Editorial / Question mark
Remains of the past
The Telegraph Diary
XX
Eye on England
Women/ One mirror, two images
Differences
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / QUESTION MARK 
 
 
 
 
It is a black mark against an examination body when aggrieved parents rush to court after the results come out and schools wish to change boards The brilliant merit list of higher secondary examination seems to have a disturbing flipside. The West Bengal council of higher secondary education is not totting up too many points on credibility charts. Within two days of the announcement of the results, the high court had registered 125 results-related cases. The phenomenon is not new; last year there had been a total of 70 such cases. What is different this year is the far higher number in a much shorter span of time. Many of the guardians complaining of injustice to their wards would be asking the high court to direct the council to show them the examinee’s answer sheets. Nothing else would persuade them that their wards, having done well throughout their school careers, have done miserably in the final test.

This attitude is a serious comment on the council’s credibility. It is noticeable that the guardians are going straight to the courts, without first requesting the council to show them the answer sheets in question. Evidently, they find that a pointless exercise. It seems that the council’s president has mislaid the court’s direction made last year, asking the council to pay attention to the grievances about appraisal. The council seems to have forgotten the all-important fact that its examiners are pronouncing on the futures of thousands of young citizens, that carelessness and misjudgment can destroy young people’s lives. In more general terms, the guardians are demanding transparency. The court advised the same thing last year. If it refuses to comply, the council will lose whatever credibility it still has. Worse, this loss will damage the children who have performed creditably under the system. Unless the council is seen as discharging its responsibilities sincerely, it will be charged with having damaged the futures of those who have done badly and devalued the performance of those who have succeeded.

All this could have been put down to the paranoia of over-ambitious parents and their over-hopeful children. Unfortunately, the reaction of a large number of schools puts paid to such a theory. Some urban schools are contemplating a joint public interest litigation, because they feel that the performance of their students is being undervalued, often in comparison with that of students of district schools. The gravity of such a charge, even if it has not yet been made, cannot be underestimated with regard to a statewide examination body. Equally significant is the desire of many schools to shift to other boards of examination. That process has already begun with a few leading schools of the city. It is good that the state government has promised all cooperation in this matter. But the point lies elsewhere. That schools should wish to change boards, when the path to higher education within the state has been rendered especially smooth for those who take the state examination, is another comment on the waning credibility of this examination system. True, the higher secondary board has to deal with an incredibly large number of examinees. It is high time the authorities worked out concrete ways to ensure that numbers do not become a pretext for lax assessment.

   

 
 
REMAINS OF THE PAST 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
On June 23, in these columns Sunanda K. Datta-Ray wrote about the arrival of a new type of ingabanga, who were quite different in class and taste, from those of a previous generation. As if to physically mark this change, on the previous day came the news of the death of Romola Sinha. For many who knew her or even knew of her, the death of Romola Sinha will seem like the passing of a generation and an age which Datta-Ray evoked from the position of some one born in the heartland of the older ingabanga set.

Romola Sinha, who was 97 when she died, was a remarkable woman by any reckoning. She was born to privilege and was married into even greater privilege. The Sinhas of Raipur could at one time consider themselves to be one of the elite families of Calcutta. Their status in the more recent past fell somewhat as the family was shaken by accident and scandal, and when it became common knowledge that the last Lord Sinha had died in a bedsit in North London in near-destitute conditions. But all this did not touch the graciousness and the work of Romola Sinha. The former was more than apparent to all those who met her and the latter was there for all to see in the institution she built, the All Bengal Women’s Union.

I want to take the work of Romola Sinha to articulate some of the values and virtues of this generation of westernized Bengalis. In the egalitarian world in which we now live, there is a tendency to decry this generation and this particular group. Often such criticism is justified. The class was marked by its loyalty to the raj. Their lifestyles and even their sensibilities were invariably European. Many of them were not particularly well-educated despite their public school and Oxbridge educations. (I knew an old man who was very proud of his engineering degree from Cambridge. Someone had to tell him politely but firmly that there was nothing to be proud of since Cambridge was not especially well-known for its engineering faculty.) They could also be incorrigibly snobbish and some of them stupid as well.

