Sir — The motives of the British prime minister, David Cameron, in visiting Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar — and his kneeling at the site of the massacre that occurred in 1919 — are obvious (“History repeats itself, in stopping short”, Feb 21). He wants to woo the sizeable Sikh and Punjabi population in his country for votes. Moreover, the fact that he has brought with him the largest trade delegation ever to leave the shores of Britain shows that he wants India to choose his country as a partner in trade.
Cameron, however, did not apologize for the gruesome massacre of unarmed civilians that was authorized by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. None of Cameron’s predecessors has apologized for the tragedy either. I do not agree with Cameron’s view that it is not right “to reach back into history seeking out things for which to apologise”. He is, of course, not directly responsible for the killings, but his reasoning that the killings occurred “more than 40 years before [he] was born” does not hold water and can be no excuse for withholding an apology.
The report also mentions the “regret” that the former president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, felt for the torture suffered by Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison. His assertion that “What took place in that prison does not represent the America I know” is one of the hallmarks of Western hypocrisy. European settlers conducted mass genocide of indigenous Americans; the remaining survivors were forced into reservations. This was followed by generations of enslavement of Africans, who were forcibly brought to America. Have there been any direct apologies from leaders over the years for these barbaric acts? White settlers and conquerors have always found it difficult to bring themselves to apologize to people belonging to other ethnicities for the atrocities perpetrated on them.
What was truly “shameful” was the comment made by the royal consort of Queen Elizabeth II — during the latter’s visit to Amritsar in 1997 — that the Jallianwala Bagh memorial’s official signage “vastly exaggerated” the death toll. It is also shameful that the president of the Jallianwala Bagh Shaheedi Parivar Samity, Bhushan Behal, was barred by the police from stepping out of his house when Cameron laid a wreath at the site of the massacre (“Just shame? Not enough”, Feb 21).
Amit Banerjee, Calcutta
Sir — Avishek Parui is right when he says that “the British never had a cuisine of their own” (“More curry please, we are British”, Feb 21). The eagerness with which Britons accepted Indian cuisine is surprising because Indian food differs vastly from continental cuisine. One needs to use fingers to eat it, unlike continental food that is served in courses. In Indian cuisine, different items are eaten together; the preparations usually do not require the addition of salt, pepper and sauces after they are served, as is often the case with continental dishes.
But if the British “sentimentalize Christmas puddings and treacle tarts”, eating them only occasionally while including other foods more regularly in their diet, Bengalis seem to be following a similar practice. Nowadays, cakes have replaced payesh on birthdays, vegetarian fried rice is seen more often than khichudi for bhog during the pujas, and fast-food preferences have shifted to burgers and pizza from cha-muri. This is perhaps inevitable, as an exchange of culinary traditions forms a major part of cultural integration. My father was in Indochina in the early 1960s, working for the International Control Commission. He used to tell us about his French friend, who became an admirer of paantabhaat, because cooking it saved him time.
Tapan Pal, Batanagar
Sir — I was travelling along Taratala road when I noticed that the whole stretch from the southwest regional office of the CESC to Zinzira Bazar was flooded with vapour lamps that remained lit in broad daylight. This is a criminal waste in a state like West Bengal, where there is an acute shortage of electricity. The day before I witnessed this, most of Budge Budge was plunged in darkness owing to power cuts. Students preparing for board examinations suffered the most; yet, electricity is wasted without a second thought in the city.
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge