Editorial / Learning to pay
Taking fate by the throat
The Telegraph Diary
Look 1 / Weightof loneliness
Look 2 / Colourful harmonies
Eye on England
Letters to the editor


There are some terms which never fail to raise hackles and provoke controversy. “Capitation fee” is one such term. It has become synonymous with unfairness in the sphere of education; it has been seen as a symptom of the inherent bias in universities and colleges in favour of the affluent. It enables, the argument runs, the rich to buy places for their children in educational institutions and thus keep out the relatively underprivileged and sometimes even the meritorious. The argument is a strong one in a country like India where access to a good education is limited because of a skewed distribution of wealth. But the problem of capitation fees has other more complex dimensions. Indian higher educational institutions — the universities, the institutes of technology and the medical colleges — have built into them systems of subsidies for students. None of the institutions charges the actual fees. Fees are deliberately kept low so that a greater number of students can gain entry into these institutions. The attempt is not to make parental income a bar to entry. The gap between the actual cost of educating a student and the fee taken from him is met by the institution itself. In India, given the fact that most institutions of higher education are state — Centrally or provincially — funded, higher education is subsidized by the state. These subsidies eat into the resources of the institutions which suffer in terms of facilities and maintenance. These subsidies often acquire mammoth proportions.

In the early Seventies, an economist made a rough calculation for educating a student at one of Calcutta’s leading colleges. For a student of the humanities this came to Rs 1,200 per month; the student actually paid a fee of Rs 15 per month. The difference was met by the state government. There may be variations in the amount of the subsidy involved, but this is roughly the situation prevailing in most institutions of high- er education. The system of capitation fees was conceived by some institutions to bypass this problem and to raise additional funds for the institution concerned.

The problem can be addressed from another angle. It is possible to think of a system in which each and every student will pay a fee which will be equal to the actual cost of providing the education plus a small mark-up. This will solve the resource problem of institutions. Such a hike in fees should not necessarily exclude those students who cannot afford the high costs. Students can pay the fees through funding agencies which will provide them with loans. This is standard practice in all the universities of the United States of America. This will be an understanding between individual students and fund-giving bodies like banks and so on. Simultaneously, some seats can be made free and open to competition based on merit. Through a mixture of providing funds and free seats, higher education can be made accessible without the system of subsidies and with the majority paying full fees. Instead of a meaningless debate on capitation fees, time and attention should be concentrated on the rationalization of the fee structure and the removal of subsidies. The future of higher education in India lies in that direction.


If one were looking for a revolutionary date in the history of Western classical music, one could do no better than settle upon 1802, precisely two hundred years ago, for in that year lie the origins of the most monumentally structured orchestral noise that has ever been heard. This epochal piece of music, the first sketches of which have been traced to 1802, was accurately described by one music critic, Paul Henry Lang, as “one of the most incomprehensible deeds in arts and letters, the greatest single step made by an individual composer in the history of the symphony and the history of music in general”.

The music was, naturally, the work of Beethoven. It came in the aftermath of the libertarian ideas engendered by the French Revolution, its almost exact chronological counterpart in the English literary world was the Coleridge-Wordsworth collaborative venture, The Lyrical Ballads, and the first responses to this new work were a mixture of disgust, astonishment and plain incomprehension.

“I’ll pay another Kreuzer if the noise will only stop”, yelled someone from the audience (in German) at the premier of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, which was published three years after the first sketches of 1802 bearing the title Sinfonia eroica, composta per festiggiare il Sovvenire di un grand Uomo (“Heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”). The offer of the outraged man in the audience was doubly insulting for being only a fourth of the price of the concert ticket. He was echoed by all except diehard admirers of the composer. Luckily for the composer, there were many such as well, for Beethoven was by this time an international celebrity.

Still, you would have had to be very diehard to respond with favour to the Eroica. For audiences bred on the melodically pleasing perfection of the “classical” style by Mozart and Haydn — the latter was alive at the time, else he would certainly have turned in his grave alongside Mozart — the seeming anarchism of the symphony, its bizarre range of tempi and expression, its use of dissonance and clamour to suggest a world overtaken by war and chaos, were quite definitely not innovations calculated to please the ear.

Today, we listen to the Eroica in a post-Eroica universe within which Wagner, Sibelius and Mahler have accustomed us to the plangent and the dissonant, to apocalyptic crescendoes and long silences. Beethoven’s contemporaries, less lucky, had only lived in a pre-Eroica world, and it is therefore unsurprising that this “symphoney” only seemed appropriate, perhaps, as the sounds inside the head of a man becoming gradually oblivious to all sound.

