Editorial 1 / Critical allies
Editorial 2 / Sam’s dragon
Politics of hunger
Book Review / Deep into the Indian roots
Book Review / Time maze
Book Review / A soldier of fortune
Book Review / Falling back a little
Bookwise / More than just a business
Paperback Pickings /The horrors of Carrie and Rud
Letters to the editor

Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee used the threat of resignation to muster support for himself and to silence his critics. The unanimity of the support that he received cannot hide the strains within the coalition that he heads. For the nonce, the principal source of the strain is the Shiv Sena. This is not surprising. The alliance between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party has always been tenuous and the relationship between Mr Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo, and Mr Vajpayee has never been smooth. The Shiv Sena and the BJP are not natural allies. The unnaturalness of the alliance has come to be underscored ever since the BJP has emerged as the party of governance. The BJP, under the leadership of Mr Vajpayee, has been trying to project itself as a responsible political party committed to economic reforms and stability. This image runs contrary to the way the Shiv Sena perceives itself and is generally perceived. The Shiv Sena sees itself as an agitational outfit which does not find the use of violence to be a means that should be avoided. Mr Vajpayee, despite an alliance, has tried to mark a difference between his policies and the methods of the Shiv Sena. One consequence of this is that Mr Thackeray does not get the kind of attention he wants from the prime minister. He has gone to the extent of protesting against the Centre’s non-cooperation with his plans to topple the Congress-led government in Maharashtra. It does not cross his mind that Mr Vajpayee’s government cannot be a party to all his plans. If he thinks that his support to the National Democratic Alliance is dependent on Mr Vajpayee’s cooperation with his schemes, he should be told where he stands with the NDA. Mr Vajpayee cannot afford to look irresponsible.

There are smaller cracks in the NDA which Mr Vajpayee cannot afford to ignore if he is concerned about the stability of his government. Other alliance partners have also voiced their displeasure over the code of conduct that has been introduced. They see in the code of conduct an instrument to muffle dissent and criticism. The need to introduce such a code cannot be read as a statement of strength. Obviously, criticisms and dissent within the NDA are on the rise, hence the sudden prickliness. The importance of these cracks lies elsewhere. Mr Vajpayee’s government is on the threshold of inertia since it is nearing the middle of its term. Governance is already at a low ebb and has a low priority. Management of the alliance and Mr Thackeray’s attacks from the flanks may strike a body blow to the BJP’s promise to form a government that works.


The recent visit to China by the United States secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, marks a new phase of engagement between the Republican administration and the Chinese government. Mr Powell’s was the first visit by a significant official from the US to Beijing since the crisis that resulted from the collision between a US Navy EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese F-8 fighter aircraft near the Chinese coast in April. Mr Powell’s visit was marked by cordiality, considerable politeness and a willingness to resume bilateral talks on human rights, trade and missile proliferation.

However, it is clear that Mr Powell’s visit has not led to a real resolution of the issues that have contributed to a growing tension between the US and China, which — if unchecked — could lead to a new cold war in Asia. These differences may become visible once again during Mr George W. Bush’s visit to China in October. Fears within the Republican administration and within the US congress that China, which is slowly but surely emerging as a military and economic power of some standing, despite many internal problems, could threaten American interests in Asia and beyond have not subsided. China’s plans of rapidly modernizing its armed forces, its efforts at qualitatively and quantitatively improving its nuclear arsenal, and its disregard of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, have all led to these apprehensions. Public opinion in the US is also deeply concerned about the huge trade surplus that China enjoys vis a vis the US, even while the communist leadership demonstrates little sensitivity to democratic values and human rights. Key members of Mr Bush’s team continue to view China more as a strategic competitor rather than as a strategic partner. In turn, China suspects that the US is embarking on a policy of “containment” against it, not very different from the one that was adopted against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It views US plans of arming Taiwan with the PAC-3 anti-missile systems and Aegis-equipped destroyers as deeply threatening China’s national security. Beijing has reacted strongly to American plans to introduce anti-ballistic missile systems, which it feels will destabilize the nuclear deterrent relationship. Not surprisingly, China has established a close relationship with Russia, which too has concerns about missile defence. Despite these differences, Sino-US relations have far from collapsed, as Mr Powell’s visit clearly illustrates. China and the US continue to be engaged in a relationship of deep economic interdependence that will not be easy to derail despite political and strategic differences. The importance of countries like India will inevitably rise with the growing possibility of a Sino-US cold war. However, it would be best for New Delhi, at least for the time being, to wait and watch rather than impulsively take sides. With imagination and skill, India should be able to establish good relations with both Washington and Beijing.


The establishment has finally discovered that there is a drought in the country. It happened at the Supreme Court on July 23. The Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberty’s petition on starvation in six states amidst plenty in Food Corporation of India godowns came up for hearing in the apex court. Reportedly, the judges were moved. The government suddenly turned correct. The attorney general, Soli Sorabji, found it a “horrendous state of affairs” and is alleged to have discovered that “there is something radically wrong with the system”. The report was carried by all the papers and may well have occupied more column inches than all the reports on the drought itself.

Contrast this with the way our media had covered this issue only a fortnight ago. Three things happened on July 10, just when our media had begun its relentless pursuit of Agra trivia in that week before the summit. The morning’s paper in Jaipur announced that the Rajasthan government had decided, after much pressure and public campaign, to continue the “food for work” scheme till the end of September. It meant an additional 41 million person days of work for the famine affected. It was a “local” story overlooked by our “national” media.

The same day the Akal Sangharsh Samiti, comprising 57 organizations from across the state, organized “jan manch”, an interface between people and political parties to deliberate over hunger, famine and employment. Representatives of the entire political spectrum heard personal tales of hunger and responded to searching questions from activists and organizations. Often, the naked truth of starvation was covered with a fig leaf of stale statistics, real and invented. For the media it was a “soft story” covered by some sensitive feature writers.

The same evening, the Union cabinet decided to bring down the prices of wheat and rice in ration shops to Rs 6.10 and 8.30 respectively for above poverty line families. This story found place on the front pages of the national dailies. Not as a story on foodgrain availability, but one on food subsidy. “Food subsidy bill goes up,” screamed one headline.

The episode once again brings home a bitter truth about our media: when it comes to human tragedies, that do not manifest themselves in visible events, our media is as callous as the government. The last few months prove that our ever-expanding, globalizing and sleek media doesn’t find famine “newsworthy”. Hunger and apathy is not as “hard” an item of news as the Neharwali haveli. It is hard to get tantalizing television footage on malnutrition. Famine does not make for a designer tragedy.

Let’s look at some mundane statistics on the grim realities of the famine from Rajasthan, the worst affected state. Last year, the monsoons failed in Rajasthan for the third successive year. With the onset of summer, the whole of the state was in the grip of one of the worst droughts. Out of a total population of 55 million, 33 million were affected. A careful survey by Jean Dréze and Reetika Khera brings out the devastating effect of the famine. (Jean Dréze, Amartaya Sen’s co-author and a professor at the Delhi School of Economics, cycled through the affected areas to register the truth about famine.) Their survey suggested that last year’s foodgrain production was only a quarter of the normal level. Forty per cent of cows died in the last two years. Forget milk and vegetables, even the consumption of the staple roti declined sharply. About three per cent households were reduced to starvation. Women of the household were the first victims of malnutrition and starvation, followed by men and children.

Roughly one person from every family went out in search of livelihood. In seven per cent cases, the entire family had to migrate. Statistics of starvation deaths are not available. Doctors do not record “hunger” as the cause of death.

As the PUCL petition to the Supreme Court has pointed out, all this happened at a time when the country was flush with foodgrain stocks. Foodgrain is literally spilling out of the FCI godowns, up from 50 million tonnes last year to 60 million tonnes this year. A good deal of this stock is either rotting out in the open or being eaten away by rats in the warehouses. If only the government so wished, it could have easily given away a sack of one quintal foodgrain to every person below the poverty line in the country and still retained more than the required 17 million tons of buffer stock.

It did not even consider any such proposal. Not even for the 33 million famine affected in Rajasthan. It is becoming increasingly difficult to make the elusive link between the bulging bellies of the FCI godowns and empty stomachs of the poor. Except sometimes as two mutually reinforcing phenomena.

Ironically, when the government stock was much smaller, every person on the ration card was entitled to 10 kilograms foodgrain every month at a subsidized rate. When the stocks increased, the government started squeezing the public distribution system. Now the entire family on a ration card was entitled only to 20 kg foodgrain, that is, three to four kg per person, per month.

Moreover, only those below the poverty line were now entitled to wheat at the subsidized rates of Rs. 460 a quintal. This at a time when the government was exporting the same wheat for Rs 430. Apparently, the anxiety to keep within the externally sanctioned limits for subsidy continues to overwhelm the desire, if any, to feed the hungry.

