Editorial / Peace is the best medicine
Pure delight
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Adolf Hitler was an ambitious man. But even he knew his limits. He did not aspire to build a university for inter-racial peace over the remains of the people he set out to annihilate. But the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi, is not deterred by any such misplaced — and mistimed — coyness. This is the perfect time for him to propose a university for non-violence, devoted to the study of all “aspects of the philosophy and practices of non-violence for the benefit of posterity”. His announcement came during the felicitation ceremony of the Jain sadhu, Mahapragyaji, who had left Rajasthan in December at the head of an ahimsa yatra to preach non-violence and moral values, and had arrived in Gujarat with 150 Jains before going on to Madhya Pradesh. Evidently the non-violent Jains felt the need for such a venture during a time that has exposed the hideousness of communal hatred and the ruthless cruelty of the majority community. Such a peace march through the traumatized land of Gandhi by a community which lives by non-violence could become a powerful message by itself. Maybe the Jains are getting away with it because, according to sangh parivar categories, they belong to the larger Hindu family. It is quite obvious that Mr Modi finds it far more worth his while to appear to join hands with them than be a killjoy. A declared devotion to non-violence is the best antidote to a “monster” image.

Mr Modi is fortunate. He has found he can get away with anything. The most crass hypocrisy is apotheosized. The state government has already given the green signal to Mr Modi’s brainchild and the opposition is mumbling assent in the terror of appearing politically incorrect. It is hardly a matter of interest that the proposed university is a mockery of academics — perhaps it will be producing doctors of peace — and a barefaced vindication of the horrors perpetrated with the help of the administration. Found toothless in its demand for Mr Modi’s ouster, the best the opposition can think of is to play according to his terms. So the Congress is planning a rival yatra to erase the effect of Mr Modi’s planned “gaurav yatra” prior to the assembly elections. For the gaurav yatra is the chief minister’s other antidote to the “monster” image. He will reach out to his people in order to inform them of the malicious misinformation campaign against him. With the optimism that must have grown upon him over the past eventful months, Mr Modi should be confident that the two-pronged damage control exercise will work.

Now Mr Modi’s mind has turned to scholarship. He may have been inspired by the changes wrought in the National Council of Educational Research and Training textbooks. Just before the ahimsa university brainwave, he had announced the opening of a Sanskrit university. Perhaps he now feels that a philosophy of conduct with impeccable Hindu credentials is a better bet than the classical language of Hindu tradition. But both should be equally good for polarizing the vote and catching ‘em young. Meanwhile, the minority ghettoes in Gujarat continue to grow and inhabitants in the relief camps fear to go home.


On the 26th of this month, I emerged from a coffee shop on Park Street with a young man whose acquaintance I was making for the first time. We turned right and began to walk towards Middleton Row; and almost immediately came upon a large crowd. It was gathered outside a shop that sold refrigerators, washing machines, and television sets. I had temporary amnesia; what were they watching? The cricket series between England and India had still not begun. Unexpectedly, illumination dawned: it was the semi-final between Brazil and Turkey, which I had intended watching myself. The match was on.

The crowd must have been straining to see. Far away, on a shelf, the first half of the match was in progress on what appeared to be a fourteen-inch screen. You saw more of the side of the television set than you did the screen, which faced the wall opposite; the wall was at an angle of ninety degrees to the window. Standing on tiptoe, I barely made out the screen above the heads. To watch the game this way was not unlike following a cricket match from the top of a twenty-storey building. Indians don’t mind straining their eyes to look at what they love. The crowd was content; they exchanged bits of information; they clapped and smiled. I knew they had good news. “What’s the score?” I asked. “Brazil one, Turkey nil,” a man replied, smiling gratuitously. We nodded and moved on.

Before us, there were more crowds. What is Brazil? And in what way did it become a locality in Calcutta? When I see, in television reports, boys from impoverished city neighbourhoods with Brazilian flags painted on their faces, I am astonished by the lovely mockery this makes of national identity; and also by the cheerful one-sidedness of the adoration. Brazil exists in Calcutta, but does not know it.

My companion, who mostly lives in Delhi, was puzzled by the euphoria (although he had been forewarned of it), and properly so. For it is a puzzling phenomenon, this devotion to a team and, in effect, a country with which one has no cultural or historical ties to speak of, about which the neighbourhood boy with the painted green and yellow colours on his face knows next to nothing; an enthusiasm that, importantly, can result in no direct material benefits to the enthusiasts.

