Editorial 1 / Little option
Editorial 2 / Waste of resources
Story behind bleak realities
Book Review / Boiling a frog and doing it badly
Book Review / Vision unlimited
Book Review / Strokes played differently
Book Review / The hills moved
Editor’s Choice / By Toutatis! The Gauls are back!
Paperback pickings / Moment of human conscience
Letters to the editor

A politician’s obituary can only be written when he is dead. The instinct of survival is perhaps the strongest among those who cultivate the art of the possible. Thus it would be unfair to write off Ms Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress leader, even though she has muffed the one possibility she expected to actualize and make real. Her debacle in the assembly polls and her handling of the defeat obviously closed many of her political options. She made it clear that her party was not keen to play the role expected of a responsible opposition party. There was an apparent unwillingness on Ms Banerjee’s part to make a realistic evaluation of the election results. She chose to fall back on the familiar themes of rigging and violence. Within her party, some dissonant voices were heard about the wisdom of leaving the National Democratic Alliance and forming an electoral alliance with the Congress before the polls. Whatever be the public rhetoric of Ms Banerjee, there can be little doubt that she will have to rethink her party’s equations with both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Ms Banerjee’s relations with the West Bengal unit of the Congress have never been amicable. State Congress leaders accepted her with reluctance and she did not win too many friends by her behaviour. The election results are hardly likely to make her more acceptable.

Ms Banerjee queered her pitch vis-à-vis the BJP when she walked out of the NDA. One school of thought, within her own party, holds that this exit was a crucial factor in her very poor showing in the hustings. Ms Banerjee, on her first visit to the capital after the election results, will obviously look forward to mending fences with the BJP central leadership. The latter, more conscious of numbers in the Lok Sabha than ever before, will not be inclined to shut its doors on her face. Politics knows no permanent friends and enemies. There are only permanent interests. The BJP’s interests are obvious. To strengthen the NDA, it would like Ms Banerjee back in the fold. Her return, if it happens, will have the added advantage of weakening the hand of Ms Sonia Gandhi who is now Ms Banerjee’s friend. The latter’s interests are, however, not so evident. For one thing, national politics is not the turf of her choice. She will have to weigh the pros and cons of remaining with the Congress as well as those of going back to the NDA. While making these calculations, she will have to factor in, whether she likes it or not, her own declining credibility. The election results and her fulmination in their immediate aftermath have dealt a body blow to her image as a political leader. Her steps in the future will show if she is a realist without illusions or an illusionist out of touch with reality.


Apathy kills. This truth has been repeatedly proved by hospitals in West Bengal. Hospitals in Calcutta naturally attract the most limelight, perhaps because something better is expected of a city. Although the West Bengal pollution control board has homed in on 22 private hospitals for violating waste disposal norms, government hospitals are equally, and often, more guilty. The series of deaths of newborn babies in R.G. Kar Hospital recently is a particularly tragic instance of routine neglect and indifference to hygiene. It is immaterial what the specific cause of death was in each case. That newborn babies should be kept in spotless and antiseptic surroundings, that maternity wards and labour rooms should be protected from infections coming from outside, are not principles that need to be taught or recited. Yet babies do not just die, they are sometimes dragged away by stray animals, or less horrifyingly, go home with serious infections from the city’s hospitals. Ignoring waste disposal norms is just one of the numerous violations that hospital staff indulge in. There is a constant shortage of resources, from essential medicines to blood and items like anti-venom serum in hospitals and health centres throughout the state. Nothing is done about the siphoning off of resources about which very few are unaware. The same games are played with patients’ food. The problem of recycling waste, such as syringes, is just one of numerous allied problems.

As far as violating the trust of the people is concerned, it is the government hospitals which are more guilty. It is to these places that the poor and underprivileged come, they are unable to get help anywhere else. True, not to deliver the services being paid for is a failure of duty and professionalism equally to be condemned. Private hospitals have no excuse at all. At the same time, to promise deliverance to the poor, and then to take advantage of their ignorance, helplessness and sickness, is a deed that has the taint of the criminal about it. The horrors are best seen in asylums for the mentally ill. Instead of care and attention, what patients get is ill-treatment, humiliation and forcible confinement in filthy surroundings. It is easy to say that there is no one person guilty, it is the whole system. But it has to be asked how this system, made up of individuals each engrossed in bettering his own interests, is still in place, in spite of its terrible effects and years of criticism. What is at fault is the administration; what this results in is constant tragedy. Doctors are sometimes forced to share this tragedy, when crazed mobs burst into hospitals and beat them up after an unexpected death. The government will have to ask itself why the only alternative to its inexpensive care must come from hospitals run by missionary organizations with limited beds. It is, of course, not possible to count the babies who will die before that.


