Editorial 1 / No regulation
Editorial 2 / Naughty boys
Those prophets of doom
Book Review / From the coast to hinterland
Book Review / Witness account
Book Review /Battles of a failed hero
Book Review / Riding the distant waves
Editor�s Choice / Fragile and delicate thing of beauty
Paperback Pickings / Business wise and house proud
Letters to the editor

The problems relating to the Unit Trust of India and financial institutions are about lack of regulation. Lack of regulation in the public sector may have attracted attention, but the private sector has been just as lax. Mutual funds other than UTI have also dabbled in information technology stocks that have significantly dropped in value. They have also bought into private placements. The point is that thanks to the securities and exchange bank of India, the primary market is well regulated and a company can make public issues only if procedures are followed. Sebi has norms for offer documents, disclosures and safeguards and these have to be complied with. Unlike this, there is no regulation for preferential allotments and private placements. There are no disclosure norms. As long as shareholder approval is taken before issuing shares and prices are calculated according to Sebi-determined formulae, everything is permissible. Sebi requires no check on veracity of information, nor does it ask for copies of offer documents. There is no requirement that private placement proceeds have to be routed through banks. This is not an argument against preferential allotments or private placements. But as several post-1991 scandals in the financial sector have demonstrated, and the moral of the east Asian currency crisis can also be similarly interpreted, reforms may mean end of licensing � they do not imply complete lack of regulation. Since 1991, most reforms have involved the opening up of the financial sector and because regulation has not kept pace, it is not surprising that most scandals have concerned this sector.

Insurance is yet another example of lack of regulation. The Insurance Development and Regulatory Authority has been set up and it mandates an examination that all insurance agents have to take, after 75 hours of classroom training. But this requirement only applies to private ones. The Life Insurance Corporation and the General Insurance Corporation and their agents are exempted from taking any examinations. There is no reason why the public sector should receive such preferential treatment, with consumers of insurance services bearing the costs. Nor do standards exist for financial planners (mutual fund brokers, stock brokers, insurance agents), although the Association of Financial Planners has been constituted. However, certification is not mandatory for recognition as a financial planner. Real estate is yet another example of a sector where there is complete lack of regulation, despite satisfactory models existing from other parts of the world. The upshot is that consumers are taken for a ride by real estate agents, brokers and builders and money collected for building or developing property is siphoned off elsewhere. The scandals that characterize real estate and housing may not be as high profile as UTI or IFCI/Industrial Development Bank of India, but they are much more common.


It cannot be pleasant for the speaker of the Lok Sabha to have to decide on doses of disgrace to be doled out to members of parliament as if to unruly schoolboys. That Mr G.M.C. Balayogi was forced to call a meeting of all parties in order to put a stop to the endless disruptions in the house is a measure of his desperation. The representatives of the various parties seem to have agreed. Any MP who rushes to the well of the house will be automatically suspended for a week. Given Mr Balayogi�s evident disgust and determination, it can be hoped that the decision will be followed up by the usual procedures: passing through the rules committee to be included in the rules of parliamentary procedure. The speaker has listed 29 hours of disruption and adjournment in this session. Each hour of a parliamentary session costs the taxpayer Rs 9.32 lakh. It is not necessary to go into the staggering figures of this calculation to gauge the total irresponsibility of the more impulsive MPs. There is another, perhaps more obvious side, to consider. MPs creating a shameless ruckus in the house make themselves ridiculous, exhibit an indecorous defiance of formal procedure and thus belittle the parliamentary process itself. Whether the issue is Tehelka or Kashmir, bedlam in the house detracts from the import of these issues by preventing proper debate, and makes nonsense of the sufferings of people whom these questions affect directly.

There are two unkind inferences that can be immediately drawn from the MPs� disruptive behaviour. One, they actually intend to distract attention from troublesome problems because everyone has his own reason for doing so. Two, they are more interested in drumming up an appearance of aggressive involvement because they neither want to work nor be involved in the woes of the people they represent. This is particularly evident in the recent behaviour of partners in the National Democratic Alliance themselves. It is no longer clear who is fighting what and against whom. Mr Balayogi�s reaction is hardly surprising since all parliamentary precedent and propriety have been reduced to noisy farce. It is really urgent that the measure that has been decided upon be immediately put to practice, and stricter measures for repeated offences be introduced. But the Lok Sabha is not the only place where legislators turn lawless. Some members of the legislative assemblies of the various states can possibly give the MPs in New Delhi a run for their money. Repeatedly, assemblies in session have been reduced to battle fields with flying slippers and microphones as terribly effective missiles. The law of decorum applies everywhere. If MPs are compelled to pull up their socks, MLAs should do the same. For this to happen, the assembly speakers, of course, must become headmasters.


