Editorial 1 / Recovery path
Editorial 2 / Building up
More whimper than boom
Book Review / Stop all the clocks
Book Review / Images in time and space
Book Review / How the West won the wars
Book Review / To recapture the past
Bookwise / Getting between the covers
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

By finally deciding to close down two of its undertakings, the West Bengal government has moved in step with its new agenda of reforms. The decision was long overdue, but a distorted policy framework, coupled with discredited political rhetoric, had delayed it. It defied all business sense to run these units, which had stopped production over 10 years ago, only to pay wages to their employees. While the state’s commerce and industry minister, Mr Nirupam Sen, has at last made the first move to correct the mistakes of the past, the reasons he has given for the government’s decision have lingering political overtones. His attempt to draw a fine line between the Centre’s disinvestment schemes and those of the state government smacks of the old game of political oneupmanship. After all, it was the United Front government at the Centre, which the left supported, that set up the first disinvestment commission in 1996. Even the Left Front has learnt the lesson, although belatedly, that it is economically disastrous — and also unfair on the taxpayers — to fund perennially sick state units from the exchequer. Mr Sen needs to unambiguously spell out the policy shift which should see the government increasingly dissociating itself from running industrial units. It is time the Marxists reconciled themselves to the reality that running businesses cannot be the government’s business. Coming clean on this will help the government gain the confidence of potential investors in the state.

There are reasons to suspect that the Left Front government is still somewhat wary of the reforms pro- cess. Ideological baggage seems to be still holding it back from committing itself wholly to unavoidable changes. That is why it has taken the government over a year to decide on the closure of the two units. This cautiousness is also evident in Mr Sen’s announcement that the government would like to retain 26 per cent of the equity in six other sick units for which it is looking for private partners. It would make much better sense for the government to give up its stake completely and hand the units over to willing private entrepreneurs. It is another matter, though, if private investors feel more comfortable with joint ventures with the state for an initial revival plan for these units. The government must be ready, however, to withdraw from these as soon as it can. It is important that the reforms that Mr Sen has initiated gather speed. There are as many as 64 state public sector units in West Bengal, most of them in different stages of sickness. Tardy progress of the reforms process will only delay the inevitable, thereby adding to the financial losses of these units and to the drain on the government’s depleted resources.


A message may be clear enough, but its import may be variously read. The elevation of Mr Vinay Katiyar to the position of Bharatiya Janata Party chief of Uttar Pradesh is certainly a decisive statement on the part of the BJP. Mr Katiyar is defined by two things. One is his caste, and the other his line on the temple in Ayodhya. Both are being given equal prominence. The trick for the alliance partner, the Bahujan Samaj Party, is to see which one is more significant. Mr Katiyar belongs to the Kurmi caste, the most important among the backward classes next to the Yadavs, and represents the BJP’s search for a weighty other backwards classes leader after the departure of Mr Kalyan Singh. Mr Katiyar’s elevation also means a hardening on the temple issue, a vindication — through the backdoor — of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s stance that a court verdict is irrelevant in a matter of faith. Mr Katiyar has left no doubt as to his stand. The BJP is doubtless trying to kill as many birds as possible with one stone. On the one hand, it is trying to consolidate the non-Yadav backwards vote, and on the other, looking towards solid support from the caste Hindus through a return to an important item on the Hindutva agenda. This last has the additional advantage of infusing fresh enthusiasm into a faction-ridden, demoralized state unit.

If the temple issue is meant to be serious, then it looks as if the BJP is willing to endanger the fragile coalition with the BSP. Ms Mayavati is holding firm to the statement that only the court order is acceptable if the two communities in disagreement over the temple land do not come to an understanding through dialogue. With a large number of Muslim members of the legislative assembly on her side, she cannot be seen to brook communal chauvinism. It would be strange if the BJP were to aim for disrupting the coalition, since it is not even the second largest party in the assembly. All it has to go on is Ms Mayavati’s hatred of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the hope that a gradual drumming-up of the temple agenda will bring it an unexpected windfall. As for the backward classes game, Ms Mayavati is as adept a player. She has already reorganized the state executive and placed Mr K.K. Sachan, another Kurmi, at its head. And she has a head start here. Her grip over the minority community and Dalit vote banks is very strong. Her rival here is the Samajwadi Party, not the BJP. She is confident of her numbers and has recently gained much by reversing Mr Rajnath Singh’s ambitious reservation policy. By not waiting for a time when a more backward classes quota will be considered legal, she has been able to open for many OBCs and Dalits the jobs they were waiting for. The rumblings in the coalition have started early. The BJP seems eager to play this dangerous game.