How far was this symphony, which still strikes anyone familiar with the history of Western music as an absolute bolt from the blue, connected with changes in the way Beethoven heard things? Such questions have no final answers, but it is safe to say that no acoustically normal frame of mind could have come up with this mix of structured torment, funereal gloom, and frenzied triumph. In 1802, Beethoven was very fed up. He changed his doctor in the early part of the year: Dr Vering’s ministrations were doing precious little to ease the “tinnitus”— the technical term for nerve damage — in the 32-year-old composer’s inner ear. “For several months Vering has had vesicatories placed on both my arms, which consist as you know of a certain bark. This is a very unpleasant remedy…”, complained Beethoven in a letter to his friend, Franz Wegeler, some weeks earlier.

The medicinal bark was meant to release substances that would reach the ears, but the problem was that the osmosis took a very long time, and in the interim it restricted movement in both arms. To a man well reputed for fidgetiness and fits of rage, the bark seemed to have precious little therapeutic bite. Dr Vering was shown the door. The man shown in, in 1802, was Dr Johann Schmidt, a professor of anatomy and medical officer of the army.

The letter to Wegeler, one of the most fascinating among the 1600 or so letters of Beethoven that have survived, strives to articulate the composer’s own sense of the complex connections between his art, his hearing and his daily struggle between feelings of futility and despair on the one hand and hope in his musical destiny on the other. The despair was fuelled by a hopeless love affair with a countess, Giulietta Guicciardi, who was far above him in station and far below him in age. (She was only fifteen when he first met her: she later married a count and left Vienna for Naples.)

Beethoven’s feelings of desolation were not helped at this point by his temporary estrangement with Stephan von Breuning, one of his closest Bonn friends, who felt the composer had so far surpassed him socially and artistically as to make their friendship difficult. “I will take fate by the throat, it shall not wholly overcome me”, says the concluding portion of Beethoven’s letter to Wegeler, a phrase subsequently connected to the victorious opening motif of the Fifth Symphony.

It was at this point in time, in 1802, that Beethoven’s new doctor, Schmidt, told him to spare his hearing as much as possible and to that end induced the composer to retire to Heiligenstadt, a pretty village near Vienna (where he later sketched his Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral”). This seclusion did not have the desired effect. It did little to improve Beethoven’s hearing, it did a lot to increase his feelings of desolation, feelings which he expressed in a fragment known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, this being a posthumously discovered suicide note to his two brothers which, halfway through, becomes an appeal to all mankind to understand his emotional tumult and the changes his trauma has caused to his temperament and worldview.

The Eroica symphony comes in the wake of all this commotion in Beethoven ears, his head, and his heart. Beethoven cannibalized sections of the new symphony from his Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43, and the Eroica Variations, Op. 35, but these yielded him a relatively slim portion of the full work. No one had ever conceived a work of this length in the shape of a four-movement symphony. (All his nine symphonies have four movements each, except the sixth, which has five.) The Eroica lasted about fifty minutes, which was roughly the length of two Haydn or Mozart symphonies. It included a scherzo in lieu of a trio, one of Beethoven’s regular preferences, and a funeral march of such contrapuntal complexity, distraught gloom, and sheer size, that renderings of it in slow tempo can make this slow second movement sound like a little symphony in itself.

The last movement of the Eroica heralds the last movement of the Ninth Symphony in terms of both size and the emotional impact it seeks to create: a furious, triumphal tidal wave of music which leaves one in a state of utter collapse when it is over, as though the world has been wrecked and yet, paradoxically, restructured.

What of Napoleon Bonaparte — apparently some sort of would-be French emperor who existed at the same time as Beethoven and is hazily remembered by music lovers as the original dedicatee of the Eroica? Whoever he was, he doesn’t seem worth thinking about if Beethoven cut him out. The last word on this matter belongs to the Italian maestro, Arturo Toscanini. When asked what the Eroica symphony meant to him, Toscanini said, “To some it is Napoleon, to some it is philosophical struggle; to me it is Allegro con brio.”

If music generally and the Eroica symphony particularly mean anything at all, conquerors and political strutters-about are certainly of no consequence at all.



Valley aches and pains

Punjab, Uttaranchal and Manipur — for the Congress these victories are old history as it faces a tough election in Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat. And by all accounts, the party is not very comfortably placed in either state. For starters, the J&K state president, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has reported sick with typhoid. When a man’s sick he’s sick and you really can’t blame him for it, but party oldtimers say Azad makes it a habit of opting out whenever he is in a tight spot. They remember the time in 1997, when Sharad Pawar decided to take on chacha Sitaram Kesri in the Congress presidential elections and asked Azad to support him; caught in a tight spot, Azad developed a severe backache. Unfortunately, none of the other worthies from J&K — ML Fotedar, Mohammad Safi Qureshi and Karan Singh — much relish the idea of campaigning in the state. Clueless, the party high-command has dispatched its man-for-all seasons Ahmed Patel, to the state. But why Ahmed, wonder the wags, since Gujarat, from which Sonia’s political secretary hails, is also going to polls. Apparently, Shanker Sinh Vaghela considers him more of a liability than an asset. And so the machinations continue...