To make matters worse, the Rajasthan government fixed a ceiling on the number of workdays per person that could be offered in a month. Never mind if there is something called a famine relief code that clearly enjoins upon the government to provide employment to every person who is prepared to work during this period. Even during the most fortunate months, only one out of eight aspirants was actually getting employment. Over a period of one year, an average famine-hit family received daily wages totalling up to Rs 750. The government pleaded liquidity crunch.

But what about giving food for work and thus offering more employment? After persistent demands from peoples’ organizations, the government agreed to give five kgs of foodgrain in daily wages. For more foodgrain and more employment, the clearance must come from the Centre, it said. The clearance never arrived. Last heard, an indifferent state government and an apathetic Centre were happily playing ping-pong with the question. And the moment rains started, the Rajasthan government announced that the famine relief measures would be wrapped up by July 15. As if rainwater was enough to feed the starving masses.

A final thought for the establishment and the media, in case they now wish to attend to the famine. Drought might be a natural calamity, but famine is a manmade tragedy. More specifically, famine in today’s India is a political calamity. Come to think of it in political terms, hunger amidst plenty is not such a paradox as it might appear in the first instance. Amartya Sen pointed out decades ago that famines are not about lack of foodgrains, but about lack of purchasing power. Democratic polity and free press, he thought, were the effective antidote to the vicious cycle of famines. The famine in Rajasthan proves once again how right he was about the role of purchasing power. But was he equally right about the role of democracy and free press?

The author is director, Lokniti: Institute for Comparative Democracy, a research programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies


By Leslie Forbes,
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £ 12.99

In recent years, a number of books based on the colonial experiences of our erstwhile rulers have appeared. In these we find nostalgia, sympathy and sometimes a mixture of both. One cannot but detect an undercurrent of sadness at the loss of the “jewel in the Crown” in them. Fish, Blood and Bone, however, has a refreshingly new approach, which is evident from the setting of the novel in 19th century India, in present-day West Bengal and in Tibet.

The book describes a quest which is as much a search for the roots of three extraordinary families as the attempt to re-discover the green poppy, which may or may not exist. In the end, the central character, forensic photographer, Claire Fleetwood, finds a peace which she never had as a child or as an adult.

When Fleetwood inherits some property alongwith some interesting tenants, little does she realize that it would reveal her past, her descent from a line with a history, most of which is deliberately kept in the dark. The way Claire goes about delving into that history is bound to fascinate the reader. And those in India who are drawn to the Ripper murders and fascinated by the question mark which still hangs over his identity, will be delighted at the picture of Jack the Ripper which emerges from the novel.

The build-up to the expose has been cunningly crafted and is entirely believable insofar as the context is concerned. Two other aspects of the novel which stand out are gardens and scientific research. The sheer vitality of the descriptions show the lengths to which Leslie Forbes has gone to make her tale plausible. Her own garden is described vividly: “Swimming through the wet leaves, I followed Sally’s mossy shadow along a path crowded by bamboo stems as thick as men’s arms...There were heavy sweet smells unnatural for October, ferns like ostrich plumes, ferns with fronds split on the ends and frizzed like old ladies’ perms, ferns the size of my palm, each stalk ruffled and plaint as sequinned elastic.”

Forbes’s Bengali readers will be happy with her descriptions of Calcutta and its Botanical Gardens: “Logically, the so-called ‘Great’ Banyan Tree at the Botanical Gardens should have lost its magic. At 240 years of age it was no longer the dense half-acre forest described in my old guidebooks.... Its heart was gone, the main trunk from which the 1,800 or so remaining aerial roots grew, rotted through and removed in 1925.......But the magic was still here.”

The actual expedition winds its way through Sikkim into Tibet and after an arduous self-exploitative journey into Arunachal Pradesh, Fleetwood finds her way to Darjeeling. By that time the finding of the green poppy is secondary to her. Of primary importance is the unravelling of her mysterious family background. It is with this knowledge that she returns to England, curious no more.

Fish, Blood and Bone is basically a tale of adventure with a high degree of realism. The reader almost ends up believing that a green poppy actually exists and that it has miraculous properties. But there are facts as well — there are many families in England with an Indian past, with the present generation making attempts to dig deeper into their Indian roots. Not so long ago, a British minister paid a visit to Shillong to meet the Indian side of his ancestors.

Forbes is familiar with India, helping her present a balanced picture of the country and this will appeal to her Indian readers. Apart from this, there is a wealth of information about old Bengal, gardens and gardening. But it would have been a better idea had family trees been provided so as to explain the intertwining and maps to show the expeditions. After all, not all her readers would be Indians or have a strong command over geography.