Despite signs of an end to the current recession in the American economy, deeper problems persist ensuring continued global economic stagnation. Incidentally, this is hardly good news for the Indian economy whatever the claims of the last budget. Whatever cyclical variations there may be, a new “long wave” of expansion in the world economy akin to the Golden Age period of 1948-73 is not remotely on the cards. So much then for the claims of the “New Economy” wherein the new information technologies were supposed to usher in an era of high and sustained growth and prosperity for all. The 1997-2001 upturn fuelled such conjectures but the downturn since then (which preceded September 11, 2002) dashed such expectations. The basic contradictions of capitalism have again come to the fore.

With Japan mired in a stagnation that has lasted for over ten years, the locomotives of the world economy can only be the United States of America and/or the European Union. Through the Nineties the US kept the world economy going through an investment boom, particularly between 1996 and 2001, that resulted in major productivity gains. The fruits of this were never shared equitably within the US but th-at was another matter. Since 2001, however, investment has been falling and productivity levels have come down.

Behind this decline is the decline in the rate of profit that began to show itself from 1997 onwards. Business profits declined from $ 858 billion in the third quarter of 1997 to $ 761 billion in the second quarter of 2001. Between 1997 and 2001, private sector wage payrolls rose by 30 per cent while the gross domestic product rose by 21.5 per cent. At the same time the capital-output ratio increased by 17 per cent in volume but only 10 per cent in value.

Both these trends together ensured a declining profit rate. Since investment nonetheless continued it was only a matter of time before over-accumulation would show up and excess capacity exacerbated. By August 2001, the rate of utilization of production capacity was 76.2 per cent in the US, the lowest since the 1982 recession. Excess capacity was manifest most strongly in the high technology sectors that were supposed to propel the “New Economy”, dropping from 88 per cent in 1995 to 63.4 per cent in 2001.

Fortunately, the absurd stock market boom is playing itself out. It should now be clear that stock dividends and capital gains obtained through shares cannot indefinitely diverge from the actual profit levels that they anticipate. This stock market correction started to take place before September 11. First, in 2000 the upward movement in indexes stopped, and then contrary to prognostications at the time, instead of going up again, they moved downwards throughout 2001.

The Nasdaq index fell from 5,000 to 2,000 and then to 1,700. The 1996-2001 upturn was fuelled by massive consumption expenditure as well, with the very large majority of households devoting 100 per cent of their incomes (or even more) to expenditure. The willingness to go into debt was partly explained by the “wealth effect” of the stock market boom. But the end result was an unsustainable increase in private debt. The third structural weakness of the US economy, besides stock market mania and low domestic savings, has been its burgeoning current account deficit, which has reached $ 450 billion or 4.5 per cent of annual gross national product. In short, foreign savings were being drawn in to fuel growth in the US.

But for how long can the US continue to attract foreign investors? With domestic investment declining, trade deficits putting pressure for the purpose of allowing a fall in the value of the dollar, and profits falling, the situation is very dangerous. Ironically, September 11, even as it has reinforced the shift from investment to consumption has also promoted a military Keynesianism ($ 100 billion have already been allotted for spending) that could well mitigate the world economy’s problems, provided that foreigners can be persuaded to keep on covering the US trade deficit. This is where politics comes in. The EU and Japan must be persuaded, cajoled or bullied into undertaking their share in the “global effort to fight terrorism”. Otherwise, the US might feel pushed to devalue the dollar thereby exporting its recession to Europe and Japan.

As for the EU playing the locomotive role (at least for a time) in the world economy, this is highly unlikely given the difficult state of its own economic situation today. Between 1996 and 2000, seven million jobs were created and official unemployment fell by 3.5 million. Interestingly, this improvement came about not by the better application of neo-liberal dogmas but by their largely involuntary relaxation due to factors external to national government and EU policy choices.