Hate, Graham Greene said, is an automatic response to fear, for fear humiliates. I have an uneasy feeling I’ve said this before, but it’s worth quoting again, because it mirrors what we’ve just seen in the elections in the four states which have just ended. These elections were not, as some — especially those who’ve won — may comfort themselves by repeating, an example of democracy at work, when the people have determined who their representatives are. These elections were in actual fact no different from the deadly game being played out in Kashmir and in some parts of the Northeast.

It is a familiar game, the game of fear and hate. You have to hate so that you don’t have to fear; but you do fear — because there are shadowy figures abroad, cruel, vindictive and merciless, whose bullets can kill, who behead those who dare to stand up to fear, who slit throats of innocent people much as they would slaughter a goat — so you hate with a greater intensity. And the cycle of fear and hate goes on.

This is happening in Kashmir, and is what happened during what was called the elections in Assam, except the context and the players were different. The agents inhabiting Le Carré’s bleak world of betrayal and death always had a “story” they hid behind, often unsuccessfully; here, too, there was, and conceivably still is, a story, which is being passed around if not openly then through the unknown grapevine that operates in the state. It involves the Congress, the United Liberation Front of Asom, the Asom Gana Parishad and other shadowy organizations and figures; the links between one or the other, links denied angrily as fiction. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t. But the story doesn’t go away so easily.

It is equally true in West Bengal. One has only to listen to what Mamata Banerjee is saying, and to read of the gruesome, bestial killings and torture of one group of so-called cadre belonging to one party and then of another. This again is hatred, the hatred born out of fear; and as usual it’s covered by a farrago of slogans and sterile words about the “people’s struggle” and “freedom” till such words make you sick.

It is very true in Tamil Nadu; again, the context is very different, the “story” as Le Carré would have it is different, but it too centres round fear and hate. There has been fear — instilled into one lot for the last few years, and now stalking the other — and, bit by bit, the hate is beginning to emerge. Arrests, and then even more savage reprisals are bound to follow, one side venting its hate on the other, and the other’s fear translating, eventually, into hatred no less in its intensity. Fear, Greene said, humiliates; it is the years of humiliation that will now fuel the hatred on one side, and the humiliation that will be visited on the losing side will inevitably result in the birth of a new hatred.

Kerala appears to be an exception. But then one knows little about the “story” there; perhaps it will emerge in time, or there may mercifully be no story at all. For the moment it appears to be an orderly changeover of governments, made possible by the people exercising their democratic right. One can draw solace from the fact that in one state at least the democratic process appears to have functioned, if not without a hitch, at least with as few hitches as possible. This, as I say, is what it appears to be; one will have to find out more about what happened there before making any final comment.

In the rest of the country, the deadly game played out in the three states just now, frighteningly similar to what has been going on for decades in Kashmir and the Northeast, will undoubtedly be played to terrible effect in other states where elections are called. In Uttar Pradesh, arms are almost certainly being collected and tested; tactics to instil terror among different groups, what the media have begun calling “vote banks” are being worked out. Fear and hate will soon begin to masquerade as politics, as the exercise of free will by the free people of the state.

When will it all stop? Or, more pertinently, will it stop? Given the present contexts and the players involved, it seems unlikely. There are, admittedly, some among the victors in the recent elections who have made some conciliatory remarks. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in West Bengal, has called for a joint effort to tackle the state’s problems, or for something like that; and in Assam, Tarun Gogoi seems to have offered a “truce” to the ULFA.

But what do these declarations really amount to? Will Bhattacharjee call off his murderous cadre? More to the point, can he? Can even the local left leaders do that? Fear has to be paid for in terms of hatred — can they assuage that hatred? And — key to this vicious cycle — will Mamata Banerjee do the same? Will she calm her cadre and persuade them to turn away from hatred and fear? No prizes for answers to these questions.

And what exactly does Tarun Gogoi mean by a truce? A truce with cold blooded murderers — what does that translate into? We will forget that you’ve killed all those you’ve killed if you promise not to kill any more people? Is that a truce? One always thought that a truce was when both sides were actively confronting each other, engaging each other in battles or “actions” — then a truce makes sense. But where the Assam police has been gloriously inactive for years what does a truce mean? And then, what about the “story” which Gogoi and other Congress leaders have so strenuously denied, that there was some kind of understanding, vague or not so vague, with these terrorists? Can they convince the people in Assam that it’s all fantasy?