All the amma’s men

The poor hen-pecked MPs of the AIADMK! So unpredictable is Jayalalithaa, that her legislators do not know exactly what their stand should be on particular issues. While amma supported the NDA over POTA, the presidential and vice-presidential elections, she dared the Vajpayee government to challenge her over Vaiko’s arrest. No wonder, her flock in New Delhi did not know how they should react when the petrol pump scandal rocked Parliament last week. Even as the opposition staged a walk out, PH Pandian and his chums sat in their seats, wondering whether amma would blow her top if they followed suit. In the absence of any guidelines from Chennai, they couldn’t sit still since that would be construed as support for the government. Finally, they were put out of their agony when an MP reminded them that this was Corruption and amma wouldn’t mind. Even so, Pandian called up the iron lady immediately after coming out of the house to get her blessings.

Original sin, part II

One person who is overjoyed at the petrol pump scandal coming to light is Captain Satish Sharma. Suddenly, the former petroleum minister can be seen on all news channels, airing his “expert” comments on the subject. Clearly Sharma is enjoying his newfound popularity. Ever since the earlier petrol pump scandal broke, Sharma was treated as a pariah even by his own partymen. Oldtimers however point out that there is a world of difference between the current scandal and the one involving Sharma. Nobody has even suggested that Ram Naik lined his pockets with the ill-gotten lucre, while everyone knows of Sharma’s sudden and dramatic rise from the obscure galis of Delhi to a swank farmhouse on the outskirts.

Anything to keep them happy

Advantage didi. A new hope has sprung in Trinamooli hearts with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s extending the olive branch to Mamata Banerjee. Quite naturally, Nitish Kumar is in a fix and is desperately trying to kindle the anti-didi BJP entente in Bengal headed by stalwarts like Tapan Sikdar and Muzaffar Khan, who have been mightily pleased by L.K. Advani’s handling of Mamata. Kumar is trying to convince his party that if Sikdar is made a minister of state, say of the railways, he will be more constructively occupied, the Bengal BJP will be happy and Mamata will once again be cut down to half her size. Sikdar acolytes are happy with what is being offered. But Sikdar is a little apprehensive. Will the loaves and fishes of his new office be enough to keep his men happy?

Swim or drown in the love of Vajpayee

Politicians are known for their inveterate sycophancy, but the knowledge of exactly how far, or low, they will stoop to please never ceases to surprise. It was the BJP’s national council meeting in the capital and on the dais was the present party chief, M Venkaiah Naidu, trying to undo the impression that he was an Advani-loyalist. Rambling his way through his speech, Naidu recalled how he nearly drowned once while swimming in the Godavari and the only thing that saved him was the thought that he wouldn’t see Vajpayeeji ever again. How could Pramod Mahajan, a fierceVajpayee campwallah, let that pass without ridicule? And so, Mahajan too spun a yarn about how he too had been on the point of drowning once, somewhere off the coast of Kanyakumari. The only thing on his mind, however, was how to save his life. Moreover, he could produce two witnesses who would vouch for the truth of this incident, which, Mahajan supposed was more than could be said for Venkaiah Naidu.

Shot his mouth off, didn’t he?

Shatrughan Sinha has a big mouth and he is well-known for putting his foot into it. Recently, he created quite a flutter when he told a film magazine that his two role models in politics were Pramod Mahajan and Sonia Gandhi. Strange choice considering everyone knew that it was Mahajan who had prevented his entry into the Central cabinet. The leader of the opposition too is no favourite of Sinha’s party leaders. So what gives? Does the Bihari babu have a soft spot for Sonia because she agreed to be the guest of honour at a show of the play, Pati, Patni aur Mein, when he was out of favour with the Vajpayee government? Or is the new health minister merely broadening his future prospects?

Footnote / Till death do us honour

The left seems to have ultimately managed to leave its stamp. Somnath Chatterjee, CPI(M) MP in the Lok Sabha, had for long waged a low-intensity war with Pramod Mahajan, Union parliamentary affairs minister, for the release of a stamp in the memory of Kanika Bandopadhyay, noted Rabindrasangeet exponent. Mahajan apparently wriggled out of the situation with the excuse that stamps could be released in the memory of a noted person only 10 years after his demise. Not earlier. Which meant Kanika didn’t qualify for the honour. Mahajan however got Chatterjee’s goat when a stamp was released in the name of Vijayraje Scindia shortly after her death. The worst was still to come though. When Mahajan announced a stamp in the memory of Dhirubhai Ambani, who died only days back, Chatterjee was left fuming. Amends were made fast. Mahajan is supposed to have agreed to release stamps in the honour of Shantideb Ghosh, another Rabindrasangeet exponent, on his third death anniversary. Would that entail the left’s stamp of approval?    