First, the value of European currencies relative to the dollar fell from mid-1997 leading to a surge in exports whose positive impact was reinforced by an unexpected rise in consumer spending because real incomes in Europe rose as a result of otherwise low wage increases being better because inflation was even lower. This surge, in turn promoted further investment with its multiplier effects, and thus a rise in government revenues and lower deficits.

Fortuitously, classical Keynesian mechanisms were at work and came to the rescue, in spite of official policy commitments shaped by neo-liberal ideology. Instead of the dogma that there first had to be a “stabilization” of public finance through austerity measures so as to promote an economic recovery, the reverse happened — it was a Keynesian-style recovery that reduced the deficit and “stabilized” public finance.

Indeed, it was precisely because of these positive circumstances, that the introduction of the euro as a single currency did not have the feared negative effects. The euro turned out to be a weaker currency vis-à-vis the dollar than anticipated or intended. But now that the party in the US is over, (even if there is a mild upturn, there will be no “boom” of the late Nineties type) the European economy cannot hope to rectify matters by pursuing the neo-liberal Stability Pact to which even the Social Democratic governments are committed.

Wage freezes will worsen matters. Declining investment patterns have a dampening effect that is stronger than otherwise because half of the world’s trade is in capital goods which much more directly reflect fluctuations in investment. If reducing taxes is one way to stimulate the economy, how is this possible when the Stability Pact demands that fiscal deficits be lowered to less than 1 per cent of a member-country’s GDP?

However, there are no signs that the neo-liberal dogmas that guide the EU’s long-range policy perspectives (and for that matter, US government thinking) are being jettisoned. The main preoccupations remain wage freezes, labour market flexibility, that is, more lay-offs, less secure jobs and lower pay-packets, more liberalization and privatization, with no imposition of serious controls on capital flows of even the short-term and volatile kind anywhere in sight. One can only hope that somehow, again, practice will diverge from theory.

But the danger from Japan’s and Europe’s point of view of the new US military Keynesianism under George W. Bush is that it is very likely to be organized in such a way as to reinforce the trend of the Nineties whereby corporate US has grown stronger and more powerful at the expense of its multinational rivals whose “home bases” are European and Japanese.

The author is currently visiting professor at the Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi


By Alessandro Baricco,
Hamish Hamilton, £ 6.99

The literary world hasn’t come to a decision yet on whether Alessandro Baricco is “really a great writer, or…a bluffer”. This is probably because Baricco is an Italian music critic whose novels — three till date — are tapestries woven with memory and strange desires, dreams and the cruellest of nightmares, the pragmatic and the outrageously impossible, the comic and the painfully serious, and above all, the real and the imaginary.

Silk, written in 1997, Baricco’s first novel, is a love fable set in Japan in the 1860s. It is about a Frenchman in search of silkworms’ eggs who falls in love with a warlord’s concubine. In Ocean Sea, a historical yet timeless tale set in some European shore, a painter, a woman pining for her lover, a young princess, a seaman and several others are all guests at the Almayer Inn, where their lives intersect repeatedly to create a virtual narrative maze.

City is an experiment of sorts — with form rather than content, like a modern-day Tristram Shandy. There are several narratives, each written in a distinctive style, which cross one another almost randomly. These accommodate a Western in progress, a white underdog boxer training to be a champion, a giant and a mute going about sticking chewing gum on the keyboards of ATM machines, a comic strip agency taking a poll on whether a character should be killed off, and several professors roaming the twilight zone between the intellect and madness.

All these happen around or in the minds of Gould (a boy-genius whose father is in the army and mother in an asylum) and his governess, 30-year-old Shatzy Shell. Shatzy carries a tape-recorder, into which she dictates the Western she’s making, and photographs of Walt Disney and Eva Braun in her bag which says “Save the Planet Earth from Painted Toenails”. Gould was discovered at the age of six to have an IQ of 180. “At the age of 11, he had graduated in theoretical physics, with work on the solution of the Hubbard model in two dimensions.” At the graduation ceremony, the rector said, “You, Gould, are a billiard ball, and you run between the cushions of knowledge tracing the infallible trajectory that will let you, with our joy and sympathy, roll gently into the pocket of fame and success…and the name of that pocket is the Nobel Prize.”