By Günter Grass,
Faber, £ 25

Right at the end of Too Far Afield, the protagonist goes missing and his colleagues are tempted to put in an advertisement: “Seeking someone who writes with brevity on great matters, at length on small ones.” Sadly, for much of the novel, this is exactly what Günter Grass does. Soon after My Century in 1999, he concentrates on German history seen from the perspective of 1989, amid the ruins of the Berlin Wall. The changes are seen through the eyes of Theo “Fonty” Wuttke and his cigar-chewing spy companion, Hoftaller. The novel begins with great promise as this 70-year-old duo cope with the reunification after serving the German Democratic Republic for half their lives. The symbiotic relationship that develops between Fonty and his “day-and-night shadow”, Hoftaller, is beautifully etched. They seem merged together. While Fonty grows used to the spy, the latter soon sees himself as a shadow, amounting to nothing when Fonty is not there. They are two parts — the artist and the pragmatist — that need each other to feel complete.

It is from here that Grass seems to lose some control. Most of the novel deals with Fonty rather than Hoftaller — surprising, since the reticent yet compassionate spy would have made a far more interesting protagonist than the verbose, eccentric poet, Fonty, who considers himself the reincarnation of a 19th century chronicler. As it turns out, Grass shows through Fonty’s long, pedantic rantings that much of history follows cyclical patterns, and events that seem unprecedented and cataclysmic are merely echoes of the past. He draws parallel between the reunification in November 1989 and Kaiser William’s victorious march to Paris in January 1871. Grass’s acute sense of history and his ability to make one event shadow the other seem remarkable at the beginning, but lose their ability to grip the reader after a few chapters.

A novel set in a historic moment could have dwelt more on the fictional present, yet the few moments that are devoted to the concerns of East Germans as they merged with their more affluent and advanced neighbours are all that seem readable finally. A mother wants to buy a wedding gown from West Germany for her daughter so that her West German son-in-law does not think they are shabby little communists; those standing in the queue to have their currency converted silently watch their earnings get devalued, and even the spy is concerned about whether there would be anybody left to spy in the new order — all these images are just mentioned in passing. The fact that these two men, who were part of the old order, are now looking into privatizing state enterprises also gets lost in Grass’s confusing time maze. His main endeavour is to show that no moment in history is final. In a constantly changing world order, one can either duck and escape like Fonty or move on, as the spy does, onto newer, more mysterious pastures.

As the novel progresses, Fonty and his idol with whom he often merges, overpower the more real and interesting Hoftaller. Whether by accident or by grand literary design, the latter ends up being what he was introduced as — a shadow. Interestingly, the women in the novel, Fonty’s wife Emmi, his daughter Martha and granddaughter Madeleine, form a lifeline to sanity for him whenever turbulent times threaten to push him over the edge. Emmi types Fonty’s memoirs, his daughter receives his letters and accompanies him on his talks, and finally he escapes into a Disneyworld-like oblivion in the company of his granddaughter. Again, the reader gets only glimpses of these resilient women who are shown tending to Fonty and whining about his eccentricities.

A large part of Too Far Afield is set in the archives, where both Fonty and Hoftaller work and like the archives, the book too seems to be littered with irrelevant trifles. Whether this is a literary device that does not quite work or whether it is a comment on the futility that such institutions symbolized in the last years of communism is never clear. The paternoster in which Fonty transferred files, and which carried powerful East German officials up and eventually down, is the most evocative symbol of the changing political equations in the entire novel. When it is destroyed by a fire, it releases both Fonty and Hoftaller, enabling them to move from the past to the future.

To be fair to Grass, a novel that uses 19th century literature to chronicle the events of 1871, would lose much of its flavour in translation. Krishna Winston does a good job of the translation, but when Grass lapses into pages of poetry, she, understandably, finds the going tough. Regular readers of Grass would recall his collection of essays, Two States-One Nation, which was published in the early Nineties. In his essays, he had vigorously argued against the reunification, claiming that East Germany had its own national character that would be eclipsed by the powerful, more attractive trappings of West German capitalism. It would therefore have been interesting to see whether the decade in between had made Grass reassess his stand, but Too Far Afield offers few clues.

A decade has often been a long time in German history, and for a man possessing Grass’s sense of history, it would be ample time to assess the repercussions of November, 1989. What would disappoint even the most ardent admirer of Grass is the fact that this novel has neither the simplicity of The Tin Drum, nor the sharpness of Two States-One Nation or My Century. This time round, he has indeed gone too far afield while writing about an event so close to his heart.


