Editorial / Politics before wicket
The many-splendoured text
The Teleraph Diary
Letters to the editor

It would be idealistic to expect that in today�s world cricket � or for that matter any sport � would be above politics. It ought to be but it isn�t. There is no point anymore in shedding tears about this state of affairs. The government of India has done the right thing by not allowing the Indian cricket team to tour Pakistan. There is not a single arena in which India and Pakistan are in friendship or in alliance. Under the circumstances, it will be completely hypocritical to put up a sham show of camaraderie on the cricket field. It is important to remember that a cricket match between India and Pakistan is a highly charged affair. Emotions and jingoism run high and the game suddenly becomes invested with national prestige. Cricket is transformed into war minus the shooting when India plays Pakistan. This heightened ambience only justifies the government�s decision. There is a common perception that there exists no hostility between the people of India and the people of Pakistan. There is no adequate test for this perception. But the available evidence does not support such a generalization. It is very clear that during any crisis � the Kargil war, the nuclear explosions and so on � anti-Pakistani feelings this side of the border and anti-Indian feelings on the other side become very common across large sections of the population. The man on the street believes that the two countries are at loggerheads. This kind of response does not augur well for a cricket match.

The government of India�s decision has been ridiculed in Pakistan. Commentators there have said that the Indian team is not coming because it is frightened of losing to Pakistan. In sheer cricketing terms, it is possibly true that Pakistan has the better team. But it is equally true that Pakistan has a vested interest in taking the Indian team across the border to play in Karachi and the other major cities of Pakistan. In Pakistan, only a match against India draws crowds. No other cricket team in Pakistan plays in front of a full house. When India plays, tickets are sold months in advance and advertising space in the grounds and on television are also overbooked. When India and Pakistan play, cricket becomes a moneyspinner. It is therefore to Pakistan�s interest to uphold the position that cricket and politics should be kept separate. If the powers that be in Pakistan were to put the economic factors on one side, they would recognize that it is no longer realistic to keep the two separate. When politicians cannot find a common agenda to discuss across a table, the cricketers of the two countries would really appear like flannelled fools if they were to play against each other.

There was a time in the Nineties, when Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya inadvertently assumed the mantle of India�s foreign minister and forged a series of tactical alliances with the Pakistan cricket board. One immediate and significant consequence of this was the tilting of the power balance within the cricketing world against white nations. But that moment has now passed. Cricket, mired as it is in scandal, can no longer be on the cutting edge of Indo-Pak friendship and diplomacy. Moreover, the war over Kargil and Pakistan�s continuing support to terrorism in Kashmir have radically altered the relationship between the two countries. Since Pakistan refuses to play cricket figuratively, there is no reason for India to play cricket literally against Pakistan. One of the finest writers on the game of cricket, C.L.R. James once lamented, �What do they know of cricket who only cricket know!� Those who advocate playing cricket with Pakistan are attempting to isolate cricket from the prevailing atmosphere that informs Indo-Pak relations. This cannot do cricket any good since the undertow of violence that is evident in any India-Pakistan cricket match goes completely against the spirit in which the game should be played. India and Pakistan should sort out their differences in the diplomatic nets before the cricketers step into the playing arena.    

Most people who study the humanities and social sciences at the university level today are aware that subjects such as history, linguistics, anthropology, literature and politics, which were once well demarcated by disciplinary boundaries and reading habits, have now interpenetrated so thoroughly that everyone has, in a sense, become a student of something called cultural studies. In these porous disciplines, there is no longer such a thing as a purely literary or purely anthropological text, nor some clearly bounded literary or anthropological method of reading texts.

In the Sixties, when campuses were reeking of rebellion and dope, there was scepticism and disrespect for authority and affluence. There is now, curiously, a conservative respect for authority and affluence, even while the simultaneous break up and melding of disciplines would seem to point in the direction of the academic universe having become something of a free for all.

One of the characteristics of contemporary social science academic discourse is to view the entire universe and all that happens within it as a multiplicity of �texts�. These texts, which comprise every entity that exists and every event that occurs, can be �read� in a variety of ways, depending upon the �subject position� of the person reading and interpreting them.

