Editorial / Never spare the rod
The ladies of Enron
The Telegraph Diary
Look 1 / Ganguly’s spice boys
Look 2 / Sensibility does matter
Eye on England
Women / She’s just a devil woman
Letters to the editor

These ladies are not for burning. However absurd it sounds, it has to be said. Not that saying it over and over again, or incorporating it in law, or having policemen drum the lesson home from time to time makes a difference. Women are burnt with unnerving regularity throughout the country. Curiously, it is sometimes a deliberate crime, as in dowry deaths, and sometimes intended as religious deification, as in sati. But it is the same game: oppression with or without fancy touches that often ends in death. The latest version of the game has a hoary precedent. A young wife in Madhya Pradesh was made to undergo a trial by holding a red hot iron rod in her hands to prove her wifely credentials to her community. Ms Sangeeta Sauda had gone on a pilgrimage to Vaishnodevi with another woman without asking her husband’s permission. He refused to take her back upon her return. The “judgment” was made by the elders of the Khanjar community, to which she belongs, at the behest of her parents so that her marriage could be “saved”.

It is no use blaming the ancients. The episode is a damning commentary on the state of education among the underprivileged in the country. Regressive mores absorbed from ancient texts have become interwoven with repressive social rules without the corrective touch of modern education. The archetype fits almost perfectly. Like Ram who refused to accept Sita even after she “passed” the trial by fire, Ms Sauda’s husband has not taken her back although her palms remained unscathed after fifteen minutes of the ordeal — apparently a layer of turmeric paste and peepul leaves saved her. Worse, Ms Sauda herself is very upset that the police have arrested her husband and in-laws and some of the Khanjar elders. She feels that he had every right to test her, she was in the wrong. This falls into a pattern discovered by a recent survey on domestic violence. A majority of the women questioned felt that being beaten up or otherwise punished for leaving the house without the husband’s permission was perfectly legitimate. Ms Sauda’s distress is compounded by the fact that the arrests will spoil her chances of saving the marriage. Perhaps the activists against domestic violence will find a confirmation of their fears in this.

There is another alarming dimension to the episode. The Khanjars have protested against the police action with the argument that if members of a minority community are allowed to walk on red-hot coals before a religious event, the state has no right to intervene in the tribal community’s ritual. The argument implicitly takes to task a state which permits regressive practices in the name of religion for the sake of political expediency in both majority and minority communities. But equally revealing is the Khanjars’ obliviousness to the nature of the crime. The structure of traditional society denies a woman rights, choices and an identity. She can fit into her given role only if the men decide that she is good enough for it, and a community test to give her back her place is a form of redemption rather than torture. Police action alone will not change this. The permanent solution is inevitably education, both formal and non-formal.


Summer in London brings with it many pleasures. There are great piles of varied greenery and lethally pollinous flowers, there are the numerous articles about summer foods, salads, vegetables and fruits that we hardly see in India (curly kale, Swiss chard, kiwi fruit and their ilk), there is the Island’s majority community exposing swathes of peeling pink skin — no matter that this is the wettest summer since 1960 — and then, this year, the hysteria about the English football team’s hopes of winning the World Cup and Tim Henman’s chances of winning Wimbledon — both, alas, dashed, thank god. Hiding in the debris of the summer’s real sporting events you begin to find the usual, slightly patronizing, reports on the cricket, the sneery prose of English cricket writers being bolstered this season by the Sri Lankans making a gift of their series to England in the Queen’s Jubilee year. Based on nothing more than instinct, I have a feeling that India are now about to execute the same cricketing equivalent of tugging the colonial forelock.

The bizarre English notion that Nasser Hussain’s team can be mentioned in the same breath as Our Boys has been given some slight pause by the presence of Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and, most terrifyingly, the Tendulkar clone Virender Sehwag (“You finally get him out. He disappears into the pavilion. Then he loses three inches and comes out again!”). Indeed, if Sourav Ganguly really botches it up we might even manage to win the NatWest final well before this column makes its debut, but in the long run there is no real need for worry — there are four tests to follow the one-dayers. Between the absence of any movement from either Ganguly’s backfoot or his brain, and the presence of the not-so-secret English weapons of rain, arctic wind, and the most boring bowling attack in the world, any threat of decent cricket from the “hugely talented” Indians is sure to have been blunted by the end of August. I am well-known among friends as the worst maker of sporting predictions, and I hope to maintain my hundred per cent record, but this has been a topsy-turvy summer so you never know.

This year has seen not only the crumbling of football and tennis giants but also some big game players on Wall Street and now in Paris. The only serious coverage, or if you like bad puns, un-coverage, of this is to be found in the latest issue of that venerable old American journal Playboy. Well before it hit the stands Playboy has been touting its “Women of Enron” issue and now, finally, one can leaf through it and check out the real figures, so to speak. Looking at a motley crew of female ex-employees in various stages of undress one can be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that this is one fading American business giant trying to make money from the bloody demise of another — a bit like sharks tend to do.