Shatzy becomes Gould’s governess after she is fired from CRB, the company which had been publishing the adventures of Ballon Mac, a dentist by day and fighter of evil by night. Shatzy and Gould are loners, each clueless about the other’s curious preoccupations and imaginary worlds. But they strike a funny companionship, traipsing through the town in search of a trailer, only to realize that they need a car to attach it to, or going into McDonald’s to find that for everything they want to eat, they must take something they don’t want free of cost.

But before the narrative of Gould and Shatzy can get anywhere, it is interrupted, and often completely taken over, by several others. Most prominent among these is Shatzy’s Western, presided over by the 63-year-old twin Dolphin sisters. This leads up to the solving of the riddle of a gigantic clock, in a town where time stopped 34 years ago. There is also the story of Larry Gorman’s boxing matches in the backdrop of deceit, betrayal and pride, which Gould spins out only in the confines of the lavatory. There’s also Professor Mondrian Kilroy, whose subjects of research range from Monet’s Waterlilies to intellectual honesty, which, by the way, he thinks is an oxymoron.

Like Monet’s paintings, Baricco’s novel too is impressionistic. Ann Goldstein’s translation conveys his linguistic brilliance and eccentricity with ease. City is a gallery of freaks, even though the exhibits are quite harmless. Navigating City is not an easy task. No one lives happily ever after — Shatzy, in fact, dies. Emotions like happiness are not streets Baricco’s citizens tread.


By Partha Mitter,
Oxford, Rs 495

A new trend can be noticed in books on Indian art published by foreign publishers. Earlier the focus was always on classical, ancient and medieval art. Recent books, however, touch on developments in contemporary art and architecture in wide-ranging surveys of nearly 5,000 years of Indian art. The latest instance is Partha Mitter’s Indian Art in the “Oxford History of Art” series. Vidya Dehejia had written a book with the same title, some time ago, which was published by Phaidon Press. As publishing products the two books bear comparison. As expressions of the writers’ points of view they are vastly different. While Dehejia employs a continuous narrative, Mitter divides different periods into topics and modules.

Mitter brings to his book an art historian’s approach. He sums up the different debates which have sprung up over significant developments in Indian art history. To cite one instance, Ebba Koch’s view that the art of inlaying marble with precious or semi-precious stones is an Italian import has been refuted by B.N. Goswamy. This is useful material for students of art history.

The other great advantage of Mitter’s book is his vision of Indian art as a meandering flow with innumerable twists and turns, tributaries and oxbow lakes. It does not simply rush through a straight groove. As a result, the book gives interesting glimpses into not so familiar terrain. The little sub-section on the mother cult in relation to the history of art is a case in point.

Other interesting chapters are those on minority traditions, ideal beauty and eroticism and on the non-canonical arts of tribal people, women and artisans. While eroticism in Indian art has been discussed by earlier scholars, Mitter distils the debates in this area of study. The chapter on the non-canonical arts is a major breakthrough as the voices of these marginalized sections of society have seldom been recorded in art history. That Manadasundari’s kantha or a Santhal artist’s jadupat has as much claim to being a form of artistic expression as an illuminated manuscript is a growing realization among art historians. Jyotindra Jain, when he was director of the Crafts Museum, mounted a major show called Other Masters displaying works of master craftspersons. So Mitter’s gesture of fitting these artists within a larger framework merits appreciation.

Similarly, recognition of the artistic expressions of women is a major step in art history. Dehejia dwells on the image of women in Indian art in her book. She also refers to women as patrons but does not elaborate on their creative efforts. Another difference in Mitter’s approach is worth mentioning. Most art historians completely leave out, or mention only in passing, the artistic expressions articulated in Bengal. Mitter is an exception. For instance, he includes a special section on Bengali temples from the 16th to the 19th century with their richly ornamental terracotta friezes. Other valuable inclusions are a chronology, a list of major museums and an overview of the development of art in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Mitter’s book is divided into four major sections. The first section is devoted to Buddhist and Hindu art and architecture (c.300 BC-1700 AD) The second discusses Indo-Islamic art and architecture (c.712 BC-1757 AD). Colonial art and architecture (1757-1947) forms the third section, while the last deals with postcolonial art and architecture (1947-2000).