I pointed out certain other oddly Bengali enthusiasms to my companion; Charlie Chaplin, for instance. My companion was intrigued; he did not know of this. In spite of Raj Kapoor, in spite of the Cherry Blossom commercials, Chaplin does not, in other parts of India, occupy the space he does in the middle-class Bengali imagination. In the country of his birth, Chaplin is scorned for being sentimental and not being funny; it is something of a scandal. I, as a child, was told that Chaplin made you both laugh and cry, a strangely non-utilitarian view to have of a comedian. This particular affection is common to more than one class; portraits of the tramp, melancholy but about to spring to life, can be found on the backs of hurtling state transport buses.

The love for Chaplin is not altogether fathomable. One could attribute it to Chaplin’s left-wing sympathies, but that would be too easy; his appeal, for Bengalis, predates the time when Bengal became synonymous with Marxism. Unlike Romain Rolland — another Bengali icon, once refulgent, now on the wane, and largely forgotten in his own country — he had no connection with the likes of Ramakrishna or Tagore; he met Gandhi, but Gandhi is not exactly beloved of Bengalis. No, the love, as in Brazil’s case, is slightly unfathomable.

Perhaps, with both Chaplin and the Brazilian team, it has to do with the capacity to move; to move both in the inward, emotional sense, with compassion and wonder, and in the physical one. Rivaldo’s amazing goals and passes; Chaplin’s astonishing acrobatics, what Satyajit Ray called, in his essay on The Gold Rush, a “precision of action to a degree unknown in the era of sound”. It is Chaplin’s physicality that Ray emphasizes: “Chaplin’s words have never quite matched the eloquence of his pantomime.” Pure, physical delight, then; it is as if, watching Brazil and Chaplin, an occasionally over-cerebral culture, too reverent of books, degrees, credos, dogmas, awakes to the realm beyond the word.

But is pure, disinterested delight possible? (“Disinterested” is an adjective made influential by Matthew Arnold; it implies a dispassionate appraisal of a work of art — not, as in the increasingly common, mistaken usage, “uninterested”.) For more than twenty years now, theories in philosophy and criticism have instructed us that there is no such thing as disinterested admiration; that we admire, or emulate, nothing that does not enhance our own access to power.

It is probably with this in mind that J.M. Coetzee, in an essay called “What is a Classic?” (a meditation on the question posed by the title, and also on T.S. Eliot’s essay of the same name), recalls the first time he heard Bach’s music as a teenager. The music is coming from a neighbour’s house, and it is like nothing that the young Coetzee has heard before. It is, as it were, his first encounter with a classic, and it changes his life. In retrospect, however, Coetzee gives a less sublime interpretation to the moment. Was he so affected by the music because of Bach’s “greatness”, as he once thought; or was he responding to it, subconsciously, as a South African, a colonial, for whom Bach would be an avenue out of the peripheries of the colony?

If we relate this question to the emergence of Bengali modernity, and its engagement with other cultures, we have to admit that we cannot answer it unequivocally. The faculty for wonder and delight seems to have played as important a role in these transactions as the impulse towards power. Salil Chowdhury’s love of Mozart, and his audacious borrowing of a phrase from Mozart for the tune of “Itna na mujhse tu pyar badha”, would have gained him the recognition of neither Europe nor his contemporaries, most of whom would not be able to identify the source. It was a creative experiment undertaken almost in secret; just as the love for Chaplin and Brazil is largely an inadvertent secret outside Calcutta. The secret, one-sided transaction, where one party does not know of the existence of the other, goes back in Bengal to the nineteenth century.

The collaboration between Bengali and English culture, so formative in the emergence of Bengali modernity, was, and still is, almost entirely unknown to, and unacknowledged by, the English. No matter; this did not diminish the ardour, or originality, of the experiment; Bengalis were content with an England of the mind, as they exult in a Brazil of the mind. No doubt the politics of power is involved in these transactions; but so must pure delight, which directs an enthusiasm to be undertaken for its own sake. Even if it is not, I am moved, watching the men gathered on the pavement outside the shop window, by the illusion that it is.