“There is nothing wrong with a woman’s body. We were born nude.” So tells us Carey Lorenzo who apparently sold energy at Enron’s NYC office. “At Enron, the hair on my arms stood up as I watched people running around.” Says Christine Nielsen, ex-project co-ordinator, describing the “electric” atmosphere in her office in Portland, Oregon. Shari Daugherty is a former “information technology security administrator at Enron”. As she stands in her all in all, hand in hand with a sports car in front of Enron’s Houston headquarters, she talks of leaving the country. She is off to France with her husband ( another ex-Enronian) because “it’s near everything I hold dear: snowboarding, scuba diving, shopping and sex.”

The fascinating thing is that Playboy manages to make the Enron women look exactly like all other Playboy women — vive la non-difference! Playboy and Penthouse and countless others have, of course, used the naked woman in the office/boardroom/executive jet/front-of-office-tower theme many times before — usually to signify the supposedly ecstatic union of money, power and sexual charge. What Playboy now does is to try and use the same suspects of pose and location to signify the exact opposite — the aphrodisiacal effect of the Captalist mini-Apocalypse. Whatever floats (or in this case, sinks) your boat, as they say.

Post Enron we have seen at least two other big companies go down: Xerox and WorldCom, with many others now suspected of having built up “a hall of mirrors inside a house of cards”, as one lawsuit against Enron eloquently puts it. One is forced to wonder whether Playboy will now do an issue for every US corporate giant that goes belly-up. To let the imagination go just a little off the leash, there is no reason why we shouldn’t see: “The Women of General Motors”, “The Women of Microsoft”, “The Women of the US Special Forces” (or How They Took Us at Tora Bora) and, inevitably, “The Women of the White House” (subtitle: A Bird in Hand…). The logic of the market being what it is, we should finally get Playboy’s terminal issue, “The Real Women of Playboy”, with Hilda, Photo Archivist (breasts section), and Terri, Hef’s Bather (in charge of left armpit) — I have to say the thought is maddeningly exciting.

But given that Playboy is regarded by many modern people as slightly over-obsessed with women’s bodies, if not downright sexist and misogynist, and given also that the name Enron conjures up quite different images for many Indians, perhaps one could suggest a different magazine issue based on the late unlamented company and its doings, one preferably brought out by a Bombay magazine, perhaps Debonair or Gentleman or some such. Perhaps one could have an “exposé” of a slightly different sort titled “The Politicians of Enron” (or “How We Power-Stripped Maharashtra!”) and get every politician involved with Enron, regardless of which party they are from, to pose fetchingly naked. Naturally the poses would have to be shot in the usual locations connected with power: corporate offices, executive jets, electric power plants, the Sachivalaya, Wankhede Stadium, the “Benevolent” Dictator’s flat with the tiger wall-hanging, and so on. And the Indian flag, which we are all now allowed to display, could definitely be used as a prop to drape, cover and titillate across the spread. I suspect the electricity generated would make the hair stand on our arms.

What makes the hair stand on my head is the ease with which the Gujarat genocide has fallen off the international news pages here. The fate of Arafat and the ongoing butchery of Sharon are still with us, as is the progress of the trial of Milosevic, but somehow, after the distracting brinksmanship of the Vajpayee-Musharraf nuclear show, the British press has lost sight of the fact that one of the year’s biggest tragedies still continues to play on in India. It’s funny how, even in the serious broadsheets, the news sections mirror the sports sections. Like the World Cup and Wimbledon, Gujarat and the India-Pakistan business is now regarded as over and done with.

Moving away from the newspapers I go on the net and download a report compiled by a friend and two of her colleagues who went from Calcutta to check out the condition of children who survived the killings in Gujarat. I print out the report and then try to read it, but the going is slow, difficult. The words “horror” and “rage” do not come close to what the stories trigger off inside me. As I go through the report one name catches my attention, that of a certain Saddam Hussain, age 8, of Ranadikpur village, Panchmahals district. Saddam, it seems, has only one expression on his face, a wide grin. The grin widens as he describes how he saw his mother being stripped naked and then beheaded by a mob, and then he buries his face in his arms.

On my desk I have several newspapers carrying the details of Bush Junior’s plans to invade Iraq. Completely drowned in the sea of maps and comment and listings of European reactions to the planned attack, is the story of the huge battle plan executed to destroy young Saddam’s life. If Baghdad or Jerusalem isn’t burning when Ahmedabad explodes the next time perhaps the ongoing war in India will make the news again.



Testing the waters

Quite a mouthful While one’s never too old to learn new skills, our know-it-all politicians are hardly known for such admissions of their fallibility. But Uma Bharti will probably need all the new tricks she can learn, in addition to her already considerable political skills, to help her in the new job she is all set to take up — chief of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the BJP. Early morning regulars at the Talkatora stadium were in for a surprise recently when they arrived at the swimming pool to find the place swarming with police personnel. The pool had been cordoned off and marked as off-limits for an hour. The reason — the saffron-clad minister for sports and youth affairs was learning how to swim. The joke doing the rounds of political circles in New Delhi is that the sanyasin is learning how to swim the tide against the BJP in MP. That’s not all — as part of her preparations before taking up her new assignment in Bhopal the diehard protagonist of Hindutva seems also to be trying to shed some of her hawkish image. Last week, she surprised everyone when she went to Ajmer to pay her respects at the dargah of Ajmer Sharief, accompanied by her cabinet colleague, Shahnawaz Hussain. But a leopard might change its spots sooner than a saffronite will change her colours — so Bharti was careful to assure everyone that she was cent per cent Hindu and was not about to change her faith.