Despite all these qualities, the book, however, has certain problems. Possibly, because of the vastness of the subject, much of Mitter’s writing appears to be cursory and fragmented. For example, while discussing A.R. Chughtai’s work, he mentions the interesting idea of the rise of Muslim nationalism, but does not substantiate the line of thinking to any great extent. There are many such ideas which are tantalizing in their brevity. This is unlike the substantial scholarship in his Much Maligned Monsters and Art and Nationalism. In his treatment of the modern period, the selection of artists appears to be quite arbitrary.

There is hardly any discussion of the academic realists of Bombay like Dhurandhar, Rahman or Trinidade whose place in Indian art cannot be ignored. Similarly, while discussing contemporary women artists, Mitter discusses a handful of artists including Anjolie Ela Menon and Arpana Caur but omits any mention of Arpita Singh, one of our most powerful women artists, or Jayashree Chakravarti and Veena Bhargava to mention a few names. While the illustrations in the book are good, they cannot be described as breathtaking.


By Channa Wickremesekera,
Manohar, Rs 450

The sepoy army was the principal linchpin of the colonial rulers in India. About 20,000 peasants used to annually join the army. From the Nineties, scholars have shown interest in the British-Indian army as a social phenomenon. Channa Wickremesekera in the book under review turns the spotlight on the army during the 18th century. The British recruited “loyal” and “brave” indigenous groups in order to construct what Wickremesekera terms a professional army. The author brings out the contrast between the Western modelled professional sepoy army and its Indian counterparts.

The pre-British Indian armies were mainly groups of cavalrymen brought together by the semi-autonomous political chiefs. The Indian rulers used to depend on the warlords for the recruitment for their armies. For infantry, the Indian kings depended on the “jobber-commanders” who were clan chiefs as well as landowners. They negotiated with the rulers regarding the terms and conditions of service of the infantry supplied by them. As the rulers had no direct connection with the soldiers who were more loyal to their immediate chiefs, desertion was common. In contrast, the sepoy army got rid of the “jobber-commanders” and recruited men directly from the villages.

Owing to the segmented political structure of the indigenous polities the Indian princely armies lacked a cohesive command apparatus. The sepoy army, in contrast, had a centralized command and control system. An officer corps with a clear cut hierarchy was absent in the pre-colonial Indian armies. An ad hoc grouping of the various jagirdars in the exigencies of the battlefield was the general rule.

The grouping of the Indian warlords was shaped not so much by their experience in military combat as by the nature of the political alliance which they had with the rulers. As a result of the absence of military expertise on the part of the warlords, the soldiers of the Indian rulers did not fight as a cohesive body of soldiers. But, the induction of British officers in the sepoy regiments was a break with Indian military tradition. The white officers constituted a professional body, as they were not allowed to indulge in politics and private trade. In return, the East India Company offered them a hierarchical career pattern.

And this professional army had a devastating effect on the amateur military strategies of the Indians. While the armies of the Indian princes, like those of the Carnatic and Awadh nawabs, emphasized the proficiency of individual skills in arms, the sepoy army concentrated on the cohesive strength of its soldiers. Pre-British Indian armies were incapable of manoeuvring in the battlefields. Therefore, the indigenous armies were no match for the company’s sepoys.

Wickremesekera also comments that the loosely knit militia of the 17th and 18th century could only be used for successfully conducting raids against the enemy. While the cohesive sepoy army was used effectively for the permanent annexation of territories after destroying enemy armies in decisive battles.

A historiographical gap is filled by Wickremesekera through his analysis of a period which witnessed the genesis of the sepoy army. Not racial factors but the superior organizational techniques which were exemplified in the making of the sepoy soldiers as “specialists of violence” aided British expansionism in India. And this was what ultimately gave the required fillip to the ever expanding colonial state.


By Tej N. Dhar,
Rupa, Rs 295

Alessandro Portelli, the oral historian of the working-class movement of Italy, stressed the importance of individual memory with all its local colouring in any grand narrative of history in his article, “The Time of My Life — Function of Time in Oral History”. “...to tell a story is to take arms against the threat of time… The telling of a story preserves the teller from oblivion. Told as it must be at a specific time and in a phase of irreversible time, one tale itself creates a special time, ‘a time outside time’.”

Almost a decade later in Time and Narrative, Paul Ricoeur defined historical events in a manner which underlined the contingency and individuality factors of modern historiography, which influences the flexible bond between history as lived and history as recounted. Far from being a uni-dimensional chronicling of the past, history is now being understood as an interplay of multiple narrative structures representing different time-patterns, from which the “pastness” of events is not merely to be retrieved and represented, but revived and reconstituted.