By Martin Boycott-Brown,
Cassell, £ 20

The German expression for “total war”, der totale Krieg, meaning total mobilization of demographic and economic resources first came into use in the early 19th century to explain Napoleonic warfare. The genie was out of the bottle when Napoleon (building on the forces ushered in by the French Revolution) created the Grande Armee that swept across Europe toppling the existing monarchies like a pack of cards. For the last two hundred years, scholars from Karl von Clausewitz to Brian Bond have continued to debate Napolean’s military capabilities.

However, there is a gap in historiography. Most historians focus on the great campaigns that Napoleon conducted after becoming the first consul and then the emperor, forgetting that he shot to fame when as a young man in his twenties, he led a half-starved army across the Alps from one victory to another. Napoleon’s Italian campaign is yet to be rigorously analyzed. In the book under review, Martin Boycott-Brown, from the University of Verona, attempts to cover the historiographical lacunae by focussing on Napoleon’s conduct of the war in Italy.

How did a hitherto unknown 26- year-old officer with 60,000 ill- equipped, demoralized men defeat the marshals of the Austro-Hungarian empire? In 1796, when Bonaparte was appointed as the head of the army of Italy, his subordinates, who were more experienced, showed their disaffection. In fact, Napoleon’s promotion to the post of general had more to do with his opportunistic loyalty to the revolution than with his prowess as a military leader. Since most of the aristocratic officers had left France after 1789, the directory was eager to fill the top military slots with young revolutionary zealots. Moreoever, Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, was the mistress of Barras, the head of the directory. And Barras backed Napoleon.

Napoleon’s principal contribution to the art of warfare is manoeuvre warfare as opposed to positional warfare. The latter form of warfare dominated the 18th century. Louis XIV and his military engineer, Vauban, taught Europe that the best way of conducting wars was to construct forts and defend them. Vauban’s strategy was to avoid battles at all costs. However, Napoleon concentrated on fighting decisive battles by outmanoeuvring and outflanking the enemy. He emphasized the need to keep the army moving so that it could keep the enemy guessing. This psychologically demoralized the enemy.

After Waterloo, while he was interned in the island of St Helena, Napoleon reminisced about his military exploits. Strangely, the emperor’s reminiscences were full of such mundane affairs as the quantity of pork and biscuits required for the march to Moscow. The same attitude towards logistics, that is, food, clothing and shelter for his men and horses characterized Napoleon’s generalship in Italy. Boycott-Brown quotes documents which show that Napoleon was concerned whether his soldiers possessed shoes required for crossing the mountain ranges in winter.

The Austrian army depended on forts for supplies. Their operational range was therefore limited by the geographical locations of the fortresses. Napoleon exploited this limitation. Instead of relying on forts and supplies from France, Napoleon followed the simple policy of looting the peasants for food, clothing and other essentials. Thus another characteristic of “total war” — erosion of the distinction between the combatants and non-combatants — was also a fallout of Napoleonic warfare.

Boycott-Brown deserves praise for showing that the phenomenon of “total war” that continues to hold its sway even in the 21st century initially originated on the mountainous terrain of north Italy.


By Yashodhara Dalmia,
Oxford, Rs 3,750

It is a very romantic story. Just the kind that myths are made of. Six young men, from very ordinary backgrounds, came to Bombay with a dream. Arriving from small towns and villages, they landed in Bombay with a wish to study art.

K.H. Ara, son of a bus driver, was an exception. He ran away from home at the age of seven and came to Bombay to work as a domestic servant. His talent for drawing was noticed by his European employer and it was nurtured. Of the six, he was the only artist without any formal training.

The other five were Francis Newton Souza, Maqbool Fida Husain, Sayed Haider Raza, Hari Ambadas Gade and Sadanand K. Bakre. In 1947, the young artists, scraping together a living in the megapolis, decided to band together as the Progressive Artists’ Group. All six had ideas of forging a new visual language. And nearly all of them made it big.

Their aspirations found the right responses in Bombay. The city was becoming a hub of cultural activity. Added to this was the presence of a group of European expatriates fleeing their country to escape the Nazi Holocaust. The emigres wanted to recreate the cultured, urbane environment of their homelands. Civilized and well-heeled Indian business and professional communities in search of refinement went along with the foreigners.

Not surprisingly, the flock of artists venturing into new terrains in art must have been a pleasant discovery for the expatriates. They had found painters who were using a familiar language. The Indian elite was not at variance with the European tastemakers.