There was a time when some of those charged with ensuring peace in Kashmir were convinced that peace came from the barrel of a gun. Even if some still believe that, the general policy has changed and there is talk of the terrorists sitting down with the central authorities and talking. It has taken a long time, and many lives for that to happen and even now it may not — it’s just an idea being tossed around to see if it finds favour with those who control the fear and hatred in that state. But can one even begin to think of a rational discussion between the left and the Trinamool Congress on defusing the murderous tension between their cadres ? Perhaps one can, but everyone will agree that it will be quite a while before something like that can happen, even after the lady’s present wild anger has subsided.

In Tamil Nadu the enigmatic, pitiless Jayalalitha has said nothing; no conciliatory statement, no appeal to work together. Merely that wrongdoers will be “punished”. So one knows what the scenario there will be for the next five years; fear and hatred will inform not only the party loyalists but the work of the government as well. The prospect of her sitting together with the Dravida Mun- netra Kazhagam to agree to a course of action that avoids both can only cause derisive laughter in that state.

What becomes clear is that, once again, it is the people in control who must determine whether they choose the way of fear and hatred or of rational functioning as government and opposition. Most of the ones who can are simply not up to the task of seeing beyond their immediate hatred and desire for revenge. All the unfortunate people in these states can do, then, is batten down the hatches, and wait.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


By Hector Macdonald,
Michael Joseph, £ 9.99

The ultimate artist always wins. Hector Macdonald is not the ultimate artist. Cara, who knows that the best way to boil a frog is not by dropping it in scalding water, but by dropping it in cold water and then raising the temperature of the water slowly, is. Which is precisely why she is the winner of the mind game.

The Mind Game is a novel about deception, and the saving grace of the plot is the depth of the chain of deception. Benjamin Ashurst studies biology at Oxford. James Fieldhead — many would kill to be in his tutorial — is his tutor, and that is how he becomes the guineapig in Fieldhead’s ambitious experiment to record and measure emotions. A sensor is fitted to the back of his head, and he is off to Kenya, the chosen site for the experiment. Accompanying him on the trip is the ravishing and brilliant Cara, a zoology student at Edinburgh whom Benjamin had met only days back. Fieldhead insists that the physical and emotional proximity to her would elicit a few unique emotional variants.

The trip gets curioser and curioser as Cara’s sexual infidelity is discovered by Ben and he himself gets framed in a drug-dealing case after being sold drugs in a monkey carving. What follows is sheer nightmare: a stint in a Kenyan jail, the constant threat of being physically mutilated, the sudden appearance of Fieldhead on the scene, and the slow revelation that the framing, the incarceration and violence had been pre-planned to test the performance of the emotion-recorder, and of Ben’s repertoire of emotions.

Helpless and angry, Ben flies back to Oxford, only to discover on the flight itself that the giant monkey carving presented to him by Fieldhead to mark the success of the project contains enormous amounts of drugs. It dawns on him then that the project had actually been a clever camouflage for a drug peddling mission, in which he had been the decoy. Determined to foil the plan, he disposes of all the packets in the lavatory and comes back with a sense of satisfaction.

The feeling is not to stay with him for long, as he gets caught up in a dangerous game with Fieldhead and all the others who were actually in the know of the whole affair. But Cara’s ghost still lurks somewhere, and emerges to ask apology of Ben, who has just come to know that she is actually Fieldhead’s fiancée.

From this point the plot takes crazy twists and turns, sometimes leading Ben and his brother, Sammy — by now the only person he can trust — to Fieldhead’s study in the dead of the night, and at others, to California in search of the sponsors of the emotions project. The leitmotif of the monkey, far from disappearing when its abdomen was prised open and packets of white powder discovered, reappears in the form of the logo of Simatec Corporation of California.

The trail takes Ben to California where he discovers that Simatec, which had only recently merged with Everest, was using the emotions project to develop and mass-produce emotion-controllers.

Cut to a futuristic vision of “packaged happiness, boxed amusement”: “Who wouldn’t buy a neat new consumer durable that allowed instant gratification at the touch of a switch? How many people could resist the temptation to escape reality?” The jigsaw pieces have fallen into place; the infinitely scary end of the experiment is revealed.