Who’s afraid of PC Alexander?

Not quite a million dollar question, but not entirely worthless either. Why did the Maharashtra governor, PC Alexander, resign all of a sudden? Many are talking about his joining the deputy prime minister’s office or his being sent on an UN assignment. But the reason seems to be as clear as daylight. After his name had been bandied about as the probable president for a while, Alexander was dropped like a hot potato by the saffron brigade. The resignation could have been timed to give the party bigwigs a whack in the back for changing their mind so fast. For with APJ Abdul Kalam in the saddle, Alexander as governor would have been asked to serve a man who had been a lower-rung bureaucrat when he was the all-powerful principal secretary to the all-powerful Indira Gandhi. The power games continue.

With a little help from friends

Power show. And chances are that the ministerial staff will be found to be more adept at showing it off than the frequently changing ministers themselves. Take this instance. Someone working in the office of the water resources minister, Arjun Sethi, decided to shift his residence and didn’t manage to find enough help. A quick call to the Central groundwater board followed and a truck along with six helpers landed pronto at this man’s doorstep. By evening the work was done. If only some of this efficiency could seep into the department’s functioning!

History of friendship rewritten

One doesn’t recognize efficiency when one sees it. That seems to be the tragedy that has struck the human resources development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, who recently failed to become the finance minister of India despite, we hear, much trying. But the Mongolians are not so blind. They recently conferred on Joshi their highest civilian award, the “Friendship award” as they call it, for promoting Indo-Mongolian ties. No less than the president of Mongolia is said to have given out the award. However, we still do not know if Joshi has offered his expertise to start an astrology course in the Ulan Bator university or sent his experts to rewrite Mongolian history.

Under saffron eyes

The Congress doesn’t quite know what to do with APJ Abdul Kalam. Last week, both Kalam and the left’s presidential candidate, Lakshmi Sahgal, took the same flight from Chennai to Thiruvananthapuram. Sahgal was given a red carpet welcome at the airport. But there was no one from Kerala’s Congress government because no one had informed AK Antony, the Congress chief minister and the man who had persuaded Sonia Gandhi to support the missile man’s candidature. So it was left to the state BJP to do the honours. Not that Kalam minded — he went off quite happily with the BJP wallahs and amiably attended whatever appearances they had lined up for him.

Earlier, even in Delhi, Kalam had been commandeered by the BJP — especially Pramod Mahajan. The minister chaperoned the president designate everywhere and so dominated him that when a correspondent of a Tamil channel asked him for an interview in Tamil, his mother tongue, Mahajan roundly snubbed him and all but ordered Kalam to speak in English. Frustrated Congressmen are increasingly ruing the decision to support Kalam, who, they feel, has become a sangh parivar captive. And this is just the beginning.

Like a duck to water

After having waited so long to get into the cabinet, Shatrughan Sinha has not taken too long to learn the ways of Central ministers. As soon as he took over, the new health minister changed everything in his room — from sofas to carpets — from its earlier drab blue to a bright red: apparently Shotgun Sinha fancies the colour red. Next on the minister’s wish list is shifting to the fourth floor of Nirman Bhavan. All previous health ministers have had their offices on the first floor of the building but the Bihari babu likes the view from the top floor better. One other thing the minister likes very much is to have his children over at the office — much to the irritation of his staff who have to answer unending questions from the brats. Like all ministers, Sinha too has a partiality for foreign junkets — he has already left for the Barcelona AIDS meet. You can’t deny him these small perks of the job, after all.

Footnote / Valley in the shadow of elections

Brajesh Mishra is a man of few words. That’s why many find him intimidating and stand-offish. But the PM’s right-hand man has a saving grace — he has a sense of humour. David Manning, Tony Blair’s security advisor, was taken aback to find evidence of wit in Mishra’s dour demeanour. During a discussion on the Kashmir elections, Brajesh asked Manning for his passport and examined the visa stamp. “Does it state anywhere that you cannot go to Kashmir? You should go there and add to the state’s tourism revenue,” he told Manning, adding that India would not give anyone a document allowing him to act as election observer in the state. But Manning could go and see the elections there as he would those in any other state. Earlier, Mishra had also surprised the US ambassador, Robert Blackwill. The latter had professed an eagerness to go to J&K when Mishra jocularly said, “Why don’t you shift the entire US embassy to Srinagar during the elections? It will do wonders for tour-ism in Kashmir.” Well, you can’t fault Mishra’s devotion to the cause of tourism in Kashmir.    

Young India is all over England this summer: Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham has conquered the box-office, queues to watch Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Bombay Dreams, grow longer every week, Sanjeev Bhaskar’s TV sitcom, The Kumars at No 42, is causing a laugh riot on BBC TV, and teenager Isha Guha has been selected for the English women’s cricket team.

No surprise then, that the fortunes favouring youth extended to the visiting Indian cricket team. In every victory that captain Sourav Ganguly’s men carved out over their rivals, England and Sri Lanka in the NatWest trophy, the young guns — Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh and others — played stellar parts. Displaying consistency and maturity beyond their years, they took on the challenge and responsibility to win for their country, with or without a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid for company. On the playing fields of England, before an audience high on both beer and bhangra, Ganguly’s Spice Boys have truly and finally arrived. This summer India has found the collective face of its cricketing future.