To put it less abstractly and with concrete exemplification, the sun and moon and stars, or the event that is Halley�s comet, are not mere physical objects or occurrences. They are, rather, �texts� which are �read� by a variety of cultures in various ways; they are socially constructed and interpreted within different languages; and they are endowed with specific symbols and connotations in diverse civilizations.

It is not possible for an individual, wherever he may happen to be in this universe of free-floating texts, to perceive heavenly bodies in some conceptually neutral manner. Perception, which now means the act of �reading� this world of texts, cannot happen independently of the cultures and languages which enable the very act of reading. These same languages have, equally, made the reading individual himself a text which other people read. And finally, since the world is a continuum of Heraclitean flux, none of the texts that comprise it is fixed or unchanging or stable.

To give another example from a less cosmic and more earthly context, the Babri Masjid, from this perspective, is not a stone building, nor a concrete structure, but a text which has to be read, that is, the Babri Masjid is something like a book which possesses its own set of distinctive narratives, its own structures and meanings, its own ways of unfolding as a plethora of meanings to the individual or the community which reads and interprets it. The Babri Masjid, moreover, is an unstable text � in this case both literally and metaphorically. If there was a stone structure on that site before Babar, the structure to him was an open book; in making it a mosque, Babar �appropriated� and �inscribed� it (that is, re-created or re-constructed) as part of his conquest; since then it has been �read� (that is, used for worship, or used to propagate Islam) by Muslims in diverse ways; and it has most recently been �reinscribed� and �re-read� (that is, destroyed, or reinterpreted as originally Hindu) in yet other ways.

The same thing holds true for the Sardar Sarovar dam. Social science academics have enabled us to read the Sardar Sarovar dam as a very large book with a fast flowing set of conflicting and contradicting stories. Its swirls and eddies can be read as digressions within its dominant narratives. Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy are subtexts which refuse to be dammed within the master text which is the Sardar Sarovar dam.

A public event, such as an anti-nuclear rally, is also now a text which we are asked to read, and then think about how we have read what we have read. The act of reading has itself become the subject of cross-examination: we have to become aware, even as we read the text which is the anti-nuclear rally, of the prejudices and �subject positions� from which we have read that text. A plate of food, a restaurant, a movie, a movie hall, a motorcar, the clothes you wear, a carpark, a picture gallery, a garbage dump, a toilet � these are all now referred to as �texts� in the more sophisticated social science departments of universities within which poststructuralism and postmodernism have been successfully absorbed. Shakespeare would have defined such a universe pithily by grunting: �Textuality is all.�

This textual view of the world is one of the features of postmodern knowledge. It has, in some ways, been liberating and emancipatory, in other ways farcical and ridiculous. The positive aspect of this philosophy has been to open up subjects and spaces for study that relate to the normal, the everyday, and the lived experiences of the people studying them. The pre-textual world was made up of elite books and canonical texts on the one hand, and humdrum, quotidian, subaltern existence on the other.

The textualized world has no such clean dichotomy, and it strives towards democratic equality by shaking itself free of hierarchy. Once upon a time, Shakespeare, the Greeks, the Mahabharata and so on were the pantheon, and their readers were worshippers who filed into classrooms to doff their hats. The cultural critic or the chronicling historian was the Brahminical panda who revealed the mysteries of godliness and pointed out whom to worship, how to kneel. This orderly world of great books and fixed identity was destabilized by Marx and Freud, who in turn have been �problematized� (that is, shown up as limited) by a long string of poststructuralist thinkers broadly summarizable as Foucault & Co.

In the world of old Eng.Lit., the high priest and priestess of the 20th century were F.R. Leavis and his wife, who was appropriately called �Queenie� Leavis. About 50 years ago, Queenie Leavis wrote a book which shook the world and became the Cambridge edition of St James� Bible. It was called Fiction and the Reading Public. Its central argument would today cause the postmodern critic to burst out laughing. Queenie was peeved that the reading public was enjoying books by a ghastly American called Edgar Rice Burroughs who had created a bizarre monkey-man called Tarzan. She and her husband � whose writings were even more arrogantly against a world degenerating into something made up of subalterns, non-whites and roughly equal texts � exhorted the universe, which was made up of correctly cultured Europeans, to stick firmly to a Great Tradition which went from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf.

