats and diplomats, and showing them the yoga exercises he did every morning. He turned suddenly to General Cariappa and asked him to execute the lotus pose. Bhattacharjee watched in trepidation as he feared that the trousers of the Sandhurst-trained general might split. He breathed when the general gave up. Then the prime minister turned to Bhattacharjee and said, “Come here, young lieutenant, see if you can do it.’’ The ADC replied, “I can sir, but I shan’t because my guru has forbidden me to do these asanas after a heavy meal.’’ On being asked who was his guru by Nehru, Bhattacharjee said, “Mr Ranjit Gupta, the home secretary.’’ And Mr Gupta who was present in the room, bowed to the prime minister.

There are many such anecdotes. This book can be compared to a delectable box of chocolates. One can, in fact begin to read this, from wherever one wants. The book ends, with a delightful account of a motor trip that Bhattacharjee and his wife took with Sajanikanta Das, the editor of Sanibarer Chithi, and his wife. Bhattacharjee was obviously a good driver and enjoyed driving and his description brings back a whiff of a different age. Bhattacharjee’s prose style has a quaintness to it. This adds to the charm of his anecdotage.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE / WHOSE BABY IS IT ANYWAY? 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 

Because most successful books are commissioned, some publishers claim that they have “discovered” the authors. Perhaps they do in some cases by bringing them out of their intellectual closets. But, more often than not, they have come out on their own.

What good publishers do is first recognize new talent, edit the manuscript and above all market the book that brings the author into the limelight. But the claim that they have “discovered” a dormant talent, and by implication, rescued and nurtured him is far off the mark because publishers themselves are not writers; if anything they are failed academics and writers who couldn’t make the cut and have fallen back on the next best thing.

What then publishers do and how does the publisher-author relationship work in creating a new book? At a time when the market is the sole criterion of success, the first job of a publisher today is to solicit manuscripts in the areas in which he is interested. For educational publishers, this search is fairly easy to chart out based on the required syllabus and the existing competition. Invariably this search leads to commissioning of the writer, paying him an advance and then cajoling him to deliver the manuscript within a stipulated period of time.

Soliciting may sound easy but academics are notorious for missed deadlines and there are more dropouts than deliveries on time. Most academics fail to deliver despite advances and other facilities provided to them. If no Indian publisher, or for that matter all of them put together, can today boast of a complete list in the core areas of the social sciences and the humanities, it is not because of a lack of available resources, but because they have been badly let down by academics. In science and technology, medicine and business studies, the scene is worse. The little that exists are either clones or straight reprints of American and British texts.

It is in the general area of fiction that the claim of “discovery” has to be examined because a novel is never commissioned except for downmarket pulp of the Mills and Boons variety. A fiction publisher’s search engine is the main literary magazines, anything from the Times Literary Supplement, New York Review of Books, Partisan Review and so on, to the op-ed pages of mainstream newspapers. Spot the talent and then go for it. Because talent search isn’t easy — it requires a literary background and a wide range of reading. More and more publishers are leaving the field to the care of literary agents, all of whom have been former publishers and editors. If any discoveries have been made, they have been made by literary agents and not by publishers. But even here, “discovery” has been limited to the recognition of raw talent and nothing more. Any piece of creative writing is the author’s very own, based on observation, imagination, experiences and the voice “within” that compels him to write. All the same, publishers with bloated egos will always claim that a bestseller that goes into several reprints is their very own baby who couldn’t have been born if they had not fathered it.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Churches, cities, sex and happiness

CELEBRATING CHANDIGARH
Edited By Jaspreet Takhar
(Chandigarh Perspectives and Mapin, price not mentioned)

Celebrating Chandigarh Edited By Jaspreet Takhar gathers the various presentations made at the conference celebrating 50 years of the “idea” of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh. An international cast of architects, urban planners, art historians and cultural critics hold forth, quite voluminously, on “reexamining the planning concepts within the existing realities”. The book design is trendy, and the photographs, in black and white, look stylish and minimal. But the city looks beautifully dead in them, like those ghost towns in De Chirico or the Quattrocento Annunciations, where it is always afternoon and nothing ever happens. Is Chandigarh a modernist Fatehpur Sikri?