In all this what is often forgotten is that their loyalism was punctuated by acts of courage. Datta-Ray has recalled how B.L.Gupta closed his court for the day and proceeded straight to Presidency Jail when he heard that his friend, Surendra Nath Banerjee, had been arrested. Brajendranath De, one of the earliest members of the heaven-born (as members of the Indian civil service were known) and a formidable scholar of Arabic and Persian, fought the racism of his superior. Romesh Dutt’s refusal to politically challenge the right of the British to rule in India cannot take away from the courage and the conviction that informed his economic critique of British rule. There are many such instances. Romola Sinha’s husband, an ICS officer, earned the anger of the official establishment because he had adjudicated against a Briton.

There was other aspects to the work of this class. Everyone knows of S.R. Das, law member of the viceroy’s council, who founded the Doon School. But very few know that his sister, Sarala Ray, set up Gokhale Memorial Girls’ School and another sister, Abala (wife of Jagadish Chandra Bose), was involved in Bethune School. Romola Sinha’s work with poor and deserted women came out of a similar commitment to the society and the city in which she lived. It is a distortion to see such people only in terms of their lifestyle and thus label them as aliens in their country. It is also easy to denigrate this kind of work as meaningless do-gooding carried out by women of affluent families as a salve to their conscience. But at least such women were utterly selfless, did not look for honours or for political mileage at the expense of the underprivileged. They may not have preached the message of social and economic transformation but that is no reason to undervalue their work, especially in an age in which most radical messiahs have been shown up to have feet of clay.

Another indirect impact of this class should not pass unnoticed. This was the formation of a particular sensibility which, for the lack of a better word, can only be called European. This sensibility was conveyed through an ineffable osmosis and it reached an educated Bengali middle class which was not in any way identified with the westernized Bengali elite to which the Sinhas, the Dases and the Guptas belonged. One has in mind people like the poets Sudhindranath Dutta and Bishnu Dey, the historian Sushobhon Sarkar, the educationist Apurba Chanda, the scholar Nirad C. Chaudhuri and of course Satyajit Ray. The cultural tastes of these men were European even though their lifestyle, except perhaps in the case of Sudhin Dutta, remained strongly Bengali. It was common at one time for such people to rub shoulders with the westernized elite in western classical music concerts, a preserve of the sahibs, native and real.

I do not want to unduly emphasize the serious side of the westernized elites’ activities by ignoring the utterly frivolous aspects of their existence. Dancing at the 300 Club, Guy Fawkes Day parties and inane socializing occupied a large part of their leisure hours. But there was in them a great sense of fun and the guts to fight. One story should illustrate the last quality.

In the Seventies, the late Moni Mullick took on the then British deputy high commission over two mongrels she kept in her garage. The deputy high commissioner, who lived across the road, had a running cold war with her because, according to him, the dogs made too much noise. He made the fatal error of having the dogs picked up and packed off to Howrah Station. This, so far as Moni Mullick was concerned, was a declaration of war. She wrote to the high commissioner and mobilized influential public opinion. The high commissioner, in his wisdom, decided to intervene and asked his subordinate to get the dogs back. After they arrived, an attempt was made by none other than Bob Wright to broker a peace. Moni Mullick initially refused to meet the deputy high commissioner. After much persuasion she agreed. When her opponent said, “Mrs Mullick, I’ve no intentions of souring Indo-British relations,” she replied, “So far as I’m concerned they are not sour but rotten.” Having said that she rose and walked to the door like a galleon in full sail, she stopped at the door and delivered her Parthian shot: “Mr ..., when the young ICS officers came out to India, they were told beware the water and the women. Obviously no one gave you this warning.”

The story illustrates many things about the westernized elite: their tenacity in whatever they believed in, their refusal to be cowed down and also their wit. It was a confidence born out of privilege. There was something charming in all this. Whoever makes human beings does not make this brand anymore. Their time in Indian society has passed. But some of the institutions they built and nurtured survive and have become a part of our lives. Those who debunk this class should pause to ponder if their own institutions will have the same staying power.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Tragic hero

Even before the pillow passed from Yashwant Sinha to Jaswant Singh, there were attempts at snatching it. The person who reportedly indulged in this daredevilry is none other than the almost forgotten third member of the once famous triad of Vajpayee-Advani-Joshi. Since the first two already have their place in the sun (the second being assured of it only recently), dear old Murli Manohar Joshi must have thought it worthwhile to exert himself a little to see if he could grab the prized portfolio of finance. The Union human resources development minister, whose performance in the education sector has been nothing short of stellar, considered himself a worthy successor to Sinha because of his seniority and knowledge of the “Indian systems”. Joshi obviously had no idea of how the deputy PM’s system worked. LK Advani is reputed to have finally busted Joshi’s dream. The quick-witted in the saffron circle have compared the HRD minister’s pleas to Mandodari vilaap in the Ramayana. The epic has it that Ravana’s wife, Mandodari, who considered herself a beauty, had pleaded with her husband to dump Sita, whom he had only just captured. Joshi’s plea to Vajpayee had been to dump Jaswant, only just anointed the new finance minister of India. Quite an epic performance there. Only that Joshi might ultimately emerge less of a tragic character than Mandodari.

And the award goes to...

As most of us must have gathered by now, the former law minister, Arun Jaitley is quite a character. For one, there are few who can equal his capacity for PR (P for press in this case). On day one of being made the spokesman of his party, Jaitley invited select media persons at 11 am for an informal meet. The chit-chat continued till 1 pm. The electronic media got wind of it. So soundbites were given till the clock struck 3. Jaitley rushed to the official press conference at 3.45 pm. It ended up in an informal meet. By the time Jaitley was through, it was 5 pm. At the end of the day, everyone, of both the media and the saffron brigade, was happy with the former minister’s performance. Except of course one person a few kilometres away from Ashoka Road. S Jaipal Reddy, the Congress spokesperson, has a formidable contender in Jaitley. The nation can get ready for a heavyweight championship, never mind if its verbal.

Resisting temptation

A fact uncontested. The Assam CM, Tarun Gogoi, has won many friends in the cut-and-throat political world in New Delhi for his simplicity and drive to get the best for his state. The other day, Gogoi was discovered in front of the PMO, waiting for an audience with the PM. He ran into Ashok Saikia, joint secretary in the PMO, and could not resist asking Saikia to come and work for him in Guwahati, “at any post” that he wished to be in. For a split second, Saikia was tempted. But he politely declined the offer, offering instead all help in his personal and professional capacity as a bureaucrat. Right choice, baby.

Still making history

For umpteen times the left has reiterated that for it Lakshmi Sahgal was not a matter of choice, but of principle. What is almost unknown is the fact that the prime mover of this decision was the veteran Marxist, Jyoti Basu. Initially, when the leftists realized that the numbers were against them, the bigwigs had decided to give up their fight against the long-haired messiah of Indian science. But Basu supposedly did not want to make another “historical blunder”. He is said to have urged his comrades to look at things his way. If the left allowed saffron to have its way, they wouldn’t have much face in the future. When political historians later mulled over the issue, they would see that the left had given in rather tamely. And that is one situation that had to be avoided at all costs. So when Basu took the “principled stand”, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, quite predictably, accepted the argument. What do we have then? A left trying to make history for history’s sake?

Why is he up there?

What got M Venkaiah Naidu shunted out of the cabinet? Apparently, an innocuous comment made sometime in March this year. Naidu is said to have suggested to Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he contest the presidential polls. That obviously got the PM’s goat and reprisal followed, cutting Naidu out as smoothly as knife through butter. Some others believe that Naidu got out of the cabinet because Jhandewalan doesn’t like Mahajan too much and Swaraj was thought to be unfit for party presidentship. So Naidu had to happen. Anyway, don’t tell his wife this sob story.

The same trouble spots

Double trouble for Sonia. She has made it clear to the Nagaland CM, SC Jamir, how unhappy she is about his decision to throw out the power minister, K Therie, without consulting the high command. The emotion was expressed after Therie had convinced her of the injustice of it all. But Jamir has seemingly conveyed to Sonia that she had to choose between him and Therie. The assembly polls are due shortly and Sonia obviously does not wish to lose either Therie, who is an influential tribal leader, or Jamir. Anyway, since Therie has allegedly already landed himself at the doorstep of Purno Sangma, Jamir might be the one who’ll stay put.