The rest as they say is history, now meticulously documented by Yashodhara Dalmia. It is a well-researched and sumptuously produced book. She has divided the book into ten chapters. The first three are in the nature of introductory material.

The first chapter deals with art in pre-independence India. Dalmia discusses the contributions of Raja Ravi Varma and the academic painters and their impact on the visual culture of the time. She then writes on Abanindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher-Gil, the Young Turks group comprising P.T. Reddy, M.T. Bhopale, A.A. Majeed, M.Y. Kulkarni and C.B. Baptista. There is some discussion of George Keyt but the Santiniketan artists, the Calcutta Group and Jamini Roy are mentioned in passing. Artists such as Somnath Hore, Zainul Abedin and Chittaprosad, who arrived at their distorted figuration by the mid-Forties do not find any mention. If the role of this chapter is to contextualize the Progressive artists then the gaps are difficult to explain. Outright omissions or downplaying of activity in other art centres will continue to remain grey areas in the book.

The second chapter, “A bid for modernism”, analyses how new forms were invading all aspects of creative activity whether it be literature, cinema or architecture. The third chapter, “The banquet years”, is an indicator of the celebratory nature of the book. Dalmia has made an excellent attempt to capture the effervescent mood of the city — its dramatis personae and exciting locales.

Then follow the six chapters on the six artists. These are the strongest chapters in the whole book. Largely interview-based, Dalmia traces the characteristics of visual language of each individual artist and points to the signposts in the artists’ development. The author introduces biographical details only when it relates to the artist’s work.

Dalmia is at her best when she is writing on art language and the distinctive styles of each artist. Writing on Souza, for example, she states, “The impaled head had reached its pitch of agony and passion. The thick bounding line had given way to wriggles and squiggles that created neo-Martians. Yet an intense torment writhed from below...” Dalmia does not also flinch from voicing her reservations. Writing on Souza, she says, “Not only did his figuration begin to lose its inventiveness, his lack of attention to the figure-ground relationship could not provide an impetus for change.” She has tried to give a unbiased assessment of each of the artists.

However, given that modernism in India is a much debated discourse as seen from the works of various social scientists, Dalmia’s claims for the Progressives raise ticklish questions. Does Indian modernism have no polyvalence and must be read unidimensionally as synonymous with international modernism? This is by far the most crucial question. Dalmia seems to skirt the whole debate which could have provided valuable underpinnings for her own arguments. There are others which relate to the gaps in the backdrop.



Like all professions, publishing too has its own acronyms and the most frequently used are O.S. and O.P. Publishers use them for referring to titles they have not been able to supply and mean “out of stock” and “out of print”. The first isn’t too gloomy because it may mean that the title is being reprinted and could be supplied later; the second, announces the death of the book because it has been taken off the list and dumped as waste.

The increase in the number of OS and OP books since the mid-Nineties has led to the growth of pessimism among book publishers. Ask any publisher and he will tell you that things cannot go on like this — people aren’t reading any more, publishing is dominated by the big boys who are only interested in returns, not books.

Despite all the negative talk, more authors are getting into print and more publishers are laughing all the way to the bank. One cannot help wondering whether OS and OP categories have increased dramatically over recent years, and if so, why? Second, how is it that more titles are being published when the prognosis is so grim? Therein lies the paradox.

It is true that OS and OP categories have gone up alarmingly in recent years. For instance, the shelf-life of a first-time novel is just 17 days now — that is, if a certain number of copies don’t sell within a fortnight or so, the book is taken off and put into the bargain counter! The basic reason for this is the scramble for “consolidation”: the medium-sized publisher is swallowing the small, independent publisher, and they are both in turn being swallowed by the big publisher.

With consolidation — an euphemism for a shake-out — came a new bunch of publishers who are more accountants than publishers. They looked at the bottom-lines of every title published — the manufacturing costs, the rates and margins of return — set up very strict guidelines, fed the data into the computer which did the rest. Virtually, hundreds of titles were pushed into the OS category, if only to cut losses and create physical space for the new ones.

From OS to OP was just one short step. Relying on past records, the new managers examined the number of copies to be printed in the future, then drastically reduced it simply to cut inventory costs. If this meant much higher prices or economies of scale was not possible, so be it. With fewer copies in print, the OS status was reached with greater frequency than ever before.

Yet, the show had to go on. After all the consolidations, the new publisher had a major stake to recover his investment. And the only way to do it was to go for new titles. Publishers know that any new title will sell a minimum number of copies if accompanied by organized marketing, and with luck, may even qualify for a reprint. So, the profit margins were worked out based on the minimum off-take rather than the entire print run as was the practice earlier. This despite the fact that after the minimum off-take the rest of the stock would be scrapped.