They are Ganguly’s boys all right. Not only because these players have emerged in the past two years during his tempestuous tenure at the helm but also because the cultured left-hander from Calcutta was the prime mover in the “power to the youth” campaign. Like a gambler who places his bet on a promising filly, Ganguly reposed immense faith in cricketers who had barely proved their credentials at the domestic level. Even when his rookies kept failing with the bat and ball and when motives were attributed to his backing of certain players, the Indian captain was unwavering and is now reaping the rewards of his foresight. “Ganguly backed them vocally and whole-heartedly. He should get the credit for bringing in these boys and then persisting with them,” says former test batsman Abbas Ali Baig.

It has been a rollercoaster ride to adulation and acclaim for the new kids on the block. Some have earned it the hard way after a long struggle, some found it instantly and some are yet to establish themselves fully. Harbhajan Singh, only 22 and already a veteran in this brave new bunch, overcame chucking allegations, disciplinary problems and his father’s demise to establish himself as a premier performer in world cricket.

On the other hand, Yuvraj, like the poet Byron, woke up one morning and found that he had become famous after playing just one great innings against Australia in the ICC one-day knock-out tournament in Nairobi in October, 2000. For the next few weeks, he was deified. Then came the long months of vilification as the teenager from Punjab failed to measure up to the unreasonably high expectations of a cricket-mad country. Like father Yograj Singh, a Kapil Dev contemporary who played just one Test match for India, it seemed that the son too would fade away soon.

That would have been tragic, for Yograj had sublimated his frustration by grooming his son for success. The story goes that when a young Yuvraj once came home after winning a gold medal in the under-14 speed skating championship, his father snatched the medal and threw it away because he couldn’t bear the thought of his son playing another sport. Since then, Yuvraj, who loves watching Preity Zinta movies and eating kadhi chawal, has paid his dues. In England, there is a reformed and upgraded version of the cricketer on view. The middle-order batsman, who can also turn his arm around, has produced a string of match-winning performances and effaced the label of inconsistency that had stuck with him like chewing gum on his sole.

If the Yuvraj story is about a father pursuing his private dream and realising it through his son, there are other stories about the youth in Indian cricket, less flamboyant but equally compelling, that need to be told. These are careers wrested with blood, sweat and tears one will never know of. Careers made out of extraordinary dreams that ordinary working men and women dream for their children.

Few know that young wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra’s entire life has been a struggle. Just like his ongoing struggle to find a place in the one-day playing eleven. His father, Surjan Lal, used to play the dhol at weddings before taking to selling eggs in Faridabad, Haryana. Then there is Waseem Jaffer, the Test opener from Mumbai, whose father is a bus driver and whose elder brother made pickles to help finance his brother’s ambition of being a top-class international cricketer.

The stockily-built Virender Sehwag, son of a flour mill owner and fan of Kishore Kumar, too has had his share of ups and downs in his brief international career. But of a different kind. The 23-year-old from Najafgarh, a downmarket suburb in west Delhi, was thrust into the middle of a cricketing spat between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the International Cricket Council after having been singled out by match referee Mike Dennes for a one-match suspension during the 2001 South Africa tour. Now, as the buccaneering partner of captain Ganguly in one-dayers, he too has made his mark on this tour with a series of electrifying cameos. It is his success as an opener that has enabled the Indian strategists to push maestro Sachin Tendulkar down the batting order, giving the team a more balanced look. “He provides the coach and the captain with several options,” says national selector Madan Lal.

That’s not all. Mohammed Kaif, the 21-year-old from Allahabad, who reminds one of a young Mohammed Azharuddin, has offered the perfect insurance down the lower middle-order in the event of a batting collapse. Southpaw Dinesh Mongia, 25, has also adjusted well to the extreme demands of world-class competition. And, the contributions of pacemen Delhi’s Ashish Nehra and Baroda’s Zaheer Khan too have caught the notice of everybody, including former England cricketers-turned-reporters. “The emergence of the two left-armers, Nehra and Khan, suggests that Javagal Srinath will not be missed too much,” writes former international Vic Marks in the Daily Telegraph. And Tinu Yohanan, in the words of speedster Javagal Srinath, “the fittest member in the team,” has the best pedigree to succeed. He is the son of T.C. Yohanan, India’s best ever long jumper, who won the gold medal in the 1974 Teheran Asian Games.

Yohanan, who hails from Kerala, is a rare South Indian in this bunch of new kids on the block. Most of them come from the northern India heartland: Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. It is a throwback to the Eighties when North Zone dominated Indian cricket. There are no theories why. Only that the power of balance has consistently shifted from one zone to another in the past few decades. The West dominated in the Seventies, the South in the Nineties. It’s North’s turn again.

The influx of youth has brought down the average age of the squad. During this series, the team for the shortened version of the game has 10 players who are either 25 years of age or below in the 15-member squad. And reserve wicket-keeper in the test squad, baby-faced Parthiv Patel, will not be able to watch a movie like Bad Company, the latest Anthony Hopkins starrer. It is an adult film and he is only 17.