The book under review is such a comprehensive history of militancy in the Kashmir valley. It is a diary by an unknown Kashmiri Pandit, edited and compiled by Tej N. Dhar, an English professor in Asmara University, Africa. Dhar, himself born into a Pandit family, was forced to leave the valley in 1990. He returned to Kashmir a decade later at the request of his friend Kamal, a BSF officer. During this visit Kamal handed Dhar a parcel containing a number of hastily written diary pages which were retrieved from under the rubble of one of the many vandalized houses in the valley.

The diary was interesting for various reasons. First, these pages were written by a person who had to live under the constant shadow of death until, in all probability, he died in August, 1990. It is puzzling why the anonymous author decided to stay on alone in the valley, risking his life and being a mute spectator of the barbaric killing and torture of Pandits by mujahids. In fact, he asks himself this question several times in his diary without coming up with a definite answer. He was probably too nostalgic to move away from his roots, or maybe he perceived his very presence to be a form of protest against brutality and arrogance, or probably, as Dhar explains, “he might simply have been trying to relive or revisit his past to make sense of his life in the present or maybe just to escape its depressive gloom.” But a more likely reason which the author himself cites in a fit of desperation in one of his diary pages is his feeling that “by letting my thoughts flow, I assert my right to speak the way I want to” — an echo of the Portellian view of “taking arms against the threat of time”?

Apart from the tragic sentimentality associated with the text, there are other reasons to be drawn towards it. The narrative which Dhar describes as “freewheeling and choppy” is multilayered and tries to capture the past and contrast it with the present. The contrast is brought about at myriad levels.

At times the writer contrasts his forlorn existence during a reign of terror, with the luxurious community life he enjoyed in the past. At other times, the erstwhile notion of communal amity is contrasted with the new-fangled theory of communal differences of the present. In his native place, Habba Kadal, the author remains a refugee simultaneously constructing, and being constructed by, his memory. The narrative is lent poignancy as much by his lucidity of style as by the author’s sensitive and piquant observations on political events which have directly or indirectly led to the rise and spread of militancy in the valley.

One of his statements regarding the minority issue is worth taking note of — “Our tragedy is that we are a minority in a state where the minority is in the majority, and, therefore, irredeemable!” His view of militancy, which he considers to be only a part of a larger sinister scheme of politics, is expressed when he says, “Terrorism has already turned into a new adventure, and also a new market to tap.” Straightforwardness of this type is irresistible.



Why do authors write? Some do it to make a living and get rich. Some to make a living and remain poor. Others for pleasure and fulfilment. Although there is no one answer, most authors have rejected Samuel Johnson’s theory that no one but a fool writes for anything but money. This is despite the fact that most authors would like to see their words in print and their books selling in sufficient numbers. Can this goal be reached, where’s the catch and what should an author do to avoid the heartaches that invariably follow?

The answer to the first question is a simple yes. The business of producing a book is no longer a tedious process. Virtually any one who has worked on a computer can type their own “copy”, save it on a floppy, hand the floppy to a printer and get their book published. Besides, there is no shortage of publishers — called vanity publishers — eager to provide this service, at a price.

The response to a small advertisement in the books page of newspapers and literary journals appealing to unpublished authors with vague promises of literary fame invariably results in disappointments and a large bill. This type of publishing has got a bad name because most of these publishers are not particularly serious while assessing the commercial appeal of the literary offerings. In fact, they hardly assess the commercial viability of the project from the author’s point of view; all they do is make sure the author pays for the cost of production and service charges. The author, keen to see his book published, does so and this is where the trouble begins.

After the book is published, the author is keen to recover his investment, which means that the book has to be widely distributed. Invariably this does not happen because the vanity publisher has no financial stake in the commercial success of the book. It may sound a bit cynical but the vanity publisher is only interested in the author’s purse, and having picked it moves on.

What then should an aspiring author do? First, be sure he can afford to hire a publisher. If he can recover his financial investment, he should consider it a bonus. Second, he should ask to see samples of the publisher’s latest books. Third, he must make sure the publisher has an inhouse publicity staff. At a time when there are way too many books in an already overcrowded marketplace, publicity is absolutely necessary to get the book into the bookshops.