Room with the view

LK Advani takes his description as modern day Sardar Patel rather seriously. He insisted that the Rashtrapati Bhavan communique come out the same day Patel was made deputy PM. Presently, he is reported to be eyeing George Fernandes’s room. But why? Because that is where Patel worked from.

Footnote / From the minister’s wife

The flipside of being a minister, or a minister’s wife. First things first though. AK Murthy, the PMK MP from Tamil Nadu who was made minister of state for railways, was very eager to have himself photographed after the swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The minister, who kept requesting photographers for a shoot in his desi language (for he apparently knows no other), found no one was willing to oblige him. That is when he desperately shouted, “Namaste,” and had himself clicked promptly amid the din of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Shatrughan Sinha, on the other side, maintained a studied silence after taking over as health minister. Probably because his wife, Poonam, did all the talking. This sister of film director Ramesh Sippy made it a point to meet all senior officials of the ministry, including young IAS officers working as directors in various wings of the department her husband was now in charge. When Lady Sinha was introduced to them, she inquired, “So, what are you directing these days?” Hazards of politeness for the minister’s wife.

   

 
 
XX 
 
 
XX
 
 
XX    

 
 
EYE ON ENGLAND 
 
 
BY AMIT ROY
 
 

Guhas deliver daughter to England

Isa Guha, a 17-year-old Indian schoolgirl who bowls medium pace, will be making her debut in the England-India women’s one day cricket matches due to be held in Jersey this coming week.

The only thing is that Isa, who was born and brought up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, will be representing England, the first girl of Indian origin to do so.

Her father, Barun Guha, a businessman who sells refrigeration units to supermarkets, came to Britain from Calcutta in 1965. His wife, Roma, joined him in 1974 after he went back to have an arranged marriage to Roma Dey, a teacher. Isa (pronounced Eesha) was born in High Wycombe on May 21, 1985.

Isa’s elder brother, who first introduced her to colt cricket at a local club when she was eight and later played with his sister in the family’s back garden (a lot of glass windows were broken), is 24.

Isha admits she admires Sachin Tendulkar and thinks the Indian batsmen are stylish but emphasises: “I have always wanted to play for England.” Although she is just a fraction over 5ft tall, she has worked up sufficient pace and nagging accuracy to be picked for the 14-strong England squad. In between her studies at Wycombe High Grammar School — she will now do A levels in Chemistry, Human Biology and Maths — she played for boys’ sides (her mother says she was accepted as an equal) before graduating to senior women’s teams and England under-19s.

Isa has been compared with Jess, the football mad heroine of Gurinder Chadha’s hit film, Bend It Like Beckham. The difference is that Isa’s parents could not have been more supportive. Since Isa cannot drive, her parents have given up weekdays and weekends to take their daughter everywhere. They are flying to Jersey to see her make her international debut in what will be a proud moment for the family.

A natural athlete, who is good at hockey, tennis and badminton, Isa is also a useful batsman, batting anywhere between three and seven. In a recent competitive game, “I got 28 off 25 balls when we need it”, she tells me. Her father, Barun Guha, will be cheering for England. “We have integrated ourselves into English life,” he said, answering my Bengali questions in English.

Her mother, Roma, has already been on the phone to give the good news to her parents, Anil and Savita Dey, in Ballygunge. A Bengali mother’s instinct being what it is, she says: “I always knew she would play for England one day.”

Pigeon post

Lord’s was one of those thrilling one in a lifetime occasions when India beat England in the opening one dayer. Afterwards, an MCC oldtimer looked disgusted as he saw the rude Punjabi boys joyfully dancing the Bhangra in the aisles. I spotted Sunil Gavaskar, who is clearly enjoying free corporate luncheons, disappear behind autograph hunters.

If the Indian-English crowd split at Lord’s was 60-40, at the Oval the next day it was — judging from the flags — nearly 90 per cent Indians and 10 per cent Sri Lankans. There was the odd white face here and there. Someone must be making a lot of money from the sales of Indian flags. There is anther bit of good news: the pigeon, whose lifeless body was carried off the field at the Oval by Mahela Jayawerdene after it was struck at point by a fierce Sachin Tendulkar square drive, is very much alive.

“It recovered and flew out the back door,” I am informed by the Oval spokesman, Johnny Grave.