The world has been turned upside down and the Leavises look like part of the misguided intelligentsia of past conservatism. Shobha D� and Barbara Cartland, Tarzan and Meera Syal, perform their literary tricks within a multivocal marketplace of unstable texts which compete for the attention of fickle students and reader-consumers. In some ways, this is a lot better: there is endless choice. You can try to understand your life by grappling with a course in Pulp Fiction instead of taking a course in High Fiction delivered from the Leavisite pulpit. You can study the significance or the significant absence of potty seats in the novels of Mulk Raj Anand.

You can try making sense of male violence against women by relating The Taming of the Shrew to Hunterwaali, Revolver Raani and Godmother. It feels good for F.R. and Q.D. Leavis to have been replaced by the new emperor and empress of cultural studies, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. But this is where the farcical and the ridiculous enter the cultural studies scenario: it would feel even better if anyone at all could understand what the new literary aristocracy were saying.    


List of disappointments

There is consternation in Keshav Kunj, the regional Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in the capital. AB Vajpayee doesn�t seem to be giving the RSS a good time at all. The prime minister has refused to pick out any of the names from the long list for possible diplomatic assignments supplied by RSS bigwigs. And this is not the first time. The RSS particularly wanted its men to be posted in such countries as Mauritius. It feels that the sizeable local population of Indian origin in such places would afford it a marvellous opportunity to spread its message. On hearing that the PMO was considering a career diplomat to fill the vacancy created by the transfer of Mani Tripathi, the last Indian high commissioner in Port Louis who is now the Indian high commissioner in Dacca, a senior RSS member loudly swore not to have anything to do with the Vajpayee government. Oh no, not again.

Brush-offs set the tone

Now the turn has come for leaders from Bengal to return disheartened from New Delhi. The other day Union home minister L.K.Advani reportedly did not entertain two senior BJP leaders � vice-president Muzaffar Khan and general secretary Pratap Banerjee � when they sought an appointment with him. The two received mild injuries last week when the police lathicharged a BJP demonstration in Burdwan. But desperate to get media limelight, the two first jointly held a grand press conference in Calcutta. Disappointed with the poor media coverage that received, they went all the way to New Delhi to bring the matter to Advani�s notice. Little did they know that they would be brushed aside by Advaniji.

BJP sources said Advaniji did not meet them because he was busy with with other important jobs. �Stung by this, the two later went to party president Bangaru Laxman who at least heard them for five minutes,� reported a BJP functionary. He said the two are also facing criticism for going to New Delhi at the cost of the party exchequer. When asked if he had incurred the state leaders� wrath for making a mountain out of a molehill, Khan said, �Let detractors say whatever they like. Our purpose is to highlight the CPI(M)�s atrocities towards innocent party workers.�

Disinvest � oops, wait a minute

Buzzwords like �disinvestment� are beginning to prove rather heavy for the government vis-�-vis Maruti Udyog Limited. The man stalling the move to disinvest the government�s share in MUL is none other than the minister for heavy industries and Shiv Sena strongman, Manohar Joshi. A meeting of the cabinet committee slated to take up this issue last week has been postponed indefinitely as Joshi has declined to put papers relating to the move before the cabinet. Troubleshooters in the PMO said that the meeting on disinvestments had to be postponed because the minister for telecommunications, Ram Vilas Paswan, could not make it to the meeting as he was out of the country.

Song sung blue...and maybe red

Taking a cue from octogenarian Jyoti Basu, West Bengal minister for irrigation and senior Revolutionary Socialist Party leader Debabrata Bandopadhaya has decided to step down by the end of the year. After a long stint as cabinet minister, Bandopadhaya has also planned not to contest the 2001 assembly elections. The other day Bandopadhaya unveiled his post-retirement plan at a function where he sang a number of Tagore songs, much to the surprise of party faithfuls. Nobody knew that Debuda was such an expert singer. �It is better if Debuda concentrates more on singing in his post-retirement period,� said a senior RSP leader.