In the middle of New Delhi’s bustling Safdarjung flyover, the battered Gypsy suddenly grinds to a halt. It is a grey, sodden morning and the seven girls cramped in the wagon’s backseat emit a low cry of anguish. You know why. Back from Manchester the night before, they have hardly slept for three hours. The celebrations at the airport ensured that. And now with rain threatening the overbearing skies, it is both sad and ironical to see Lancers and Ikons arrogantly breeze by, while a gang of champion weightlifters urge their driver to fix the car, holding shining medals in their moist palms.

Mercifully, it’s a small wait. In any case, the Indian women weightlifters, who have collectively reaped a rich haul of 11 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze in the just-concluded Commonwealth Games, are used to handling obstacles. Coming mostly from lower middle-class families from places as far as Imphal, Jalandhar and Bokaro, they have overcome parental opposition, ignored snide remarks and have managed to wrench out both space and spotlight for themselves in an erstwhile all-male terrain. Right from the mid-Nineties, these girls have been India’s best medal winning bet in any top international meet.

The journey from the courtyards of small-towns to the international medal podium is a slow and complex process. Creating champions in a country which can hardly look beyond cricket is no simple job. That too in a tough, unaesthetic sport where part of your daily routine is lifting iron two-and-half times more than your own weight. And where sweat, grime and aching joints are constant companions. Perhaps, the no-frills, working class background of the girls made it relatively easier for them to adjust to the exacting demands of the sport. Till recently, triple gold winner N. Kunjarani Devi was the only earning member in a family of three brothers and six sisters. Sanumacha Chanu’s father died at an early age and her sister turned the family’s breadwinner. Sunaina Anand’s father runs a cosmetic goods shop while Pratima Kumari’s father works in the locomotive department of the Bokaro Steel Plant.

As the car reaches the CRPF office, the armed sentry at the entrance salutes the pocket-sized Kunjarani. For him, she is both a world-class athlete and an officer, the assistant commandant of 103 Battalion, Wazirabad. At a time when multi-national companies and corporate bodies are being seen as the saviour of Indian sports, it is heartening to see the much-maligned paramilitary outfit in the role of a job provider for these champion sportspersons. With the exception of Sailaja Pujari, the triple gold winner in the 75 kg category, all the other winners of the women’s weightlifting contingent are employed with the CRPF.

Ironically, weight-lifting was not the first choice for these girls. Sanumacha, the 24-year-old from Imphal, preferred kabaddi and kho-kho, Sunaina shifted from gymnastics and as a junior Kunjarani excelled in football and hockey. “I knew there was little chance of being successful internationally in the games I played earlier. But I knew that if I worked hard I could be famous in weightlifting,” says Kunjarani, who took three gold medals in the 48 kg category.

Luck was on their side. Unlike athletics and swimming, where the difference between the best in the world and the wannabes was almost impossible to bridge, women’s weightlifting was a relatively new sport all over the globe. Backed by the financial muscle of the Hinduja Foundation, India grabbed the early bird advantage in the Eighties. By mid-Nineties, talented and dedicated girls like Kunjarani and Karnam Malleswari ensured that India emerged as a superpower in world championships held in Turkey, China and other parts of the world.

For these young athletes, weightlifting was a small window of opportunity that helped them escape the dreariness and ordinariness of routine middle-class existence. For them, weightlifting was a magic key that has unlocked a new world and given them wings to fly. “Without weightlifting, I would have got married by now like my two elder sisters. But for the game, I would have been just another regular, small-town girl. My life is different now,” declares the 22-year-old Sunaina, who comes from the same town as test cricketer Harbhajan Singh. “I am not as famous as him. But most people in Jalandhar know me as well,” says the girl who won three bronze medals.

Chief coach Pal Singh Sandhu details the tough work ethics that the discipline demands and which these girls follow religiously. Work is divided into sessions of physical conditioning, weight programmes, recovery lessons and techniques of relaxation and concentration. It’s a tough call. And, even the music of the latest Daler Mehndi floorscorcher blaring in the background doesn’t make it any easier.

Following this routine — day after day, month after month — can be backbreaking. It is often tempting to give up midway. As a teenager, Pratima, now 24 years of age, often ran away from the Sports Authority of India hostel in Bangalore. “It was so tough I just wanted to go back home. My coach, Ramesh Malhotra, would cajole me and bring me back,” says the Jharkhand girl, who won two gold and one silver in these Games.

Perhaps, the greatest sacrifice demanded of the girls is having to stay away for long periods from their family. Much of their adult life is spent in camps and stadiums but when the competitions are over, they are also expected to serve their battalions. “I haven’t been home for the past two years. I miss family functions and the festivals,” moans Prasmita Mangaraj, a pretty 24-year-old girl from Khorada, a village about 30 kilometres from Bhubaneswar. Nor has Sanumacha, now posted as an inspector in Jamshedpur. Only 20 years old, Sailaja suffers from frequent bouts of homesickness. “The girls spend a lot of money on STD calls,” says Sandhu. For them, the coach and their fellow weightlifters are their immediate family.

Though the service of a professional psychologist is always available, the coach often doubles up as one. Girls living away from home for long periods often need a father-figure who offers comfort and strength when anything goes wrong. Bodies often break down and so do minds. “I went through a major knee operation in 2000. I really thought my career was over and sunk into depression,” says Pratima. The credit for her recent medal haul also goes to her coach who nursed her mind back into the positive mode.

Pumping iron for long periods and sweating it out in a macho sport has not taken away the softer side of these girls. Designer salwar suits, fluorescent nail polish, stylish nose studs and purple lipsticks — they are equally comfortable with their feminine side. “While I am lifting weights, I am an athlete. But outside the arena, I am a woman. I have never feared that my femininity will go away,” says Sanumacha. “In a salwar kurta, we hardly look any different from any other sportsperson,” says Sunaina. In fact, Prasmita was asked to stand alongside the hockey girls by an official who was amazed to discover that she was a weightlifter. And, the Orissa girl still breaks into tears when colleagues remind her of the incident when during the medal presentation ceremony she had wiped off her cheeks after the chief guest had kissed her. “It’s a childhood habit. I did it instinctively,” she explains. Her colleagues laugh heartily.

The girls do not feel that prospective grooms will be turned off by their sport. In any case, the huge cash prizes for the medal winners — Rs 20 lakh for gold, Rs 15 lakh for silver and Rs 10 lakh for bronze — has already put them in the category of rich and successful sportspersons. But for all of them, including the 32-year-old Kunjarani, marriage is on hold. The girls want to take a serious shot at the Athens Olympics before thinking about tying the knot. “Marriage can wait till the 2004 Olympics,” says Sunaina.

Even Kunjarani wants to take a last fling at the Olympics. The senior weightlifter was denied a place in the 2000 squad under controversial circumstances. The memory still rankles deep within. “It was a great chance to win an Olympic medal. But, perhaps, it was not my destiny,” she says. “But I will take another shot. Winning an Olympic medal is my last goal.”

It is the same with the other girls who see a role model and a benchmark in former world champion Malleswari who won India’s only medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics finishing third in the 69 kilograms category. That bronze medal turned Malleswari a millionaire many times over. Married to another weightlifter, she became a mother last year. It’s the sort of fairy tale ending most of her fellow weightlifters may be dreaming of. They may not all end up with as many medals and as much money but they have still done their bit to alter gender stereotypes and have done India proud in the global sporting arena.


Krishen Khanna could well have been a Sunday painter. The British education on a scholarship at Imperial Services College, Windsor, the prized, covenanted post at Grindlays Bank may all have made him into a dilettante. All these worldly assets were not conducive to fanning the flames of a secret passion.

But the single-minded desire to paint spurred Khanna to explore uncharted paths rejecting the security of familiar territory. Gayatri Sinha in her recent book, Krishen Khanna: A Critical Biography published by Vadhera Art Gallery, assiduously traces Khanna’s course through a fast evolving art environment.

It is clear that it took a while for Khanna to find his metier. Initially one detects a trace of mimesis in his work. A 1947 landscape recalls touches of Van Gogh. Paintings done around 1954 evoke a whiff of Husain. Tantalising glimpses of Willem de Koonig’s influence can be observed in the paintings beginning late ‘50s. For a time, Khanna was attracted to the volatile energy of abstract expressionism.

But by the time Khanna gave up his bank job and relocated to Delhi to devote himself entirely to painting, he found his own language and distinctive imagery. Splendid colour harmonies, vivacious textures, unbounded energy gave his compositions a special stamp. Capturing the dynamism of Delhi’s street life with energetic impasto or brushstrokes, Khanna had created a series of unforgettable images — bandwallahs, daily labourers, teashop or dhaba scenes. Khanna has a great talent for distilling a sense of drama in the quotidian.