Upset at the thought of having killed one of God’s little creatures, Tendulkar, whose concentration had lapsed, was caught at the wicket shortly afterwards for 49.

Trendy tee-shirt

We have had our first sighting of the tasteful Satyajit Ray tee-shirt (£15 for non-members, £12 for members) designed by the National Film Theatre which is screening the entire range of his work as “a tribute to the great Bengali film director”. On an ochre background, Satyajit Ray’s name is written in Bengali, which is surely a first for the NFT.

Just before the screening of Pather Panchali, Pam Cullen, the secretary and a founder member of the Satyajit Ray Foundation, read out a message from his absent widow, Bijoya Ray, who expressed her gratitude to the NFT and the British Film Institute. “Had my husband been alive he would have been just as pleased for he had a special love for the British Film Institute,” read the message.

The surprise guest at the launch was Ravi Shankar, who spoke movingly about the music he had composed for the Apu trilogy and for Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone). “We had been quite friendly from 1945,” said Ravi Shankar. “He was very musical and I was really impressed. You couldn’t help being impressed — he was so tall, 6ft and four and a half (inches). Whenever I stood next to him, I always thought it was long and short of it.”

When Ray asked him to do the music for Pather Panchali, “I absolutely was so excited. I had read the book a number of times. I was so much in love with the author and all his writings. And he (Satyajit) took me to see the very rough rushes of the film. It was autumn. I felt very hot and sticky in Calcutta in an awful old cinema house called Bhavani in Tollygunge Avenue. I was so excited because I felt I had never seen any Indian-made film of this kind.”

Inspired, he hummed a bit of music to Ray. “That became the theme music.” A month later, eight musicians gathered in an old fashioned studio in Calcutta, “horrible in the standard of today”. “Would you believe that we started around 9 or 9.30 in the evening and we finished the whole music by about 4.30 in the morning? Pather Panchali to me will stand out as one of his best films, not because I did the music, but the story itself was so great and then each thing in it was so spontaneous. I am so glad you are all here to see a film from such a great man whom we all admire and admit he was greatest of (them) all.”

Calcutta fair

The best book on Calcutta that I have read is by Geoffrey Moorhouse, which dates back to 1971. If that is an “outsider’s account”, we can now look forward to an “insider’s” view from Krishna Dutta, the Bethune College educated girl who left Ballygunge for Bilayat over 30 years ago.

Her book on Calcutta, which seeks to dispel many of the negative stereotypes of the city, should be out in time for the Calcutta Book Fair in January, according to her Oxford-based publisher, James Ferguson of Signal Books. Krishna, who has co-authored a biography of Tagore with Andrew Robinson, “came highly recommended,” says Ferguson, who is publishing the Calcutta book as part of a series, “Cities of the Imagination”, which also includes Venice and Rome.

Krishna says the city has declined but remains optimistic about its future because she believes “its core is in tact”. She disapproves strongly of the “silly” name change to Kolkata. Her 80,000-word manuscript, which she has just submitted to Ferguson, takes Calcutta right from 1690 to the year 2000. Upset that “Calcutta has had a bad press”, she is on the warpath, especially against the film maker Louis Malle and the author Gunter Grass. “Neither did justice to Calcutta,” she rages. “Gunter Grass said Calcutta should be deleted from travel books. What right has he got to say that?”

Tittle tattle

Those who fear that being appointed deputy prime minister puts L. K Advani in line for Vajpayee job’s will take heart from the examples of John Prescott and Michael Heseltine. I know politics in Britain is different but Prescott, who is Tony Blair’s deputy, is ridiculed (unfairly) for his working class origins and called “Two Jags” because he once used two Jaguar limousines instead of walking a short distance.

The Tory Michael Heseltine is remembered as “Tarzan” because of his floppy, blond hair and because he once swung a mace in parliament. John Major appointed him deputy prime minister as a consolation prize. Incidentally, wasn’t Jagjivan Ram once deputy prime minister?

   

 
 
WOMEN/ ONE MIRROR, TWO IMAGES 
 
 
BY RITUPARNO GHOSH/ BY NABANEETA DEV SEN
 
 

by Rituparno Ghosh

Frankly, I can’t help but feel, any women’s page is just like a fat race. Since I was very fat as a kid and I couldn’t compete with other kids in school, I took part in the fat race. The special event, on sports day, was evidently meant for a handful of poor souls, so that we didn’t feel left out. It is this concessional-minority feeling that became part of me as a child. Similarly, be it a women’s first, women special or women only affair, they are all the same: fat race. This is how women are deliberately eliminated from the main race.