Enter the ultimate artist, Cara. As the project manager of Everest, it was she who had been running the whole show, the original deceiver. In her final act of hypnosis, she urges Ben to think of the young people working on the project who have given the best years of their life for this. Ben couldn’t possibly let out the secret and shatter their dreams.

Hector Macdonald spins a compelling tale. But it is sometimes more than evident that the plot could only have been thought backwards. Backward induction has almost equal probability of success and failure. Macdonald shouldn’t be surprised to find that in a real life situation, the winner he has in mind actually ends up losing.


By Ken Wilber,
Shambhala, $ 13

In an interview with the CNN late last January, Deepak Chopra, when asked which authors were currently on his reading list, replied, “Aldous Huxley and Ken Wilber”. On a follow up question regarding the specific books, Chopra replied, “ Doors of Perception and Wilber’s No Boundary”.

I was in Calcutta on a visit at the time and thought that if books by authors of Wilber’s genre were sold anywhere in India, it had to be in Calcutta. But after “Ken, who?’’ at all leading bookstores in the city, I logged on to amazon.com and ordered a copy.

Ken Wilber was born in 1949 in Oklahoma City. His father was in the United States Air Force, which meant young Ken had to live in different places during his formative years. After completing high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, he enrolled in medicine at the prestigious Duke University. Soon after, he lost interest in the curriculum and immersed himself in psychology and philosopy, both Western and Eastern. Though he subsequently returned to the academia in Nebraska and majored in biochemistry, he has since devoted all his time to writing books on spirituality and science, sixteen till date. Arguably the leading thinker in the West on transpersonal psychology (dealing with states of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity), which emerged in the Sixties from humanistic psychology and concerns itself explicitly with spirituality, Wilber is often hailed as “the Einstein of Consciousness” for the pioneering nature of his insights.

The Spectrum of Consiousness (1977), his debut, clearly marked him as an original thinker who sought to integrate Western and Eastern psychology. The laboured, scholarly style of writing resulted in a limited readership, though the book quickly made him into a cult figure in the West. No Boundary presents the major themes of his first work with more clarity. No wonder it is his most popular book.

In keeping with the brevity of the book, Wilber sets the tempo in the preface itself. He writes: “This book examines how we create a persistent alienation from ourselves, from others, and from the world by fracturing our present experience into different parts, separated by boundaries. We artificially split our awareness into compartments such as subject vs. object, life vs. death, mind vs. body, inside vs. outside, reason vs. instinct — a divorce settlement that sets experience cutting into experience and life fighting with life. The result of such violence, although known by many other names, is simply unhappiness.”

There are many “approaches” available, he opines, Eastern and Western, which range from psychoanalysis to Zen, Gestalt to transcendental meditation, existentialism to Hinduism. The problem is different schools of thought seem to directly contradict each other not only in diagnosing the cause of suffering differently but also prescribing different methods for alleviation. “Out of this bewildering diversity of views, I have attempted a synthesis, an overall perspective”, writes Wilber. He has approached the subject matter impressively. Each chapter is largely based on works of specific authors which Wilber acknowledges freely.

Book lovers suspicious of encountering obtuse theses at every turn need not worry for Wilbur writes lucidly. Consider this: “Our social and aesthetic values are always put in terms of opposites: success vs. failure, beautiful vs. ugly, strong vs. weak, logic is concerned with true vs. false, epistemology with appearance vs. reality, ontology with being vs. non-being. Not in nature though. There is no true frogs and false frogs, nor moral trees and immoral trees nor right oceans and wrong oceans...There is life and death in the world of nature but it does not hold the terrifying dimensions ascribed to it by humans. A very old cat isn’t swept with torrents of terror over its impending death. It just calmly walks out to the woods, curls up under a tree, and dies. A terminally ill robin perches comfortably on the limb of a willow, and stares into the sunset. When finally it can see the light no more, it closes its eyes for the last time and drops gently to the ground. How different from the way man faces death: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light’.’’

The chapter “No Boundary Awareness” is metaphysical in its approach and starts off with the concept that unity consciousness, in short, is no boundary awareness: “Mystic sages stress that reality lies beyond names and forms, words and thoughts, divisions and boundaries.’’ Wilber concludes the chapter with a quote, “Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘someday’: now, today, everyday she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.” Sounds like a metaphysician? It is by Erwin Schroedinger, the Nobel Laureate in physics and founder of quantum mechanics.