With their willingness to run singles hard and throw themselves about the field throughout the game, Ganguly’s boys are extremely parsimonious in giving away runs on the field. “Players like Yuvraj and Kaif have made a significant difference to the quality of the fielding in the side,” says former Delhi captain Venkat Sunderam. Few will forget the astounding two-handed diving catch Kaif that brought about England opener Nick Knight’s downfall at The Oval. And it was Kaif again, along with Yuvraj, effecting crucial run-outs against Sri Lanka in Bristol that turned the tide in India’s favour. India has often been at the receiving end of outstanding cricket in the past; the dudes with attitude have ensured that it is payback time now.

They are quick learners too. Points out Baig, “It took Srinath such a long time to develop the slower ball. Zahir has done it in rapid quick time.” It is evident during this tour that Yuvraj is no longer the reckless hitter of the recent past. And, that players like Mongia and Kaif are not only honing their skills on how to pace an innings in every game but also learning to perform in tight situations. “The youngsters are performing well under pressure,” says Madan Lal.

The success of the young guns has enthused and energised most lovers of Indian cricket. Weary of a team that vacillates between the sublime and the ridiculous, they are relieved to see shades of consistency now. The heady blend of youth along with the combined experience of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble has all the makings of a potent Indian combination for the 2003 World Cup, now eight months away. It remains to be seen how they fare on the bouncier pitches of host South Africa against the world class bowlers of Pakistan and Australia. But, make no mistake, this bunch has kilos of self-confidence. Ganguly’s Spice Boys look set to take on the world.


How times have changed. More than 25 years ago, the commissioners of the Fourth Triennale, hosted by the Lalit Kala Akademi, resigned because of the uproar over the suggestion of including folk and tribal artists in the Indian art section. The stalwarts of the contemporary art scene were up in arms about sharing the same exhibition space with people who were perceived as merely craftspersons. Today, studio artists will share space with folk and tribal artists in an exhibition mounted at the Manchester Art Gallery for six weeks that began yesterday.

In the mid-70s, A. Ramachandran along with fellow-commissioners sculptor Nagji Patel and art historian Pranab Ranjan Ray had recommended the names of Madhubani artist Ganga Devi and Warli artist Jivya Soma for inclusion in the Indian section at the Fourth Triennale. The acrimonious debate that resulted rocked the conceptual brief so much that the commissioners gave up in disgust. Along with other minor issues, criticism of what was seen as a subversion of the hierarchy established by the British whereby the art college-trained artist occupied the space at the pinnacle and the folk and tribal artists were dismissed as artisans became foregrounded in the whole battle.

Ramachandran who has jettisoned the baggage of memories of that time still reveals traces of acerbity when he recalls the turmoil. He says that what was rejected so virulently then gradually gained acceptance over the years. Modernity, he feels, is not just about the formal elements in one’s work or the kind of academic training one has had. “Sensibility matters immensely,” he says.

One person who has held on to this view in an intense kind of way is Prof Jyotindra Jain. Jain’s mission has been to break down the ideological resistance to folk and tribal artists. And he has sought to demystify all sorts of myths about these artists, like the one about their anonymity. He has also sought to create the same sort of platforms for the folk artists as are accessible to the studio artists.

So the Manchester Art Gallery show is quite a coup for Jain. Called New Indian Art: Home-Street-Shrine-Bazaar-Museum, the show is a part of Art South Asia Festival and is also part of Cultureshock and the Commonwealth Games cultural programme. It has been jointly curated by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and Jain. The art works comprise contemporary art, contemporary folk and tribal art and popular culture.

Among the contemporary artists selected by Sheikh, there is a strong Baroda slant. The chosen artists are Pushpamala, N. Surendran Nair, Atul Dodiya, Anita Dube, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Ravinder Reddy, Madhvi Parekh, Ram Rehman, Rimzon, Sheikh’s wife, Nilima and K. G. Subramanyan. Jain has chosen Sundaribai of Sarguja known for her clay relief works, Kumudini Devi of Madhubani who has worked with sikki grass, and Ramji Ram Mandavi and Sanat Ram Lohar of Bastar. These artists have done site-specific works. Besides these, Jain has chosen paintings by that remarkable artist Ganga Devi of Madhubani showing expressions of her experiences in the US and her work done after she had been diagnosed with cancer.

Jain has also chosen the works of contemporary patuas of West Bengal, Mantu Chitrakar and Gopal Chitrakar. These patuas have worked on modern themes like Aids prevention. Two thoughts guided Jain in his selection of the artists. One is that he would select folk artists working with contemporary themes, artists who are rediscovering their own roots from the modern vantage point. Two, he wanted artists who could work with conceptual space. They would be artists who could break the traditional mould and handle site-specific works.

Take the two Bastar artists for instance. They were given an idea of the space where their work will be placed. So they broke away from their traditionally crafted equestrian deity Rao Deva and have created an equestrian figure which is more than eight feet high. They have used industrial iron sheet and the way they have worked with the metal, the rivets with which they have joined the sheets show a very sophisticated imagination in handling the material.

Sundaribai has done a representation of a Karma Festival in which a Karma tree plays a big role. She has done a 12-feet high structure reflecting a spirit of celebration. Kumudini Devi has also done a large tree with sikki grass and she involved her own community to create this tree full of vibrant life.

Jain’s curatorial efforts are a good way to shatter stereotypes of faceless artists repeating mindlessly age-old, inherited vocabulary to the point of banality. These folk artists can innovate with form, material and language with as much elan as the studio artists.

Talking of shows of Indian art abroad, a major exhibition being held this summer at New Jersey, USA, is worth mention. The exhibition, India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, which closes on July 31, has been mounted at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, a part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

The show features 100 works drawn from 20 collections and stresses post-Independence Indian art. Predictably, the spotlights are on the late Souza and Ara, as well as Husain, Raza, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Ganesh Pyne, Manjit Bawa, Satish Gujral along with the younger stars like Atul Dodiya and Jitish Kallat among others.

The organisers give two reasons for holding such a major show in an important institution. One, they say, is the “remarkable blossoming of contemporary art in India” which is now being taken note of by the international art community. Two, is the remarkable rise of Asian American population in central New Jersey. People of Asian Indian origin is a significant segment of this growth, particularly around the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University.

Among the local collectors, Umesh and Sunanda Gaur have played a catalytic role in mounting the show. Merrill Lynch was associate sponsor of the show.



Burning question from Snow

One of the most distinctive features about Jon Snow, Channel 4 television’s main evening news presenter, is that he spells his first name without an “h”.

Actually, he is a serious journalist and a very good one, too. His documentary on Japan that I happened to see a couple of years ago was a model of its kind: sober, sympathetic, informative, educational and entertaining. As part of “Channel 4’s Indian Summer”, he will be setting off for Delhi at the end of this week. The idea is for him to anchor the Channel 4 bulletin, which is broadcast daily for an hour from 7 pm London time, out of Delhi.

“It will be the international news for a week with an Indian perspective,” says Jon. “I have driven overland to India as a student — I went to Benaras — and I have been there as a tourist but I have never worked there,” he tells me. What he is striving for is a “slightly more holistic view” of the country. I guess the Prime Minister, who is not comfortable with TV, won’t agree to be grilled by Snow, and Jaswant Singh, decent fellow though he is, tends to be a bit pedantic and takes 10 minutes to say what others can manage in one. My advice to politicians and other worthies invited to appear on the programme is to do so and not attempt to boost their self-importance (as Delhiwallahs do) by saying, “Oh, my diary is so full, please give me a call the next time you come”.

Jon is not a Rottweiler in the mould of the BBC’s dreaded Jeremy Paxman but the former has a difficult question up his sleeve: “I am interested to know why a nuclear country, which is on the cusp of becoming a superpower, has problems feeding itself.” Jon, if you find out, we would all love to know.

Ambassador at large

Agnihotri sounds like the name of our latest missile. But he is, in fact, India’s “ambassador at large”. Bhishma K. Agnihotri, who is currently touring London, Manchester, Leicester and Birmingham, was plucked out from relative obscurity in August last year by Atal Behari Vajpayee and appointed to the specially created position of “ambassador at large for Non Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin (Global)”.

Agnihotri, who left Delhi 25 years ago and settled in the US, where he was dean of the State Law School in Louisiana, must have been pleasantly surprised to have greatness thrust on him. It may have helped that he was not one of the BJP’s most trenchant critics. His job calls for him to travel throughout the world “understanding the concerns of 22 million people of Indian origin” scattered throughout the diaspora.

Agnihotri has so far visited Canada, Surinam, Guyana (where he was disturbed to find Indians increasingly under attack) and Trinidad. His next stop, after Britain, will be Mauritius. Since he happened to be in London last week, he was invited to be a guest at the 30th anniversary celebrations of Gujarat Samachar, a Gujarati weekly published by C.B. Patel. When it was suggested to Agnihotri that the Indian government was reluctant to grant British Indians what they wanted — dual nationality — he shook his head. “The PM has accepted the principle of dual nationality — we call it dual citizenship,” he assured me.

Agnihotri is hopeful that by the end of this year, the Cabinet will approve proposals for the amendment of Indian Citizenship Act of 1935. This would grant Indians settled abroad, initially in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the right to dual citizenship. “The person with dual citizenship will have all rights minus political rights — he can’t run for political office and he can’t vote,” added Agnihotri, who has himself retained his Indian nationality, though he has a “green card” for America.

Tennis talk

Wimbledon was dominated this year by the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, and the young Australian, Lleyton Hewitt, who won the mens’ singles. Mahesh Bhupathi, who won the mixed doubles with his Russian partner, Elena Likhovtseva, did not get much of a look in. What was remarkable was that the pair had to play the semi-final in the afternoon and the final a few hours later in the gathering gloom. One man well placed to appreciate the Indian triumph was Naresh Kumar. “I first played at Wimbledon in 1949 and the last time was in 1969,” said Naresh. “I remember playing with a man called Billington who was Tim Henman’s grandfather,” he says.

Now 74, he turns up at Wimbledon every year, covering the tournament for All India Radio and for various magazines. The game, he acknowledges, has certainly become a lot faster than in his days. The fastest serve the men managed with their wooden rackets in his time, he estimates — there were no radar guns in those days — was about 100 mph. “The ladies are now doing 112 mph; the men get up to 148 mph,” he says. Naresh, who captained India, remembers how he and Krishnan were once able to “thrash the whole of Asia”. Unfortunately, Asian countries, notably Thailand and Japan, have caught up and overhauled India where there just isn’t the money to send promising players abroad to give them exposure to tough competitors. However, he did spot a talented 16 year old and managed to raise $ 125,000 to give him training for three years. The lad’s name was Leander Paes, with whom Bhupathi won the men’s doubles at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1999. For Naresh, Wimbledon has lost none of its English charm. “I love it,” he enthuses. He had an end of Wimbledon dinner with Paes at Salloo’s, his favourite Indian restaurant in London (“they have very good lamb chops”). Who should walk in but the brat of yesteryear who has turned into the most authoritative tennis commentator on television — John McEnroe?

Julia’s jumbo

Selfridges, the Oxford Street store, got into trouble for selling cakes bearing a likeness of Ganesh. Now Ganesh figures again in a cake unveiled by the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts after her wedding to cameraman Danny Moder. Ganesh, everyone hopes, will bring the couple good luck. Their marriage could last a year.

Getty’s ground

Old Indian cricketers don’t fade away. They turn up in the commentary box to offer advice to current players on how to do things which they themselves were usually unable to do in the first place. Or, occasionally, they have their arm twisted and agree to appear in a charity match.

One such encounter is to take place between the Mike Gatting Lord Taverner’s XI and an Indian Invitation XI on July 24 at the home of multi-millionaire Sir Paul Getty. The ground at Wormsley in Oxfordshire “is probably the most beautiful in the world”, according to Mark Williams, chief executive of the Lord Taverner’s, a charity which gives Pound750,000 annually to help poor boys buy their kit.

Those who have confirmed for the Indian side include Gavaskar, Shastri, Vengsarkar, Kambli, Wadekar, Solkar, Bedi, Venkataraghavan and A. Mankad. The manager will be F. M. Engineer. Among the spectators, there will be Pataudi, Kapil Dev, Abbas Ali Baig and Chandrashekhar. One could say never have so many matches been lost by so few in their time but that may be unkind. Their presence in London may have something to do with a function on the previous night - the announcement of the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century Awards. The nominees for the top honour include one M. Azharuddin.

Tittle tattle

It is not only the Queen who is marking her Golden Jubilee. Our own Gaj Singh, the Eton and Oxford-educated erstwhile Maharajah of Jodhpur, who came to the throne at the age of four, has been holding court to mark this landmark in India history.

His party at the Sloane Club in London attracted English Lords, Ladies, as well as Countess this and Dowager that.

Hello! magazine shows the Maharajah wearing a jodhpur. This was the trouser dropped by his ancestors in Savile Row where an enterprising tailor copied them secretly and devised the riding breeches which have served many generations of English aristocracy.

The Maharajah says he is still “waiting for my royalty”.


She’s a fifty five-year-old woman with twinkling brown eyes. To any casual observer, there is hardly anything to mark out Sushila Bandra as different in the sleepy little Ho village of Tonto, skirting the Saranda forest in West Singhbhum. But her prematurely wrinkled face mirrors the heavy cross she has to bear. Come dusk, her name drives people indoors and every local calamity has the village pointing its finger at her. Sushila is the local dain (witch).

It all started some 10 years back, after her husband died. A child died in the family — of diarrhoea — and the ojha sniffed a witch at work. Sushila proved to be the perfect target. She was tortured by her brothers-in-law and neighbours for her ‘evil eye’, publicly stripped, paraded and forced to eat human excreta — all common punishments for witches. The final nail in the coffin was hammered in by the panchayat. The excommunication notice not only legitimised the atrocities unleashed on her, it allowed her relatives to usurp whatever land she had.

At least, Sushila is still alive. Mary Soren of Kamdera village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district died a gory death last month when her neighbour, 24-year-old Jender Soren, accused her of poisoning his brother with her ‘evil spells’. In a fit of rage, he strangled Mary, her handicapped daughter and husband, to death. Jender, now in police custody, will face trial next week.

Shocking, to say the least, but such atrocities on tribal women do not create ripples any more. Half-hearted state efforts get reflected in lacklustre media coverage and indifferent initiatives to ‘rehabilitate’ the victims. However, there seems to be a new excitement in the air. And the Jharkhand High Court is spearheading it. For the first time in the legal history of Jharkhand (and previously that of undivided Bihar), women like Sushila and Mary may get a better deal.

Sociologist Anjan Ghosh of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, agrees: “Branding women as witches is one of the major tools of oppression of women in the tribal belts of India.” The question of land, says Ghosh, is closely linked to this. “Land has always been central to tribal identity,” he points out. The possibility of losing grip over this precious commodity through women — especially widows — and the anxiety to retain it, lie at the root of this phenomena.

Not surprisingly, the high court has focussed squarely on the issue in its drive to uphold gender justice at the grassroot level. “Witchcraft-related crime tops my list of priorities as it is endemic to the region,’’ says chief justice of the Jharkhand High Court, V.K. Gupta, who is steering the course of the movement.

The primary objective of the movement is to make the judicial mechanism more effective at the grassroots by holding frequent lok adalats, counselling sessions and legal aid workshops for women who don’t have access to redressal forums. The process has just been set in motion. “We have held at least six lok adalats in various districts where over 20 gender abuse cases were taken up,” says Gupta. “The state legal aid committee will start conducting periodic camps in about a month’s time,’’ he adds.