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Matters to a head

n Worrying heads over heads — head of state, head of party, head of state unit... The BJP never seems to have enough of it. Even before the man with a head of flowing hair has made it to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, partyheads are getting worried about who should head the party. Apart from the nagging problem of Jana Krishnamurthy, there is also that of wannabe Pramod Mahajan, who thinks there is no reason he should continue to lie by the wayside. Never mind if Pramod in no way matches Sushma Swaraj’s PR or Arun Jaitley’s spoken English. There are BJPwallahs who believe that with Mahajan at the head, funds would not be a problem in the December 2003 elections to several of the cow-belt states. So jolly well perch him there. But they forget that acting merely as “fund-raiser” from the altar is not the picture Mahajan has in mind for himself. He craves more adulation than that. There is again the attendant problem of having a Vinay Katiyar as head of the UP BJP unit. This founding president of the Bajrang Dal could chop off Mulayam Yadav’s OBC and Muslim backing in neat slices, but he could also encourage a brooding Rajnath Singh to cash in on the Brahmin and Rajput resentment in UP to drive a split down the BJP and then rush into the open arms of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Win some, lose some. But you always seem to lose with heads.

That’s not fair, Mr Referee

The reshuffle blues seem to have taken hold of Shahnawaz Hussain. The youngest cabinet minister has grown so attached to his civil aviation ministry that he would be loath to leave it. Unfortunately, everytime there is talk of Mamata Banerjee’s or Farooq Abdullah’s imminent inclusion in the ministry, it is inferred that it is the civil aviation ministry that is up for grabs. Finally, Shahnawaz mustered the courage to go and remind the prime minister that he — the only Muslim representative in the cabinet — had done the rounds of the ministries of human resources development, youth affairs, coal and mines, food processing and a few others over the past two and a half years, and was tired of all the to-ing and fro-ing. “The football season might end on June 30, but I will continue to be kicked around from one ministry to another,” he reportedly told his party seniors. Well, at least, he hasn’t lost his sense of humour!

Unkindly yours

With Alex Perry, the Congress finally has something to crow about over the BJP. On the outside, it was all stiff upper lip — after all, gloating isn’t very nice. Also, given the fact that it has hauled up the Western media many a time for its “biased” write-ups on Indira Gandhi, it couldn’t suddenly change its tune. But in private, Congress leaders couldn’t have been more pleased. Since the American magazine sells only about 40,000 copies in India, many of them showed extraordinary enterprise in ensuring that the article was widely disseminated. The owner-editor of a Hindi daily was only too pleased to oblige his friends in the Congress by carrying a verbatim translation of the article. As for influential businessmen, politicians and mediapersons, Kamal Nath very thoughfully sent them a photocopy of “Asleep at the Wheel” — with his compliments.

In the name of the grandmother

While the Congress cadre are not exactly tickled pink over the addition to their first family — Priyanka’s daughter — it hasn’t stopped them from speculating about a name for the baby. Should it be “Indira”, or “Priyadarshini”, or a short and sweet, “Indu”? Priyanka’s firstborn was named Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra, in deference to his political lineage, but the astrologers don’t see much of a political future for the boy. In contrast, the baby girl’s horoscope has a definite indication of raj yog. Both granny and mummy are delighted.

Movers and shakers

For all those who were stumped by the blatant use of moneypower during the recent Maharashtra political crisis, the mystery has now been cleared. Apparently, the brains — and more important, purse — behind the defections was that of a diamond merchant-turned-film producer, who spent more than a year in jail over his alleged connections with the underworld. Mr Moneybags was upset that the Vilasrao Deshmukh regime had turned its back on him in his hour of need. He may have failed for now but you can be sure he will keep pumping money in to make mischief.

That’s no job for you

The planning commission’s loss was to have been the Reserve Bank of India’s gain. NK Singh, member of the planning commission, was widely tipped to take over as governor of the apex bank once Bimal Jalan’s term ended. Nandu babu, in fact, had quite set his heart on the appointment: he wanted to cap his long career with a job that would require him to put his signature on currency notes. Unfortunately for the Bihar cadre IAS officer, his reputation preceded him. As a last resort, Nandu babu even enlisted the support of a self-righteous cabinet minister, but the prime minster chose to play it safe. He ordered a two-year extension for Jalan.

A vocabulary to kill for

The left-Trinamool Congress face-off has now taken a literary turn. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has complained about the “big words” in a letter from the party’s “shikkhashell”. Written by Supriya Chattapadhyay, wife of Trinamool chief whip Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay, it begins, “We are deeply shocked to envisage the appalling instance of your govt’s bumptious act of recalcitrance in trampling over the solem (sic) order....” One can only sympathize with Buddha babu.