Wilber emphasizes through the words of all sages across religions that there is no one defined path to the Absolute. None of the concepts are originally Wilber’s. But I doubt if you can lay your hands on another book of this nature which packs so many ideas into all of 160 pages.


By P.K. Datta,
Publications Division, Rs 180

Diligent research spanning several years has enabled retired bureaucrat P.K. Datta to produce a comprehensive history of Indian tennis. Datta, a tennis aficianado, took more than two years to write this book.

The highlights of this pioneering book are the little nuggets of information about and the socio-cultural background of Indian tennis in the early decades of the 20th century. For instance, the author reveals that India’s association with Olympic tennis goes back to 1924 and that S.M. Jacob reached the men’s singles quarter finals, and S.M. Hadi and D. Rutnam reached the men’s doubles quarter finals. Nihal Singh was the first Indian to play in a men’s event at Wimbledon in 1908 and Jenny Sanderson was the first woman of Indian origin to play there in 1929.

Datta points out that tennis, like so many other sports in India, was popularized by the British Indian army and civilian officers in the last quarter of the 19th century. The first tournament to be held in India was the Punjab lawn tennis championship which was held at the the Gymkhana Club in Lahore way back in 1885.

Two years later, the Bengal lawn tennis championships were started in Calcutta. The first Indian to win a title was Mohammed Saleem of Lahore who won the Punjab championship in 1915 and N.S. Iyer, who became the first Indian to bag the Bengal tennis championship in Calcutta in 1917.

The fascinating chapter on India’s performance in the Davis Cup from 1921 to 2001 is worth reading. It is interesting to note that in the Twenties, India scored upsetting wins in the Davis Cup, beating France in 1921, Romania in 1922, Spain in 1927 and other European nations.

The author further discloses that L.S. Deane, who played in the first ever Davis Cup, was a British railway officer while Cotah Ramaswami and S.M. Hadi were Cambridge University Blues and Krishna Prasad was an Oxford University Blue. Moreover, most of the players represented the upperclasses of Indian society.

In another fascinating chapter, the author traces the development of women’s tennis in India. He reveals how in the initial years, tennis was largely restricted to British women because of the prevailing conservative attitudes and dress restrictions. Anglo-Indian girls like Jenny Sandison popularized women’s tennis in India.

Leela Row was the first Indian girl from an orthodox family to appear in short skirts. She was a remarkable all-rounder with a career that spanned for two decades. Khanum Haji of Bombay won the first national championship for women which was started in 1946.

This chapter deals with women’s tennis in India from its modest beginnings to the era of the first professional, Nirupama Vaidyanathan. The book also provides readers with a socio-historical perspective on the changing attitudes towards women in India in the last century.

Datta also provides information about all the great foreigners who have played in India and have even won the national championship. The list includes the names of legends like Roy Emerson, Ilie Nastase, Tom Gorman, P.C. Todd and “Gorgeous” Gussy Moran. Rare photographs of legends like Urmilla Thapar, members of the Indian Davis Cup squad in 1932 and current stars like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi make the book invaluable.

The book is divided into seven sections. The last section provides a detailed biographical sketch of all the great men and women of Indian tennis, from S.M. Jacob, E.V. Bobb to Ramanthan Krishnan, Vijay Amrithraj, Paes and Uzma Khan. There are also chapters on the rules of the game, court dimensions, world stars, origin of tennis and on Wimbledon.


By Amiya K. Samanta,
APH, Rs 700

If much of post-Industrial Revolution political history is the story of the rise and growth of the democratic polity, Hitler and communism notwithstanding, the 20th century has been witness to a rare resurgence of, first, nationalistic and then ethnic politics. In the last few decades, the more the economy has gone global, the more local politics has become. It has happened, and is happening, all over the world. Political scientists have endlessly debated if India is one nation or a cluster of nationalities. Accordingly, they have sought to characterize regional or ethnic movements that have time and again threatened to tear down India’s federal state structure and polity.

The story of the Gorkhaland movement in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal unfolded in the mid-Eighties as the latest in a long series of ethnic strifes in the country’s northeastern region. That such strifes never quite die out is underscored by the fact that the Gorkhaland agitation began around the same time that two such movements in the region ended happily for the Indian Union.