The other day Basu himself was impressed when he heard Bandopadhaya sing a number of Tagore songs at a function, organized by a city-based hospital to felicitate him. However, detractors in the party say Bandopadhaya wants to retire as he finds it difficult to get along well with chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

Happy birthday and all that

It was a birthday party with a difference. Journalists, who are used to feeding off other people�s tables, decided to be large-hearted. Last week they went with a cake to celebrate the birthday of BJP functionary JP Mathur. He has fed them with all inside news for years now. Mathur, a close associate of LK Advani has been pushed into the wilderness by Vajpayee�s hatchet man, Bangaru Laxman. Upset with the present state of affairs, he has become an even better source of information for journalists. The birthday celebration obviously came with strings.

Footnote / Roll up the red carpet and stack it away

Concerned over the state of affairs in its Great Eastern Hotel, the Left Front government in West Bengal is worried about entertaining guests from neighbouring states. The other day, a VIP suite in the hotel was booked for Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav. But minutes before Yadav�s arrival, government officials reportedly rushed to the hotel to get the booking cancelled. Reason: employees are more busy campaigning against the government�s move to privatize the hotel than looking after guests. Writers� Buildings sources said Yadav was later shifted to a city five-star hotel. Convinced that conditions in the hotel will worsen in the days ahead, officials are at a loss regarding the accommodation of a number of VVIPs, including two former prime ministers, V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar and Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, scheduled to arrive here on November 30. They will attend a function at Salt Lake Stadium where former chief minister Jyoti Basu will be felicitated. Sources say officials are working overtime to improve work culture at the hotel � at least for the time being.    


Medium of control

Sir � The article, �Foreign entry lock on print, for 45 years and some more� (Nov 18), discusses a hackneyed issue. Policymakers in India have dillydallied long enough and, predictably, come up with an absurd idea. Sushma Swaraj insists that the old worries about allowing foreign newspapers to publish from India still remain valid. What about the validity of this statement? In a scenario where all kinds of programmes and movies are being broadcast on television morning, noon and night, how can this argument be tenable? Who will be obtuse enough to imagine that the ministry of information and broadcasting will be able to keep the Indian media purely �Indian� in this manner?
Yours faithfully,
Benjamin Gomes, via email

Bloody Bihar

Sir � There seems to be no end to the bloodshed in Bihar. On October 13, 11 Yadavs were killed in Mujahidpur in Siwan by the followers of a Rashtriya Janata Dal member of parliament with an unsavoury reputation. This was in retaliation for the murder of two Muslims by Yadavs a few days earlier. Yadavs then killed five Muslims. Laloo Prasad Yadav�s myth of Muslim-Yadav bonhomie, the �backbone� of his political strength, has been shattered.

Earlier, the superintendent of police, Lohardaga, was killed by suspected Maoist Communist Centre rebels. Six Muslims and three adivasis were killed by the MCC near Ranchi in September. The clash between the Communist Party of India (Maoist-Leninist Liberation and the CPI-ML (People�s War) in Patna has left more people dead. Gang rivalries have caused many other deaths. Would George Fernandes revise his statement that lawlessness in Bihar is less than it is in West Bengal?

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir � The de facto ruler of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, is successfully keeping his uneducated lower class voters in darkness for his own benefit.

Hitherto, caste clashes in the state were confined to the lower and upper caste hierarchies. The latest barbaric mass killings of Yadavs followed by that of Muslims in Siwan in Bihar is a glaring indicator of the changing equations. Yadav could not hide his lust for minority votes as he desperately tried to save the Muslim member of parliament involved in the dastardly crime.

This has made his own people doubt Yadav. His vote bank is now tottering. Land reform regulations have not been implemented properly. So the upper caste landlords continue to behave as the mai baaps of the labouring class. Land holdings remain the bone of contention in the caste wars. Shortcut methods may help Laloo Yadav and his wife to cling to power a little longer, but their reign won�t last.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Receipt relief

Sir � From time to time, we find filmstars, promoters, industrialists and prominent executives being raided by income tax authorities. It is surprising that doctors are rarely targeted by them. This situation exists despite the fact that very few doctors issue money receipts to their patients. The exorbitant fees they charge are therefore never brought to the notice of the income tax department, which in turn is not bothered enough to investigate the situation. It is about time that patients start demanding receipts from doctors, which is a legitimate practice all over the world.
Yours faithfully,
Subir Sen, Calcutta

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