In the first phase of the campaign, the judiciary plans to reach out to villages outlying Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, and subsequently cover adjoining districts — Singhbhum, Gumla, Lohardaga, Hazaribagh and Palamau. The police top brass, sub-divisional judicial magistrates, district judges, voluntary organisations and even local politicians have all been mobilised to help identify cases and bring them to court.

The local-level resource persons — police, politicians, village mukhiyas — will track down the cases and refer them to the sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court. The judges will then ensure that those are disposed of without delay and the culprits brought to book. In case of counter-appeals, the high court will step in. NGOs and the state legal aid committee will be the sensitising tools — taking social and legal awareness to the villages.

“The best way to deal with grassroots-level atrocity cases is through fast track courts,” points out the chief justice. He has already set up 30 such courts and 40 more are in the pipeline. At the moment, reports are being compiled by the police and the lower courts and the blueprint is expected to be ready by the end of next month.

The seeds of the movement were sown at a three-day legal workshop in March organised jointly by the Jharkhand High Court, Sakshi (a New Delhi-based NGO) and Swayam (a Calcutta-based organisation) to make the judiciary sensitive to women seeking justice. Twenty five district-level judges along with legal luminaries, like justice R.P. Sethi, justice Ruma Paul and justice Campbell (from Canada), got together for the workshop. It was part of an initiative by the Asia-Pacific Advisory Forum on Judicial Education on Equality Issues — a global platform of judges and NGOs that promotes awareness on gender issues in the judiciary.

The participants at the workshop tried to acquaint the judges in Jharkhand with the realities on the ground. Says Anuradha Kapoor of Swayam, “Women do not follow up the cases because they feel that the process is humiliating and prolonged. By the time the judgment comes through, it means nothing to them. So we harped on speedy disposal of cases.”

As we step into the 21st century, the role of law in society assumes a new centrality. And at almost every turn — from the operation of democracy, government to human rights, media, political parties and transnational organisations — the legal order seems to have become the central vehicle for shaping the lives of people. We can only hope that such legal experiments will bring about a meaningful change in the lives of minority women in India.



Out of wedlock

Sir — The Church of England has finally allowed the remarriage of divorcees — but only after the priest is satisfied that the new relationship was responsible for the breakup of the previous marriage (“Knotty question for Charles”, July 12). This clause has created a new problem for Charles, the prince of Wales, and his long-time companion, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Thanks to Andrew Morton’s biography of Diana, everyone knows that Charles’s relationship with Parker-Bowles was why his marriage with Diana dissolved. So it seems that Charles will have to wait a while before they can finally say “I do”.

Yours faithfully,
Ramanuj Ghosh, Calcutta

Good score

Sir — The collection of articles by various columnists, both past and present, of The Telegraph in the supplement, “Twenty Unputdownable Years” (July 8), reminded readers of the fact that the paper has always tried to provide fresh and diverse views on nearly every topic under the sun. But I feel the best section of the newspaper is the letters column, as this section manages to publish the views of the common reader. Except for some periodicals, like Outlook and India Today, no other newspaper publishes so many letters on a wide range of issues.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The Telegraph deserves congratulations on two counts. First, for completing 20 years. Second, for introducing a Siliguri edition from July 7, 2002. While reading the articles in the supplement, “Twenty Unputdownable Years”, I could not help recalling the time when M.J. Akbar and his team of reporters set out to prove that The Telegraph was really “unputdownable”. Ashok Mitra’s article, “Win some, lose some”, describes Akbar’s decisive role in making the paper one of the most appreciated papers in India with its new look, greater number of pictures and “reader-friendly” reporting.

Yours faithfully,
D. Sengupta, Darjeeling

Sir — That The Telegraph has managed to go from strength to strength in the past 20 years is no surprise. The contributors to the anniversary supplement have highlighted mostly the positive aspects of the paper. But no one talks about The Telegraph’s indifferent attitude to the icons of the Bengali cultural world. While a Bollywood filmstar’s visit almost always gets front-page publicity, the death of artistes like Basanta Chowdhury and Kanika Bandopadhyay receives a single column in a corner. Why should regional artistes be made poor cousins to their Mumbai counterparts?

Also, one hopes that the colour magazine, now called Graphiti, will once again invite readers to contribute short stories and poems. This would promote greater interaction between the paper and its readers.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — The articles by Alyque Padamsee, Khushwant Singh, Anita Pratap, Rajdeep Sardesai and M.J. Akbar in the anniversary supplement of The Telegraph were more enjoyable than the rest. What about starting a supplement for college students, much in the mould of The Telegraph in Schools?

Yours faithfully,
Priyanka Aich, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The Swiss air traffic authorities have finally admitted that the unfortunate mid-air collision between the Bashirikan Airlines aircraft and the Boeing occurred because the collision avoidance mechanism was shut down for maintenance (“Last-minute switch to collision course”, July 3). This proves that the media had indeed acted in haste to put the blame on the Russian crew, who were accused of everything from incompetence to the inability to understand English. Not that this should come as a surprise. The West’s control of media organizations has always meant that an insidious system of ethnic discrimination has been in place against Asians, Africans and eastern Europeans. The least the media can do now is offer the relatives of the Russian crew an apology.

Yours faithfully,
B. Purkayastha, Shillong

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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