In 1985, the six year long Assam agitation against “foreigners” (Bangla- deshi immigrants), which resulted in independent India’s worst ethnic killings at Nellie and other places in Assam, came to an end with the Union government and the leaders of the All Assam Students’ Union signing the Assam accord. (It was also the year of the Rajiv-Longowal accord in Punjab.) Next year, the legendary Mizo rebel Laldenga returned to Aizawl from his London exile to end two decades of insurgency in Mizoram.

As Amiya K. Samanta elaborately shows, the status of the Darjeeling hills has long been a thorny political issue — for the British rulers as well as for independent India’s successive governments. Darjeeling had been tossed around between Sikkim and Nepal before the British took over the hills from the Raja of Sikkim, in 1835, since when it became part of Bengal. The local people had resented this and as early as 1917, the Hillmen’s Association urged the British government to appreciate that “there is no affinity between the people of this Himalayan and sub-Himalayan region and those of the plains of Bengal.”

On the eve of the constitutional reforms of 1935, another body, the Hillmen’s Union, urged the British rulers that the district of Darjeeling “where the Gorkhas predominate should be excluded from Bengal and treated as an independent administrative unit”. One major strength of the book is the large appendage of treaties and documents from the past to the present.

The Gorkhaland agitation, laun- ched by Subash Ghising’s Gorkha National Liberation Front in 1985, came close on the heels of a series of movements by parties like the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, Pranta Parishad and even the communists for Darjeeling’s right to self-determination. Samanta, a former officer of the Indian police service, delves into available official records to suggest how the communists, who once raised the slogan of “Gorkhastan”, set aside all their pet theories of the rights of nationalities and unleashed state terror to curb Ghising’s movement.

The book, however, fails to adequately capture Ghising’s personality and therefore to explain why he succeeded while his predecessors, including the once-popular Deoprakash Rai of the Gorkha League, failed to get a special status for Darjeeling. One major explanation is that, unlike his compatriots, Ghising offered a heady cocktail of ethnic and religious appeals in his struggle for land, language and racial identity for his people. In the process, much blood was spilled, and Ghising gave that an almost religious symbolism as well.

Samanta is right when he suggests that the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council may not be an unalloyed success story. Anything short of a state would not do in Darjeeling. So, the curtain may go up again on yet another stir for statehood in the Darjeeling hills.


By R.Goscinny and A. Uderzo,
Orion, £ 5.25

Not so long ago, comic books carried on them a kind of stigma. It was supposed to kill the imagination of young readers and teach them slang. Even if one finds such statements to be bordering on the absurd, it has to be admitted that the picture stories that went by the name westerns or love comics were hugely entertaining but not particularly edifying. Reading them was a lazy mind’s perfect pastime, made exciting by the taboo attached to them.

Things changed when the Gauls, Asterix and his friend, Obelix, appeared on the scene sometime in the Seventies. It was evident from the text and the pictures of Uderzo and Goscinny that the adventures of Asterix and his friends had no similarities with what went by the name of comics. The similarity ended with the fact that both varieties told a story through words and pictures. The adventures of Asterix broke the age barrier in reading. Children and adults competed to read about the little village in Gaul and its inhabitants who held out against Julius Caesar.

The arrival of a new Asterix is thus a source of unalloyed joy. When Goscinny died, it was assumed that the indomitable Gauls had had their last bash and pax Romana prevailed in Gaul. But Asterix watchers can rejoice again. The title page carries the name of both Goscinny and Uderzo but the small print tells readers that this one is written and illustrated by Uderzo. There are moments in the text when Goscinny’s presence is somewhat missed but that shouldn’t be a cause of complaint for a gift worthy of old Julius himself.

The familiar figures are all here with their idiosyncrasies. Obelix is still not allowed to have the magic potion and he still grumbles about it. He is still shy and retiring, especially in the company of pretty women. Getafix is still brewing potions that have amazing effects. (He says here, “I may have invented a potion which gives people superhuman strength and another which turns them into granite and makes them revert to childhood. But do you expect me to work miracles?”). There are contemporary resonances which the attentive reader will enjoy. There are good puns and plenty of Roman bashing. There is a happy ending, of course, in the village we know so well, there is a banquet and Cacofonix, the poor bard is, as usual, tied up. There are some surprises which need not be revealed in a review.

One of the great sources of joy in Asterix has been the names of some of the side characters. Who can forget the British chief Mykingdomforanos or the Romans with names like Raucushallelujachorus. The new adventure has its share of unforgettable proper names. There is a prefect called Bogus Genius and an alcoholic Roman soldier called Tremensdelirius. A cart driver up to no good is named Fastandfurious.