It is important to remember in this context that the book industry is in the hands of a small number of people, not all of whom are deeply committed to the printed word. What is even more disturbing is that the new managers look upon publishing as a business which it certainly is not— there is more to it than just investments and returns. As of now, there seems to be no way out of the prevailing dominance of the market philosophy.


By Adam Nicolson
(Short Books, £ 4.99)

Adam Nicolson’s The Hated Wife: Carrie Kipling, 1862-1939 is a slim, extremely readable volume about an unpleasant woman and a damaging marriage. All of Rudyard Kipling’s distinguished friends — Henry James, Edmund Gosse among them — disliked his wife, Carrie Kipling. But Nicolson’s account of her intensely dreary existence manages to retain the mystery of why this ghastly marriage still “worked”, even if only in a rather perverse sense. Rudyard’s deep attachment to Carrie’s brilliant brother, Wolcott, is only one of the many intriguing elements of this union. Nicolson is particularly readable on the Kiplings’ “almost Wagnerian” sex-life immediately after marriage: “hotly we stormed Valhalla”, Kipling had written during their honeymoon voyage on the Atlantic. Carrie’s subsequent descent into abandonment, gloom and self-pity is chronicled, with chilling extracts from her journals: “Still more down in body my mind doing a series of acts in a circus beyond words to depict in its horrors.” This is a book one reads with a sort of horrified fascination. James, with his usual fine, minute, bitchiness, had described his friend’s wife as “this hard, capable little woman”. Nicolson’s own style is close to this tone, combining empathy with a sense of the grotesqueness of Carrie’s tragedy: “Her increasing bulk enclosed and protected an ever more shattered core.”

By Manoj Das
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Manoj Das’s Selected Fiction collects 28 short stories and a novella, The Tiger at Twilight, by this distinguished writer in English and Oriya. Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Saraswati Samman, Das’s varied life — Marxist youth leader in prison, follower of Aurobindo Ghosh and professor of English — explains the range of his fiction: lighthearted, sombre, ironic, extravagant. Nudists, rajas, rajmatas, monkeys and tigers throng his rich palette, informed with wit and compassion: “In a provincial town of the third decade of the twentieth century, dogs still barked at motor cars, spectators kept sitting for hours gaping at silent movies, and signs of love were as simple as a rainbow.”

By V.N. Balasubramanyam
(Macmillan, Rs 248)

V.N. Balasubramanyam ‘s transcribes insightful conversations with ten of India’s most renowned economists on various aspects of India’s economic performance and policies. Manmohan Singh, Jagdish Bhagwati, T.N. Srinivasan, I.G. Patel, Ashok Desai and Bimal Jalan, among others, cover a wide terrain from the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of the state-led import-substitution industrialization strategy India pursued for more than three decades to the prospects for the new economic policy inaugurated in 1991. An important book with a solid critical introduction.



Follow the lady

Sir — So you have it from the lady herself (“Sushma slams door on downsize move”, July 31). The information and broadcasting minister’s clear no to the recommendations of the expenditure reforms committee makes it evident that the government is paying only lip service to administrative cost-cutting, as to other similar matters of grave import. You may ask why the action of Sushma Swaraj alone should be taken to convey the attitude of the government. Apart from the fact that she is a cabinet minister, her voice is significant because Swaraj has emerged the virtual spokesperson for the government. Only a few days ago, she presented her version of the Agra summit, that sent the Pakistanis packing, without being contradicted by her party. Her culture-policing has been accepted by the government without even a murmur. Standing midway between the hardliners and softliners, Swaraj holds an enviable position. She might be the guiding light on matters of expenditure as well.

Yours faithfully,
S. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Honesty moves

Sir — The editorial, “Reigning supreme” (July 31), rightly speculates on the “guardian angel” securing Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s political fate. But sadly, very few in the Indian media today dare to criticize the Vajpayee regime for the scandals it has spawned. The north Indian media in fact willingly ignore these.

The latest revelation of the Unit Trust of India scandal shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party could do anything for political gain, even swindle public funds. With solid media support and accomplished propagandists in its rank, the BJP could hoodwink people.