This also means that the publisher should have proper distribution facilities. Since this is rarely the case, a major part of the publicity campaign, such as sending review copies or publicity leaflets, has to be undertaken by the author himself.

While there is nothing inherently wrong in paying for one’s book to be published, it must be said that the payment could be exorbitant. Vanity publishers prepare itemized costs of production and add a 50 per cent service charge to such costs. All this can amount to a hefty packet — with no guarantee that the author will recover the costs. The simple advice to such aspiring authors is to put their own shoulders to the publicity machine after having checked out the vital parameters mentioned above. This is the only way in which an author might be able to ensure the fame and fortune that he hopes his published book will bring.



The infinite riches of Page Three

By Kanika Gahlaut
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Kanika Gahlaut’s Among the Chatterati: The diary of a page-three hack takes up one of the two options open for the modern Indian female fiction writer. Gahlaut (a journalist) opts for Bridget Jones, rather than Arundhati Roy. The Jones Clones write clever, trashy, urban novels whereas the Small Things School writes of unspeakable kinship relations in the Indian deep south. The former are usually more fun to read than the latter because bad frivolous writing is more entertaining than lugubrious Women’s Writing. Gahlaut is a Jones person, and glitzy Delhi is her hunting ground. She starts with an excellent epigraph from Cyril Connolly: “All charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others.” But light years separate Connolly’s (and Waugh’s) Bright Young Things from post-liberalization Delhi trash. Party-hopping has its own hectic monotony, even if interspersed with wise words on Indian pagethreeism: “Page Three...was, for the first time in the history of Indian journalism, driving editorial policy. And the party animal — the permanent inhabitant of this new space — is now in demand like never before.”

By D.P. Mukerji
(Rupa, Rs 195)

D.P. Mukerji’s Indian Culture: A Sociological Study is a valuable reprint of a classic study published in the Forties by a scholar with an extraordinary range of academic and creative interests. Novelist, critic, sociologist, musicologist and outstanding teacher, Mukerji moulded an entire intellectual tradition centred in Lucknow University from the Thirties to the Fifties. “There is such a thing as Indian Culture”, begins the study, “Non-Indians recognize its existence, and we Indians sense it.” The implications of Mukerji’s excellent chapter, “The Sociology of Modern Indian Music”, have not yet been adequately explored by contemporary scholars. Few historians today could talk in the same breath about the roots of Indian culture and the danger of “civil hatred” in partitioned India. But Mukerji pulls this off without compromising his commitment to creative pluralism. Ashok Mitra’s introduction to this reprint is an eloquent tribute to this capacious scholar.

Edited By Amrita Kumar and Prashun Bhaumik
(Rupa, Rs 195)

Lest we forget: Gujarat 2002 Edited By Amrita Kumar and Prashun Bhaumik collects articles on the Gujarat genocide which came out in the Indian print media. Amitav Ghosh, Anjolie Ela Menon, Barkha Dutt, Rajmohan Gandhi, Romila Thapar, together with eminent journalists like Barkha Dutt,Rajdeep Sardesai and Vir Sanghvi present a range of responses to and analyses of Godhra and related events. This is an important collection which shows up — perhaps without intending to — both the importance and the ineffectuality of civil society in the face of violent hatred.



Not in their stars

Sir — It is not surprising that a party which has two old men in its two top posts might want to add a touch of glamour to its government by inducting filmstars (“Shatrughan one up”, July 2). Only time will tell whether Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna are able to overcome the jinx that has so far affected the fortunes of Bollywood actors who have tried to make the transition from cinema to politics. Amitabh Bachchan, Raj Babbar, Rajesh Khanna and several others had their stints in politics and all of them were unsuccessful. The misfortune of the Bollywood stars is particularly baffling, especially when contrasted with the phenomenal success of their counterparts in the South. Perhaps, it is time the Bollywood brigade accepted that it takes much more than mere looks to make it in the cut and thrust world of politics. For example, could Sinha and Khanna ever beat J. Jayalalithaa’s cunning?