One slip up. Obelix & Co saw the village celebrating Obelix’s birthday. We weren’t told then that he shares his birthday with his dearest and lifelong friend. But this is amply made up by Obelix’s comment on their joint birthday: “I got in first by a few minutes. I carried more weight.” Who else but the most lovable of characters could say such a thing?


(Rupa, Rs 295)

Works of Emile Zola is Rupa’s latest, affordable paperback edition of the fictional works of this controversial novelist, critic, and founder of the naturalist movement in literature. But, the back cover rather misleadingly suggests that the book contains his complete works. This edition opens with Nana (1880), Zola’s famous work on sexual exploitation. However, an inclusion of works like Germinal, his bitter attack on mining conditions in France and his vituperative open letter, J’accuse, his defence of the French Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly accused of treason, would have done more justice to the title and the man whom Anatole France called at his funeral, “a moment of the human conscience”.

By Arun Kumar
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Arun Kumar’s The Black Economy in India is a genuine attempt to understand the explanations for the causes and consequences of “black income generation” in the Indian economy by this public finance analyst who is also trained in physics. It also examines the standard strategies that are suggested for curbing it. Superbly argued, and written in a language devoid of jargon, Kumar tackles the issue head-on and demonstrates that a problem as complicated as this can be dealt with without obfuscating the political economy as it exists in real-world India. This book is meant for any concerned, intelligent reader. The well-constructed and exhaustive appendices, glossary and bibliography indisputably corroborate his thesis which argues in favour of the need for recognizing the role of the nexus of businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats in perpetuating the black economy.

By Amit Chaudhuri
(Picador, price not mentioned)

Amit Chaudhuri’s A New World is a paperback version of this gifted author’s fourth novel. This is the sensitive story of the sojourners, the now-divorced Jayojit and his son, who are resident Americans travelling to India for the summer holidays. Written in an elegant, exact prose, this is the touching depiction of an ordinary life by the editor of The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature. The tone Chaudhuri sets is beautifully emphasized by the end of the book, in which, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the ordinariness of the departure lounge of the airport at Dhaka and the scene inside the aircraft, all the implications, helplessnesses and pains of goodbye are explored. The other good thing about the book is Raghubir Singh’s startling photograph on the cover.

Translated By K.C. Kanda
(Sterling, Rs 350)

K.C. Kanda’s Master Couplets of Urdu Poetry aims at preserving the “pleasures of Urdu poetry”. Nearly 1,400 couplets have been included in this work, which provides their Urdu versions in the Persian script and their English translations by Kanda. The couplets are alphabetically arranged under a variety of rubrics like love, god, despair, union, mysticism, hope and so on, and are drawn from the works of over 100 poets like Iqbal, Hasrat, Ghalib and Faiz, among others.



Heavy handed

Sir — Pappu Yadav should probably thank his stars that his punishment for inciting a Rashtriya Janata Dal leader against Bihar’s de facto ruler has ended in his merely being chargesheeted by the Patna police (“Ranjan-friendly Pappu faces heat”, May 30). On a more ordinary day, justice would be more exemplary. But it is an evil hour for the Rabri Devi-Laloo Yadav regime which is having to send out subtle messages without too much hoopla. Pappu Yadav being booked by the police has more profound implications for the people he was trying to encourage into supporting the rebel, Ranjan Yadav, than for the man himself. After all, this member of parliament from Purnea, with a limited support base and the murder charge hanging over his head, can be of little threat to the RJD government. But Laloo obviously is not taking a chance. Ranjan Yadav could turn out to be a powerful adversary with the help of Pappus. So don’t be surprised if Pappu Yadav returns to prison, failing to take the hints dropped.

Yours faithfully,
Jaisurya Ray, Calcutta

Food in the land of the poor

Sir — It was amusing to hear that hundreds of people signed an AgBioWorld Foundation petition appealing to Aventis CropScience to donate five million pounds of genetically-engineered experimental rice to the needy rather than destroy it. It was also heartening to note that the appeal did not motivate the Food and Drug Administration to listen to the mischievous proposal in the name of “humanitarian intentions”.

Aventis has expressed concern about the hungry in the world. AgBioWorld Foundation, at the same time conveys its “disapproval” of those who have used situations similar to this to block “approved” food aid to victims of cyclones, floods and other disasters in order to further their own political agenda.