From Kandahar to Kargil and Agra to Kohima, it has been a tale of Vajpayee’s ineptitude. “Foreign conspiracy”, “intelligence failure”, “opposition conspiracy” are fine excuses. So is his ploy to use his prerogative to distribute ministerial berths to save his coalition from collapsing. And the public fund is always there to fall back upon at the time of any contingency. Truly, none can match his “vision”. When the public refuses to buy his vision, he plays the old ace of “offering to quit”, and that too not before the people, but to a coterie which obviously persuades him to stay. That is till the “opposition destabilizes” his government.

Yours faithfully,
Shanta Kumar, via email

Sir — I was surprised to read that the prime minister of India has expressed his desire to step down following the dissent among the National Democratic Alliance allies on the Agra and UTI fiasco (“Atal marches off to soldier on”, Aug 1). Although Atal Bihari Vajpayee has accepted the moral responsibility for the two fiascos, it does not warrant his resignation since this will not solve the problems facing the country. Vajpayee is one of the most mature prime ministers India has ever had, and is a statesman who is respected all over the world. Let us hope that the NDA allies rally round him again so that the country could benefit from his experience and foresight.

Yours faithfully,
A.S. Mehta, New Jersey

Sir — It is not only the prime minister’s office, but also the prime minister’s parivar which has cheated millions of Indians for its political gain (“Ally sucks PMO.into UTI scandal”, July 31). The fanatic Hindutva brigade which put its faith in “honest” Vajpayee had similarly tried to bluff the people of this country when Tehelka broke. The NDA had then cited the “conspiracy theory”. Presumably, the NDA would argue as would the BJP, the same principle is at work.

It took the Congress 50 years to become corrupt, but the BJP seems to be born corrupt. Vajpayee preaches what he never practices, that is honesty. So he and his party are always crying loud against others so that their malpractices are not exposed. Besides, given the support of the rich business community of India, there is little difficulty for the BJP to buy media support for its regime.

A shrewd politician, Vajpayee knows the resignation drama is the best way out of a tricky situation. He also knows that public memory is short. So it would not be difficult for this master orator to appear on television again for an address to the nation about his sincerity, his mask firmly in its place.

Yours faithfully,
Sagarika Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — It seems that the middle classes have had to pay a high price for having an “honest” prime minister in office. His honest finance minister has often urged Indians to sacrifices for the sake of “national interest”. Who can deny the prime minister’s wellbeing is not “national interest”? The Tehelka exposure and the government action following it should have been enough to make people realize that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his brig- ade will hush up every corruption issue if it concerns anyone who matters.We heard enough stories about the prime minister’s “honesty”. Would he now please relinquish the prime minister’s office so that Indians could live with their honest earnings?

Yours faithfully,
Aditya P. Chatterjee, via email

Sir — When India was trying hard to overcome the global economic slowdown, the NDA-sponsored UTI scandal pulled the rug from under the feet of the Indian economy. Neither the prime minister, nor his sycophantic finance minister has to bear the consequence of this. Vajpayee will certainly find some scapegoat to salvage his “honest” image and Yashwant Sinha shall again deliver his budget in Parliament. But India will face decimation if the duo continues.

India’s media and its economic pundits have always ridiculed those who have been sceptical about Vajpayee’s ability to deliver. They have idolized this man with the “right-man-in-wrong-party” theory and “there-is-no alternative” slogan.

The Balco case, in which a worthy public sector company was sold at a throwaway price, should have served as an eyeopener. But the media were blind. Tehelka reporters caught the NDA government red-handed, yet the media could not stop eulogizing the BJP and its leader.

Yours faithfully
G.K. Reddy, Kharagpur

Sir — The UTI issue is dominating parliamentary proceedings now. For the opposition there is a valid reason behind raking up the issue. But while charges are made against the finance minister and his resignation is demanded, Yashwant Sinha is not being allowed to speak in the house and give his version of the UTI episode. This is undemocratic.

It is also strange why the Shiv Sena is toeing the opposition line. The party enjoyed coveted portfolios in the NDA cabinet. The rebellion could have been triggered off by the Shiv Sena’s demand for another berth in the cabinet or may have been directed by Bal Thackeray himself. But the Shiv Sena cannot play such a double role in politics.

The Shiv Sena is free to demand a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry or a joint parliamentary committee’s probe into the UTI scandal. But since such demands are not coming from either the party or the opposition, it is evident that all those who are raising their voices in Parliament now are interested in politicizing the issue.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Food on wheels

Sir — There is an urgent need to introduce a pantry car service in the 2130Up/2129Dn Howrah-Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express. Has the Indian Railways chosen to ignore the need of this train? With limited and brief midway halts, it is virtually impossible for passengers to arrange for food and refreshments.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjay M. Padia, via email

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