All this Sinha has painstakingly documented. She has followed the artist’s career through his childhood in Punjab, his boyhood in Britain and subsequent return to Punjab. She has faithfully recorded the dislocation during the turmoil of Partition and how the family came to Delhi from Lahore against a background of terrible holocaust.

From Delhi, Khanna relocated to Bombay, now Mumbai, for his bank job. This is where he met the painters of Progressive Artists Group and had the opportunity of mingling with them. It was a fruitful period in Khanna’s life. From Mumbai, Khanna was transferred to Madras, now Chennai. Here also he found a stimulating intellectual and aesthetic environment. He became deeply interested in Carnatic music and did a lively series of paintings on musicians.

The next stop in his career graph was Kanpur. Khanna found the intellectual climate in Kanpur sterile and frustrating. He began to toy with the idea of putting in his papers. To pacify him, Grindlays transferred him to Mumbai once again. But as far as Khanna was concerned, the die was already cast. He resigned after a short while in Mumbai and relocated to Delhi where he has lived ever since except for an interlude in New York. Generally, he divides his time between Delhi and the family home at Ravensdale in Shimla.

Sinha has also not avoided a major controversy engulfing Khanna when he received the jury award at the second Triennale, notwithstanding the fact that he was a commissioner for the Indian section. Sinha has divided the book into eight chapters. Each chapter presents a major phase in Khanna’s life and his artistic evolution.

She captures the mood of the times very deftly. She mentions, albeit with restraint, the tensions among other artists towards the Progressive Artists Group. The PAG was perceived to be the standard bearer of international modernism and was thus foregrounded in the contemporary art scene. Other experiments and aesthetics became completely overshadowed because the PAG held centre-stage very successfully. This was not just on account of their talents, no doubt substantial, but also because of their efficient networking.

It is only in the last 25 years or so that the work done in art centres of the country, other than Mumbai, have received some measure of recognition. It is in this context, Sinha sketches Khanna’s role as a bridge-builder. His friendship with Swaminathan in Delhi and Gulam Mohammed Sheikh in Baroda comes for special mention. But even the mediator’s role is selective. One realises what little part artists from the eastern or southern parts of India played in Khanna’s life.

Sinha’s language is lucid and fast-paced. And she catches the artist and his multifarious concerns with imagination and sensitivity.

However, one must point out a sweeping analysis where Sinha says that the “strong grip of Nehruvian socialism over the creative community” prompted the spate of “flattering images of abundant fields, vigorous farmers, life in a village community” painted by various artists from Ramkinkar Baij to M.F. Husain during the 1950s.

This observation should be re-examined. Baij, for one, was not inspired by Nehruvian socialism. He expressed in his work the Santiniketan philosophy of reflecting life and nature around him. Rabindranath Tagore’s dream university Visva Bharati sited in the heart of rural Bengal sought to create integral links with the surrounding rural community with its large sprinkling of tribals. Baij’s representation of peasants and tribals goes back to the ‘30s. And not just in Baij’s images but also in the images of the other two Santiniketan masters, Nandalal Bose and Binodebehari Mukhopadhyay.

Two, apart from Nehruvian socialism, a complex process of pulls and pushes of a new nation in the making spurred creative people to enfold the rural experience into the sphere of imagination. But this still is a well-produced book.

British Council is interestingly blending texts and images to create greater interest in books. Director Edmund Marsden recently initiated an exhibition of posters associated with contemporary Indian writing published in the Picador collection edited by Amit Chaudhuri.

The visuals comprised photographs by Naveen Kishore who has also designed the posters by weaving in graphic elements from the texts. The result is a suite of stunning posters encapsulating the spirit of each individual writing. Some of the images are quite abstract but nevertheless compelling like the photograph of a bit of ornate iron railing glimpsed through a sunlit window. The text is a quote from Rabindranath Tagore describing lazy, languid summer days.

This is the second such poster exhibition. The first was of posters related to books of V.S. Naipaul.



Not in the spirit of the game

As a tribute to the Indian women’s hockey team, which took gold at the Commonwealth Games, it is time to drop the word “Eves” from newspaper vocabulary. Since we don’t refer to Sourav Ganguly’s team as “Adams”, there is no reason why “Eves” should not be consigned to the dustbin of history. Instead of “Eves”, why not use “women” or, occasionally, even “girls” since some are just that?

The BBC, meanwhile, has come in for criticism for its live coverage of the England-India hockey final. As we all know by now, the last minute Indian penalty goal was disputed. It was something to do with the timing of the whistle and the hooter but the game was awarded to India after an England appeal was rejected. BBC TV showed each and every member of the England team receiving the silver medal but cut its coverage and returned to the studio when it came to the presentation of the gold medal.