True, The Telegraph’s Women page is different and very consciously goes against catering to the traditional clientele of women-specific readership. Rather than exploiting the popular feminine slots, it creates and builds issues that go beyond the orbits of gender and raises pertinent social questions. But, even then, I have a problem with a page that discusses ‘women only’ issues. Not that I am oblivious of such matters, but I feel this categorisation isolates women from the mainstream frame.

The marginalisation is so obvious. The very word ‘woman’ evokes images of fashion, cookery, travel or interior decoration. Of course, such candid alliance between words and notions isn’t just an irrational fallout. There is more to it. Evidently, a social and historical truth is behind all this. For instance, you’ll often find references to ‘women in Satyajit Ray’s films’. But, I haven’t ever come across anything that explores the male characters in Ray’s films. They have always been analysed and discussed as characters. Why can’t then women too be considered as characters in Ray’s films? For me, Vishwambhar Ray is as important a character as Charulata.

Also, this kind of an over-emphasis on women creates a false sphere through which women are intelligently alienated. A ready example is the women’s film-festival. If I were a woman filmmaker I would have taken it as an insult. Because, by creating a separate territory she is actually being tagged. Hence, her ambitions unknowingly get confined within marked territories.

Women do have things to say that are different from their male contemporaries, they do have a distinctive vocabulary. There is a need and they feel the need. Just like a man. But that need can be met without the ghettoisation of the self. If a man’s self-queries can be part of a whole and require no sex-identity labels, why should a woman’s experience be a separate truth?

It’s a pity that, despite the basic changes in society, women are still believed to be a sum total of preconceived images. At a time when such treatment and approach is the order of the day, the Women page not only stands out and conveys more important, underlying messages but also takes its women readers more seriously.

Contrary to the common belief that women readers are those who while away their afternoons leafing through frivolous magazines, they comprise an important segment of the reader clientele. I believe, there are more women viewers and readers than male viewers and readers across the world. Ask why and I have a ready answer: women are more patient. They are historically conditioned that way. And also, because reading has always served as the primary connector between women and the outside world. When they didn’t know how to read they listened to stories and created their own visions in alignment with what they heard. Later, when women learnt to read they discovered their own world from within the pages of books. That may have been the reason why women pages in newspapers and magazines started in the first place.

What is yet more disturbing is that women continue to be a separate subject of writing. Time we discussed problems on more human terms than gender — on an equal footing. Frankly, since the Women page talks about a different kind of sensibility and since the page refuses to see women from any inequality perspective, isn’t the masthead — Women — redundant?

by Nabaneeta Dev Sen

We women do not always appreciate pages specially designated for us. Who likes to be ghettoed? Why do we still need segregated space? Aren’t we good enough to fill the rest of the pages? We measure ‘women’s pages’ from a distance, suspecting condescension.

Once upon a time women’s pages, like women’s magazines, were looked upon by men, and a certain percentage of women as well, as reading material for lesser mortals. Dealing with fashion, health, recipes, childcare, knitting and useful household tips like how to get rid of stains or how to handle wayward husbands, they offered a combined recipe for how to be a modern woman and perform the duties of a good housewife. Or, more specifically, how to fulfill the expectations of your modern husband as well as those of your old fashioned mother-in-law. The romances published in the women’s pages conveyed similar messages. And of course there was the agony aunt to help out in impossible situations.

In Indian newspapers the women’s pages were mostly planned and written by men, often writing under pen names, including the agony aunt column. The point was to increase readership among women, by helping women find a place for themselves in the newspaper, a comfortable ladies’ corner which offered enlightenment as well as entertainment for them. All very modest and gentlewomanly, nevertheless, a step towards women’s emancipation. Creating her own public space in the print media.