The world knows that there is a strong lobby of scientists who are blind to the real cause behind the growing hunger. Their only interest is to ensure that some private companies can make increasing profits in the name of hunger and starvation. They wish to ensure that the corporatization of agriculture helps in further marginalizing of millions of farmers in the developing countries. Aventis, Syngenta, Monsanto, and Cargill’s are to be world’s food-givers. And everyone in the world must queue up before them with begging bowls.

If these companies are indeed keen to eradicate hunger, they can join efforts in India to make food available to those who cannot afford it. All those who feel moved by the pictures of malnourished people, get agitated over the growing disparities leading to hunger should contribute in the cause of hunger and malnutrition.

More than 40 million tonnes of foodgrains (in addition to the requirement of about 20 million tonnes for the food buffer) are stockpiled in the open in India’s godowns. This, when the government figures itself declare that out of the 360 million people officially living below the poverty line, as many as 50 million are starving. As if this is not enough, the government has allowed the sale of foodgrains at a throwaway price to traders and merchants for export when people in the country cannot have two square meals a day. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, have instead asked the Indian government to redefine the “beneficiaries” of the publicly-funded distribution system.

As a result, the government has excluded millions of people, earning more than Rs 1,500 a month from purchasing subsidized foodgrains. The situation is such that in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, only 150 families have been classified as living below the poverty line.

With the Indian government refusing to provide food to the needy and helpless, and with the IMF, World Bank and the WTO asserting that the hungry be left at the mercy of the market forces, there is no hope for millions. These people do not need genetically-modified food that other people are unwilling to accept as part of their diet. They need the normal food which is being eaten by pests and being damaged by the rains.

Yours faithfully,
Devinder Sharma, New Delhi

Sir — Although India is a country with a surplus of foodgrains and has over 50 million tonnes of wheat and rice in its godowns, about 330 million people go to bed hungry every day. As M.S. Swaminathan, the great visionary, scientist and food expert of India pointed out, it is not enough for India to be food secure. It also needs to give security in matters of livelihood.

The quantitative restrictions on the import of agricultural products have been removed with effect from April 1, 2001, under the 1994 agreement with the WTO. And India is not yet ready to face the consequences. The imports would further endanger the livelihood of the poor in the country primarily because they have no purchasing power.

The government has recently endorsed a decision to limit the role of the Food Corporation of India to maintaining a buffer stock only and to allow the private sector to handle procurement, storage and distribution. While data are available with regard to the FCI’s ability in tackling flood and drought situations in the country, the claim of efficiency of the private sector in these matters is based on assumption. The FCI serves a number of objectives and in the end may prove to be more beneficial than the private traders.

We will always live in the paradox of plenty in the midst of poverty and see the PDS being underutilized by people with little purchasing power. Assuring employment for all Indians should be the priority of all policies.

Yours faithfully,
Ranu Ghosh, Calcutta

Bet they’re wrong

Sir — “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ian Botham about the matchfixing disclosures (“Botham drops billion-dollar bombshell”, May 21). Notwithstanding the recent “findings” by the Indian and international authorities, matchfixing is still a very real presence in the cricketing world.

It is difficult to blame a single cricketer, because the network spreads far and wide. Soon after Botham’s explosive comments, Paul Condon submitted his report to the anti-corruption unit of the International Cricket Council. He feels that “matchfixing has definitely reduced to a considerable extent”. This is not entirely untrue, but the nightmare is far from over.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Ian Botham’s observation that the root of matchfixing goes very deep and that it is not just the players that are involved, is correct. But the statement of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the chief organizer of the annual Sharjah tournaments, that it is very difficult for a player to be fixing matches in Sharjah because so many people are watching every move, every stroke, every ball, is disturbing. What makes Bukhatir think that the one-dayer between India and South Africa, which has been proved to have been fixed, was not being closely watched?

These allegations have dragged the sanctity of the game into the mire of corruption and cricket is no longer a gentleman’s game. Shouldn’t all the countries stay away from cricket till its name is cleared?

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Two is company

Sir — The marriage of Tanuja and Jaya of Ambikapur, Madhya Pradesh, is not a fallout of the rapid onslaught of Western ideas, but rather a result of their unfortunate and bitter experiences (“Husband at home, in sari at work”, May 29). Each considered marrying into her own sex as a safer and happier prospect. It may be against the principles of creation but it also shows what “man has made of woman”.

Yours faithfully,
Aswini Kumar, Baripada

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