ELSA’S JOINT AND SOME GOAN CHARACTERS
By Remigio Botelho
(Rupa, Rs 150)

Remigio Botelho’s Elsa’s joint and some Goan characters begins with the 60-year-old Mr Fernandes losing his German umbrella in a church in Panjim, where he is about to give a lecture on the history of the town. But the focus of the novel is the Taverna, the sole country liquor joint in St Anne’s ward, run by the barmaid, Elsa: “She was now forty-four, and she was so huge for her height that she had to make quite an effort to preside with grace over the discussions at that joint.” The writing is crisp and deliberately flat, but the comedy unremarkable.

THE MATING GAME
By John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas
(Penguin, £ 3.99)

John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas’s The mating game sets out in search of the meaning of sex. Gribbin and Cherfas offer a slightly sideways view of what sex is all about in evolutionary terms (i.e. the closeness of human beings to chimpanzees and gorillas), focusing on its relevance (or, perhaps, irrelevance) to human beings today. It all starts with some disconcerting questions. Why do women bother to have sons? Have men outlived their evolutionary usefulness? “The technology of female asexual reproduction in the human species isn’t that far off”, portend the authors. But then they work round to the conclusion, addressed to the women who might exult at the thought of a parthenogenic future: “If it weren’t for us men, you would all be riddled with disease.”

THE TIN DRUMMER’S ODYSSEY: ESSAYS ON GUNTER GRASS
By Subhoranjan Dasgupta
(Dasgupta, Rs 100)

Subhoranjan Dasgupta’s The tin drummer’s Odyssey: essays on gunter grass shows an impressive familiarity with the Grass oeuvre and possibly with the man himself. But that is all. Dasgupta’s critical apparatus is uniformly uninspiring, and his idiom full of dreary clichés. Grass enthusiasts should ignore this book. Those who haven’t read Grass will hardly feel inclined to take him up after dipping into this book.

THE BOOK OF WOMAN
By Osho
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Osho’s The book of woman is a thoroughly entertaining book, provided one reads it selectively and very frivolously. There are delightfully funny anecdotes and a lot of jokes. But they are inevitably followed by earnest sermonizing. These serious bits must be ignored or read out solemnly to the most raucous of one’s female colleagues after the day’s work is done. There is a great deal of talk about freedom, and the main thing is to avoid clinginess in love, and range free. The rest is wholeness. “‘You don’t love me any more?’ asked Mulla Nasruddin’s wife. ‘You never say anything nice to me any more like you used to when we were courting.’ She wiped a tear from her eye with the corner of her apron. ‘I love you, I love you,’ retorted Mulla Nasruddin. ‘Now will you please shut up and let me drink my beer in peace?’” Is Khushwant Singh ghost-writing for Osho these days?

THE 12 SECRETS OF HEALTH AND HAPPINESS
By Louise Samways
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Louise Samways’s The 12 secrets of health and happiness is a deeply well-meaning book, premised on the fundamentally mistaken notion that people want to be happy. It is not a slim book, and could have a stupefying effect on the melancholy reader, particularly when he comes to the point when Samways blithely declares, “Strangely enough, health and happiness appear to have little to do with what’s actually happening in your life or in your body.” He will then go on to sink into a savage torpor and feel immeasurably superior.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Devil’s advocate

Sir — The drama revolving around the election of the president has succeeded in diverting the spotlight away from the misdeeds of the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi (“Minorities flay ‘callous’ Modi”, June 18). Instead of doing all he can to bring relief to and soothe the scars of the minority community, Modi has dealt them another blow by closing down eight relief camps in Ahmedabad. This means more misery for the riot victims who have nowhere to go. If Modi thinks that the closure of the camps might indicate that all is well in the state, he is certainly mistaken. News of violence aided and abetted by the authorities continue to filter in. That the state has done little for the rehabilitation of riot victims goes to show little has changed in Gujarat. But public memory is short and with assembly elections round the corner, it is possible that Modi will never have to stand trial for the unforgivable atrocities that he and his government have engineered.

Yours faithfully,
Mayank Sharma, Nainital

Damning Narmada

Sir — To protest against the human rights violation of the adivasis of the Narmada valley, 4 Narmada Bachao Andolan activists went on a hunger strike that ended after 29 days last Wednesday. About a thousand families have been displaced owing to the construction of the Maan dam, one of the 30 big dams being built on the Narmada river in western and central India. The Maan families, who come from one of the 17 affected villages, have not been compensated according to the terms and conditions of the rehabilitation policy defined by the government. The policy states that the displaced must be compensated with irrigated and adequate land in lieu of tracts that will be submerged by the project.