However, the face of the women’s page has changed drastically over the last 30 years. Women have taken up the planning of women’s pages as the world has gone through a period of avid women’s lib movement. Overly enthusiastic awareness — raising efforts borrowed from the West turned out to be a bit too negative at times. Too militant for our own good, it had sadly given feminism a hostile face. Today the scene has changed again. Smart and confident, the women’s page has come of age. It now includes the general reader, not just women. It is a mature, sophisticated page intelligently dealing with different aspects of life and living, addressing the countless struggles that we, women, go through and the victories that come our way. It has a positive approach, presenting successful women in a widely varied world as role models, but does not stop there. A women’s page today introduces the reader to the many questions that trouble our times. Its interest ranges from films to politics, from science to law, from gender to religion, from literature to health, from music and art to the moral and the spiritual. Its area spans the local and the international. But its focus remains on women.

I quite enjoy the way the Women page in The Telegraph is planned. It concentrates on one major story, usually introducing a special woman or a concept, along with visual representation. From the New Barbie to Hannan Ashrawi — the champion of Palestinian peace, from the production of Ibsen’s Doll’s House in Indian languages to the international sex workers’ conference held in India, from visiting actresses like Sarah Jones to exceptional photographers like Dayanita Singh and her subject, Mona, whom have I not met through this page?

And then, the News Flash!

The News Flash is a real goldmine of relevant information. It has drawn my attention to Roz, the first women’s journal from Afghanistan, I have learnt about a ‘gentlemanly gang rape’ in Hong Kong, and that Good rapes and Bad rapes exist as categories for the British police, that gay liberation has reached a positive legal victory in Brazil, that a glass ceiling restricts the British women executives’ earning expectations, and, I was indeed very relieved to know that an adventurous husband, and an unmindful father, is really the result of too much testosterone.

One piece I warmly look forward to on this page is Bachi Karkaria’s column: she introduces sensitive and serious topics like AIDS awareness, or the painful turmoil of being a transgender person, the cultural transformation of women in an old city like Amdavad due to the winds of globalisation, or how glamour-world women, being self-employed, have it tougher than corporate women, using party as a business opportunity. All this in a light, lively, crunchy style. This reaches the reader far more easily and directly than serious sociological treatises do. I wonder if these columns have been put together in a book form for adoring readers like us? If not, please do it, pronto!

   

 
 
DIFFERENCES 
 
 
BY BACHI KARKARIA
 
 

Seminal studies

It’s official. Uppers give uppers. The latest piece of research involving sex reveals that semen acts as an anti-depressant in women. Much like the administering act itself, the research is penetrating, high-sounding, and perpetuates male power, but at the end of the day, it may prove to be a downright phallusy.

A team from the State University of New York divided 293 female students into groups depending on how often their sexual partners used condoms. They then measured their happiness using the medically endorsed Beck Depression Inventory, a standard questionnaire for assessing mood. The benchmark is a score of 17, indicating moderate depression. And if you are wondering about the odd number of respondents, may be seven had partners who dropped out.

The findings showed a variation on the suggestive Brooke Shields line: ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvins’. The respondents may well have said, ‘Nothing comes between me and my happiness’, since, the women whose partners never used a sheath reportedly scored a peppy 8, the lowest on the Depression scale. The group whose partners occasionally used a rubber scored 10.5. Frequency of condom use kept pushing the respondents higher up the depressive meter. And, finally, the women who weren’t having any sex at all were ‘found’ to be the worst off; their score shot up to 13.5.

The lengths to which people will go in the name of research! The meticulous NYSU team headed by psychologist Gordon Gallup discovered that the longer the interval between sexual intercourse, the lower the mood of the women who never or seldom used condoms. It even reported that depressive symptoms and suicide attempts were more common among women whose partners used condoms more regularly compared to those who didn’t. Are they going to rename depression ‘Semen Deprivation Syndrome’?

Dr Gallup may have told New Scientist that unpublished data from a larger cohort of 700 women confirm these findings, but I have several problems with them. Starting with the millions poured into the promotion of safe sex. If you follow the team’s lessons to the letter, you may end up with AIDS, unwanted babies, and/or all manner of unsavoury diseases which could cause you great pain and anguish, but, surprise, surprise, you’ll never suffer from clinical depression. Pass me the Prozac.