Footnote/ It’s a reel life story

Bollywood seems to have got over its fixation with sweet, syrupy romances lately— it has a found a worthy substitute in the political hero. And since our Hindi filmmakers don’t do anything in moderation, after the five films on Bhagat Singh, we are to have one on Indira Gandhi. The brainchild of a former Congress MP from Aurangabad, Uttam Singh Pawar, the film will have Tabu playing Mrs G. Pawar approached Mahesh Astitva Manjrekar with the idea, who liked it so much that he apparently called up the national award winning actress and asked her to start reading up on India’s Iron Lady.

Bollywood circles say that the current focus on Indira is aimed at blunting the negative projection of the Congress, made allegedly at the behest of the Shiv Sena. But Congressmen are unconvinced about the theory that the idea originated from 10 Janpath. After all, Mrs G was hardly pleased with Aandhi, supposedly based on her life. Also, they wonder, who will play Indira’s dutiful bahu, Sonia? Understandably, no one is talking about the other bahu, Maneka.



Importance of being a relic

Sir — The mace in the West Bengal assembly is indeed a relic of colonial rule (“Raj relic buried after brawl”, June 26). But if there is such a thing called tradition, then the mace must stay. Why has the House of Commons not done away with the ceremonial marching of the marshal carrying the mace, followed by the speaker of the house? Because it symbolizes the long tradition of parliamentary democracy in Britain. If the rowdyism of some opposition members results in the scrapping of a centuries-old custom from West Bengal, then the opposition ought to be ashamed of its conduct, as also the ruling party for being unable to rein in petty hooliganism.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Have a ball

Sir — For all the upsets and giant-killings, World Cup 2002 will have a predictable final between two traditional soccer powers. What more could a football fan want than a clash between a European great and a legendary Latin American team?

When greenhorns like Senegal, Korea and Japan beat former world champions, it signalled a successful world cup. But controversies about refereeing have led people to speculate whether this world cup has been a tournament of the underdogs because of the help from the men in black. There are reasons to believe — primarily the large number of obvious errors in judgment by the referees — that a mysterious racket was at work, a brainchild of betting syndicates fixing the odds for every match. That Fifa has accepted that the refereeing has not been of a particularly high order will not redeem things. What will is the immediate scrapping of the quota system in appointing referees for the world cup, so that only the most competent can officiate in world championships.

Yours faithfully,
D. Chakrabarti, Calcutta

Sir — Felipe Ramos Rizo, the Mexican referee, first sent off Thierry Henry of France in the match against Ireland. Henry’s “cobra” tackle might have been a dangerous one, but it hardly deserved a red card since it was not intentional. A yellow card would have been enough. Some matches later, the same referee showed the red card to Ronaldinho, once again for a tackle that other referees would have shown only a yellow card. These two instances make a complete mockery of Fifa’s much-lauded system of allotting matches to referees after reviewing their last few performances. Why was Rizo given the responsibility of a match as important as the Brazil-England one after his blunder in the first-round? Fifa, more intent on swelling its coffers than on promoting football, is to blame for the poor quality of refereeing this time.

Yours faithfully,
B.N. Bose,Calcutta

Sir — Isn’t it too much of a coincidence that both the pre-quarter final and the quarter-final matches featuring South Korea were officiated by referees who were blatantly unfair to the opponents of the co-hosts? In the pre-quarter final match against Italy, an advancing Italian midfielder was intentionally obstructed in the penalty area, but a penalty kick was not awarded to Italy. On the contrary, the Italian player was yellow carded. Later in the match, Francesco Totti, one of Italy’s key strikers, was unfairly sent off the field.

In the quarter-final match against Spain, as many as three Spanish goals were disallowed by the referee on flimsy grounds. Video replays showed that at least two of these had surely crossed the goal-line. In this day and age of advanced video technology and sensitive camera-work, why should two prospective contenders for the world cup fall victims to such arbitrary decisions?

Yours faithfully,
Md. Salim, Calcutta

Sir — Front page gaffes in The Telegraph seem to be on the rise. A few days ago, after the quarter final encounter between Brazil and England, Keir Radnedge’s column began with “No world cup final has ever been repeated” (“Defeat of mediocrity”, June 22). It is strange that Radnedge does not remember that Argentina played Germany in 1986 and 1990, but how did it escape the notice of everyone else?

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Jhunjhunwala, Calcutta

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