One viewer, Michael Cole, complained to the BBC: “Irrespective of which team should have won, how could the BBC be so discourteous as to show the whole presentation of the silver but ignore completely the gold presentation? Such a decision was shameful and brings discredit upon the impartiality of BBC reporting.”

Another viewer remarked upon “an obviously biased TV commentator”. This was a reference to Karen Brown, a former England hockey player, who declared, more or less, even before the start of play that the gold was England’s and that the match was a mere formality. When the match was awarded to India, she spluttered words to the effect: “I can’t believe we won’t hear more of this.” She meant England would win the appeal, the match would continue and her side would ultimately triumph. The BBC and other networks make it a practice to employ former players to provide expert commentary but sometimes, as was clearly the case with Karen Brown, they forget they have to at least try to be even handed in their reporting. Ms Brown would be better employed as cheerleader than commentator.

A BBC spokeswoman told me that that the England-India match had overrun by 90 minutes and the decision to return to the studio was “not a deliberate slight” to the Indian women. The studio anchor, Steve Ryder, had called the result “a deserved win” for the Indian women and shortly afterwards the BBC had shown two Indian women picking up gold for shooting. The BBC, added the spokeswoman, was concentrating on coverage of the “home” side. I had wanted to see whether the England team members would turn their backs when the Indian women were being handed their gold medals. What was their body language? We will never know.

Meanwhile, a new prize is being instituted for former sportsmen and women turned commentators who find it difficult to recognise merit in any opposing side. What better name to give it than the Michael Atherton Award after the recently retired former England cricket captain who seems hypercritical of Sourav’s young side? The first winner is Karen Brown.

Lagaan lore

When Lagaan had its premiere on British television last weekend with a screening on Channel 4 as part of its “Indian Summer”, the film struck a chord with the members of the Indian women’s cricket team. The women, led by their captain, Anjum Chopra, are in England on a tour which runs parallel to that of the men, although there is little coverage of the former.

The women were guests at a dinner hosted by Barun and Roma Guha, the parents of Isa Guha, the 17-year-old Indian girl who has been picked to play for England and made an impressive debut with both bat and ball.

The young women resembled a group of college freshers out on a picnic. They hooted with laughter as they relished the unorthodox bowling and batting techniques of Aamir’s rustics. In real life, the Indian batswomen have been finding conditions very different from the ones they encounter back home. “We can drive there because the ball comes through much more quickly,” explained Mithali Raj, the vice captain, a Hyderabad woman. “Here the ground has been soggy and the pitches, slow. But we are getting used to it.”

Isa’s mother busied herself preparing a typically Bengali meal for 50, for Isa had brought along fellow members of the England side, plus John Harmar, the team’s Australian-born coach, and several of his staff.

“I hope you will come and support us during the first Test at Shenley,” said Mithali. This presented something of a dilemma. Do I support Isa, the local Indian girl made good, or the visiting Indian side? Faced with this, I did a typically Indian male thing — I chickened out. I responded with something wishy washy like: “I hope it’s a good match and you have four sunny days at Shenley.”

Dream house

For eight weeks, television will follow the adventures of Nippy Singh as he and his friend, freelance journalist Nigel Farrell, buy a derelict farmhouse in France and convert it into a dream holiday home. But “Nippy” seemed an unusual name for a Sikh. Was he quick between the wickets?

“My real name is Pritpal Singh,” laughed the 48-year-old Sikh, when I tracked him down in rural Hampshire, where he runs a pub, The Poacher, in the village of South Warnborough. He also owns a grocery store cum post office in the pretty village of Crondall, in Surrey, where he lives with his wife, Rabinder (“Binny”) and their 10-year-old twin daughters, Bundagi and Nehi. “My parents called me Nippy and the nickname has stuck,” he added.

Nippy and Nigel buy the farmhouse in the hilltop hamlet of Les Fabres in the Ardeche Hills of south-east France, just north of Provence, for a mere £15,000. But Rabinder’s face indicates she does not think much of the ramshackle purchase when she sets eyes on the place for the first time. However, after many ups and downs and expenditure of over £70,000, the eight-part A Place in France will show the ruin metamorphose into an ideal retreat.

Nippy came to Britain in 1979 from Kanpur and trained as a chartered accountant but rapidly tired of London — “I had not come to this country to do nine to five”. Unlike most Indians, who gravitate to the ethnic areas of urban Britain, Nippy always had a hankering for the rolling English countryside. By 1983, he had bought a post office and store, a building nearly 300 years old, in the quaintly named village of Oliver’s Battery near Winchester. “I was going into places where no immigrant had dared to go,” he said. “In the countryside, people have time for you.” Now, thanks to his exposure on prime time TV, Nippy is in danger of becoming a national figure. He has trenchant views, for example, on Indians who make no effort to integrate. “I know people who have been here for 30 to 40 years and who don’t speak a word of English,” Nippy declared crossly.