The activists have rightly demanded that those evicted by the Maan project be compensated with land for land. The demand is justified since around 5,000 to 6,000 people will have their villages and lands submerged as the monsoons approach. The NDA activists were forced to resort to extreme measures because the Madhya Pradesh government has been indifferent to their demands and even played an active role in suppressing their dissent.

In a democracy, the will of the people must be the guiding force of the polity. But in this instance it seems the stronger the voice of the people, the more brutal the response of the government. The Dalits, adivasis and villagers who reside in the region hold the primary stake in the area’s development. Yet, their livelihood, cultural heritage, histories stand condemned by the uncaring progress. Their struggle for survival and agency for self-determination are policed to benefit the advantaged. The Indian government’s apathetic attitude has placed its marginalized at risk both socially and politically. It has displaced peoples, prompted cultural annihilation, generated appalling working conditions, contributed to the unequal distribution of assets, and prompted the irrevocable depletion of the country’s natural resource base.

The commitment of the NDA activists should compel us to reflect on the issue. History has taught that oppression strengthens resistance. The NDA exemplifies that.

Yours faithfully,
Angana Chatterji, San Francisco

Sir — People affected by the construction of the Maan dam on the Narmada fasted close to a month in Bhopal, demanding rehabilitation (“Arundhati slur on CM”, June 17). Although the affected had identified agricultural lands which can be given to them as compensation, the state government has turned a blind eye to this proposal. Instead, the administration has cut off electricity supply, removed hand pumps, cut down trees and bulldozed a school to forcibly evict the people. Don’t the people of this country deserve to be treated with more dignity?

Yours faithfully,
Neeta Deshpande, Panaji

Treatment for the malaise

Sir — In the aftermath of the sensational judgment in the Kunal Saha case, it is hoped that N.R. Madhava Menon’s well balanced argument in “Healing touch” (June 7) will prompt everyone to introspect. Though it goes without saying that doctors, like other humans, can err, it would be wrong to say, as some in the medical fraternity would have us believe, that doctors are part of the all-round degeneration of society and nothing much can be done about it. This would only justify the dubious acts of a section of the doctors.

It is often suggested by the Medical Council of India that cases concerning medical negligence are technical in nature and therefore should be kept outside the ambit of conventional court proceedings. Fair enough. But the council’s own redressal mechanism leaves much to be desired. It has often sat on such cases for years. The number of cases related to medical negligence which have come up in the courts suggests that people have little faith in the council. The only way out of the current imbroglio is for the MCI to act fairly. The rest of the puzzle would automatically fall in place.

Yours faithfully,
Rudrasish Datta, Howrah

Sir — N.R. Madhava Menon has rightly pointed out that doctors’ hostility to the Kunal Saha case judgment will evoke more mistrust for the medical community among the people. The Indian Medical Association should not stoop so low as to extend its solidarity to the convicted doctors. This will further tarnish the IMA’s image.

While supporting the view that doctors should be made accountable, one wonders if the benefits of court verdicts in these cases would percolate down to the lower rungs of society. Kunal Saha, in his letter, “Doctors in the dock” (June 5), stated that he had to spend nearly rupees one crore in the last four years. This proves it would be a difficult task for the common man to carry on such cases given the costs involved.

Medical councils, supervisory bodies and the legal machinery of the country should act in cooperation to bring irresponsible and negligent doctors to book. To start with, jotting down the cause of a patient’s illness and the doctor’s findings in the prescription should be made mandatory for all medical practitioners. Second, the problem of the inavailability of doctors at night is one issue that needs immediate attention. Third, hospital beds should be increased and ambulances must be made easily available. Adoption of these simple measures will be of much help to patients in distress and restore their trust in the medical profession.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Sir — The report, “Act-stung doctors bank on insurance” (June 17), goes to show how doctors have suddenly become fearful of the law in cases of medical negligence. The rise in cases of harassment of doctors at the hands of patient’s relatives has forced doctors to opt for such schemes. The Delhi Medical Association has rightly said that doctors should not be portrayed as potential murderers and patients as victims. Yet doctors are often held responsible if patients die of natural causes. This is followed by personal attacks and ransacking of property. The government should come up with ways to protect doctors from such unfortunate incidents. Although private insurance companies are exploiting the situation, there is no doubt that doctors need to be protected from abuse from their clients as well

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

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