My second problem is with the desperate drive to prove that women are still entirely dependent on men for their happiness. Forget about empowerment, self-actualisation, an afternoon of shopping, the more therapeutic gossip (whose anti-depressant properties have, incidentally, also been scientifically mapped), or even an elevating book. Apparently, the only answer to the blues is direct contact with the whites. Dr Gallup’s findings endorse the sexist locker-room remark: ‘Her problem is that she hasn’t got laid.’ Is ‘she’ an egg, or what?

My third grouse is against the reductive nature of this genre of research. Must scientists be such kill-joys even if the end is a cure for depression? Why can’t they leave alone the pleasures of Kama Sutra the treatise, with or without Kama Sutra the safety barrier? The beneficial effects of a satisfying session were known ever since Adam discovered that an apple a night keeps Eve from being uptight. This MR-engineered obsession with ‘show me the data’ could ruin everything. Now we must forget about chemistry, and reconcile ourselves to the cold, hard fact that it’s only about the composition of semen.

It’s almost as bad as that similarly named England goalkeeper missing that sexy Brazilian ball.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Moving to greener pastures

Sir — The decision of several Calcutta schools to switch to all-India system boards after this year’s debacle in the higher secondary examination is all too expected (“Rank-hit schools in board shift”, July 4). For some time now, students of the city are falling victim to a biased assessment. One wonders if the switchover to a different board will solve their problem. The Central boards have had a limited number of examinees. They might be beset with the same problems that plague the West Bengal boards if they had to contend with such enormous numbers as the latter have to deal with.

Yours faithfully,
Surya Pal, Calcutta

Hair to the throne

Sir — Normal was certainly boring for the stars of the world cup. Would Ronaldo have been able to score two goals in the finals had he not gone for that inspired haircut? As soon as Germany’s Christian Ziege found that too many players around him sported a similar hairstyle, he must have gone to his hairdresser and asked him to give him a smooth pate. The strange coincidence is that all those who stuck to the old fashion of flowing tresses — Gabriel Batistuta, Ariel Ortega of Argentina, Nuno Gomez of Mexico, Joao Pinto of Portugal, Gaizka Mendieta of Spain and David Seaman of England — have made unceremonious exits from the tournament. Only those who went in for the really unconventional hairdos — Umit Davala of Turkey, Junichi Inamoto of Japan, for instance — have made steady progress, and finally the weirdest hairdo of all, Ronaldo’s, came out the winner. This world cup has seen the survival of the quirkiest.

Yours faithfully,
Sritama Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Too much was being made of David Beckham’s Mohican hairdo and his self-professed love for his family before and during the world cup (“10 reasons why Beckham is still a hero”, June 23). But neither a unique hairstyle, nor a loving family could make a player with an injured right leg take his team singlehandedly to the victory stands. The lesson to be learnt is: putting a player too high on a pedestal for things other than his playing skills only increases the risk of his fall.

Yours faithfully,
Candidianna Williams, Calcutta

Sir — The frontrunner in the presidential race, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has proved that hairstyle makes the man (“The tresses do the trick”, June 22). There is a careful measure of wildness about Kalam’s tresses, although the locks on either side of his face are too symmetrical to be unintended. The locks in fact hold the key to his persona: here is a man who likes his life to be organized and is keen to impress.

Yours faithfully,
A. Basu, Burdwan

Prisoner of the valley

Sir — The arrest of the Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and the long list of items confiscated in the raid reinforce the image of the hypocritical freedom fighter of Kashmir (“Hot pursuit begins at home”, June 10). It is evident that Kashmir has become a lucrative business for the separatist leaders and their militant colleagues.

Politicians like Geelani have lured poverty-stricken Kashmiri youths to take up the gun and misled well off expatriate Pakistanis into believing that freedom is only a short distance away. It is time Kashmiris realized that leaders like Geelani have done the greatest damage to their cause. The Indian government should do all it can to ensure that rogue elements do not come in the way of the forthcoming assembly elections in the state.

Yours faithfully,
Rudrasish Datta, Howrah

Sir — It is good to see Syed Ali Shah Geelani get arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and for the violation of income tax laws. The disclosure of his unauthorized assets is particularly shocking. Apart from financial irregularities, Geelani is alleged to have been responsible for Abdul Gani Lone’s murder. With Geelani and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader, Yaseen Malik, behind bars, the state can look forward to peaceful polling.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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