Yours faithfully,
Urmila Roy, Calcutta

Wise talk

Sir— When states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka realized the need to set up colleges for technical education more than a decade ago, West Bengal was still content with a handful of engineering colleges at Shibpur, Jadavpur, Durgapur and so on. This was the beginning of the exodus of a large number of students to other states. Then came the boom in software and information technology, and other states promptly set up colleges to teach computer science and engineering. Students of these institutions reaped the benefits in the job market.

West Bengal finally woke up and established a large number of private engineering colleges. But these lacked in infrastructure. Even now none of the new engineering colleges offers quality education in the core engineering subjects. The global economic slowdown which led to a glut in the demand for software and IT professionals has worsened West Bengal’s plight. Now, when the Central government is trying to upgrade the regional engineering colleges in the country to deemed universities, the complacency of the state government has ensured that the REC in Durgapur is reportedly not even included in the list of the first ten colleges selected for upgradation. The situation is worse for the medical colleges as the number of seats have not grown adequately. Also, no new medical college has been set up in the state in the last few years.

The fate of bio-science has been dismal. The most glaring example of the inefficiency of the state education department is the fact that out of the two dozen universities approved by the department of bio-technology, government of India, for the post-graduate level, there is not a single one from West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Pabitra Kumar Das, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Hire education” (June 29), highlights the absurdity of an education policy that sidelines the humanities in favour of new disciplines, and that too under the pretext of keeping up with the times. It is only desirable that new subjects like microbiology and business administration be taught in colleges and universities in West Bengal. Such a move will undoubtedly help students in the state who are forced to move to other states in order to study these subjects. But did the introduction of these subjects actually necessitate an undermining of the conventional subjects of study?

What is most disappointing is the notion that subjects like history and political science are no longer relevant. Even worse is the idea to have two separate fee structures. Apart from compromising the quality of education, this policy is bound to send wrong signals to the student community. In other words, there will be even less takers for the humanities. Is this the precursor to the eventual phasing out of the study of humanities?

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Datta, Calcutta

Sir— The editorial, “Hire education”, and the article, “In an imperfect world”, by Maitreesh Ghatak and Sugato Marjit (June 29) made interesting reading. But if the West Bengal government deserves to be blamed for its superficiality, myopia and petty politicking in education, The Telegraph too cannot be applauded unreservedly. What is this “higher education” that the newspaper is lamenting, and for whom? Having been a teacher for 21 years, I have discovered that higher education, whether in the sciences or the humanities, as it was understood and practised, is a frustrating waste of resources. When leaders like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had stressed the need for “universal education”, they had meant basic education for all children up to the age of 14. This, everyone will agree, is indispensable to the running of a democratic and technology-driven society. But there is little point in trying to universalize higher education since the majority are not interested in the aesthetic, moral or spiritual aspects of life. One goes to college to find a “respectable” and adequate means of livelihood. Nobody gains from pretending otherwise, except, of course, the so-called professors.

Besides, what is wrong with concentrating on courses of study that would increase the prospects of employment? There is no point in arguing that a nation or society stands to gain anything significant by persuading tens of thousands of students to swallow and regurgitate endlessly-recycled “notes” to acquire a post-graduate degree in economics, history or physics, so that they can swell the ranks of the unemployed. In no country and no epoch has genius flourished that way; the finest poets, social critics, statesmen and scientists are rarely university products.

Ghatak and Marjit have ignored one effect of the ban on private tuition which will have a long-term ramification. The ban will eventually encourage the best teachers to quit their jobs in the hope of making more money by devoting their time to private tuition. Tuitions will become more expensive and an additional financial hurdle for the less well-off students. But does anyone in this state really care?

Yours faithfully,
Suvro Chatterjee, Durgapur

Sir— One is not surprised to see Maitreesh Ghatak and Sugato Marjit examining the possible fallout of banning private tuitions, as economists. Their criticism of the left also shows their naïveté and political leanings. According to them, the ban on private tuition would merely channelize the energy and time of teachers to some other activity. It would not necessarily force teachers to concentrate on their performance at school. But would teachers really be able to switch to some other profession only because there is a more suitable package elsewhere? Ghatak and Marjit suggest the general equilibrium approach to this problem because they are aware of the limitations of the partial equilibrium approach. But economists always analyse social phenomenon by assuming certain things and ignoring others. Thus their analysis is always partial and hence partisan.

Yours faithfully,
Saikat Mitra, Dum Dum

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