Blair’s baby

One woman who has sent a letter to Cherie Blair to express sympathy at news of the latter’s miscarriage is Pinky Lilanli, who runs the Asian Women of Achievement Awards which the prime minister’s wife attends every year as chief patron. To Pinky, as to the nation at large, Mrs Blair’s pregnancy, a few weeks short of her 48th birthday — her last child, Leo, was born two years ago — “was a big surprise”. Asian women rarely risk babies at this age, notes Pinky. She has also noticed a trend among her Indian winners, several of whom have either not married or dispensed with their husbands. “Not one of the winners,” says Pinky, “thanked her husband.”

Tittle tattle

Marriage to Nadira Alvi, a Pakistani, has not made V. S. Naipaul any fonder of Pakistan. Quite the contrary, in fact. “Your biggest enemy is your biggest ally — Saudi Arabia,” he told a British journalist. “And the foot-soldiers of the terror come from your other ally — Pakistan.” Naipaul is irritated that both his books on Islam are “banned” in Pakistan. “It’s not a book reading country, it has no intellectual life,” he says dismissively.



What’s the point?

Sir — Will Cherie Blair stop punishing herself (“Cherie suffers miscarriage”, Aug 7)? She must know that she has achieved her purpose of proving to the world that a middle-aged woman can still be fertile, sexually-active, professionally brilliant and play her role as a mother of four children and a wife of a premier just as well. She need not have gone for another pregnancy. Besides, she ought also to be careful about the image they are creating. Yes, the Blairs can afford a fifth child, but don’t they have a responsibility towards the world groaning under the pressure of its ever-growing population?

Yours faithfully,
S. Mahato, Calcutta

To draw the line

Sir —An avid reader of The Telegraph, I believe articles like Xavier Pfokrehe Mao’s “Bury the hatchet” (July 29), are likely to incite students and insurgents in Manipur and might even inspire hatred against the newspaper in the region. Mao writes as if he were a public relations officer of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim. The charges of discrimination against the Nagas are not true and not supported by facts. Neither have the Vaishnavite Manipuris singled out Nagas to be treated as untouchables.

Manipur’s territory has been recognized through a number of treaties. This historical territory cannot be compromised now to appease the NSCN(Isak-Muivah). Mao harps on the separation of the four districts of Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Chandel on the basis of their being Naga-inhabited. But how can districts which are inhabited by all tribes and communities be regarded the sole preserve of the Nagas? In fact, the former chief minister, R.K. Dorendra Singh, has quoted census reports to show that Kukis have more population in the districts than the Nagas. Which means Kukis have as much right over the area as the Nagas. Besides, Mao should know that Naga villagers of Manipur themselves do not want territorial dismemberment of the state.

Yours faithfully,
Sekhokhai Haokip, Churachandpur, Manipur

Sir — Years after the Naga insurgency started, it seems that the Northeast is gradually moving towards a resolution of the problem. The government has welcomed the leaders of the NSCN(I-M) back home and the leaders themselves are showing enough optimism in the peace process. Recently, the Nagaland chief minister, S.C. Jamir, has also urged his counterpart in Manipur, Okram Ibobi Singh, to withdraw all police cases against the NSCN(I-M) leaders for the sake of peace in the region. Jamir added that he believed that people of the region would realize that it is better to have peace than violence and that economic development will be ushered in faster if peace prevails. One hopes Singh realizes the significance of the statement and so do militants.

Yours faithfully,
Pushpa Raj, Silchar

Spatial limits

Sir — The four-page sports supplement of The Telegraph, besides providing detailed sporting news, has created more space for general news in the paper. But the back page reports are merely used to fill up the space. The reports should have either been in the foreign pages or the KnowHow section.

I have always appreciated The Telegraph’s high standard of reporting and its unique layout. The last page should also be utilized properly, for really offbeat or important stories.

Yours faithfully,
Syeda Nusrat Fatma, Calcutta

Sir — Why do we have to suffer looking at Britney Spears’s face every day, either on the front page, or on the foreign pages of The Telegraph? If, on some day, the reader is lucky enough to escape Spears, he is bombarded with pictures of either Elizabeth Hurley, or Celine Dion, or Jennifer Lopez, or Hugh Grant, or Catherine Zeta Jones, or all of them. Will the paper please stop asking its readers to choose between the gore in Israel and Spears?

Yours faithfully,
M. Sanyal, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — When was the last time Sourav Ganguly crossed the 50-run mark in a test innings?

Yours faithfully,
Lina Lalwani, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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