What is it that we haven�t done wrong in all these years? Look at the cock-up in Kargil, the fiasco in Agra, the terrible mess we�re in with power all over the country, the terrible mess we�re in with water all over the country, the dreadful state of our roads, the unspeakable condition of our hospitals. Consider our dismal failure to eradicate illiteracy, to reduce the production of children in the cow belt, to improve agricultural production, to increase industrial growth, our failure in general to improve the economy. Reflect on our failure to eradicate casteism, our treatment of minority groups. Look at the state of our cities and towns � the chaos on the streets, the dirt and refuse heaps, the streetlights which never work, the flooding during every monsoon.

We are a doomed country, destined to collapse or to disintegrate. We are a banana republic, or worse. We are, in short, the pits. This is what we are told by scads of experts busily writing perceptive pieces in newspapers, journals and books; this is what they hold forth on at the numerous parties they attend, in the seminars where they are heard in respectful, if gloomy, silence. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly; we are the wretched of the earth, they pronounce, citing all manner of figures and statistics. And having done so, they take themselves off to some other place for a repeat performance, or settle down to write an incisive, telling piece for a journal or paper which shows us up as being just about as awful as any country could be.

This has reached a stage that makes me want to throw up. M.K. Gandhi had talked about Katherine Mayo�s book, Mother India, as a drain inspector�s report; but there is a breed of commentators � some, regrettably, with impressive credentials � which specializes in analysing the quality of the material in the drains in very politically correct terms. What is it in these commentators which makes their triumphant declaration of how we�ve failed in this or that respect give them so much pleasure?

They will, of course, deny that it does. They will profess their commitment to the truth, and all the rest of the cant they are so adept in trotting out. But they lie; it does give them pleasure. One has only to see one of these prophets of doom pronouncing judgment on something wrong in the country and see how he positively glistens with an almost sensual satisfaction. A very well known representative of this breed, who practices public relations, was recently advising that the young in the country be packed off to New Zealand, since here, in India, they were doomed.

It would be a very foolish man (or woman) who would claim that all�s right with our world. We know it isn�t. We know what�s wrong with it. But those of us who have seen more decades than we would like to admit to will certainly agree that over the years, and perhaps imperceptibly in some cases, things have changed for the better. At times this is not very evident, swamped as we are by so many more people; but if one looks behind them, as it were, one does see the change.

We know that there�s a lot still left to be done; but having said that, we need to accept that some things have actually been done. Some things do work, like the telephones in our cities � not in all, but in a number � and the things one sees on sale in shops, electric and electronic goods of different kinds, reflect a variety and an improvement in quality that�s crept in over the years. I have no intention to itemize all this, which, in any case, isn�t the point. The point is that there has been change; if we accept, as we all do, that there is much that�s wrong with the country, we must accept this as well.

I have myself pointed out areas where we have either not done anything or fallen down in trying to do something. But I flatter myself that I have always been conscious that some things � perhaps very insignificant, or not very crucial to our way of life � have been done, and done well. It ultimately becomes a question of how we choose to see ourselves. Neville Maxwell, one of those foreign prophets of doom who profess to be very �interested� in India, once told me very heatedly, some twenty years ago, that I was like a man who was falling off a tall building and admiring the blue sky and the birds flying about while doing so. Wait till you hit the ground, he said grimly. I told him then what I would happily tell him today, that I�m still waiting to do just that. It doesn�t seem to happen.

Our prophets of doom, who like to compare India with other countries, holding them up as examples of the Good Society, need also to be seen for what they are. Especially in those very countries which they hold up as so exemplary. They�re usually walking the streets in that very typical third world manner which is at once furtive and defensive. They are to be seen huddled together with their own kind in some wretched restaurant or caf� or � oh yes � in some pub, at the most inconspicuous table in the place, talking almost obsessively in Hindi or Bengali or whatever their language is, (a language they rarely use at home, and if they do, only if it�s fashionably larded with English phrases and words) about what�s going on at home.

There�s a prissiness about them, even though they may affect a casual jacket and jeans; and that ever present defensiveness which comes from their continuous awareness of their colour. No loud opinions here from our prophets of doom; they save those for audiences at home. Perhaps, in their little ghettos, they soak in the goodness of the good society they think they�re living in; absorbing experiences which are then doled out to the wretched of the earth here in India. Perhaps. Whatever it is they do, they are a pathetic lot, scuttling on the fringes of the big cities, always among their own kind.

We will blunder on, in our own chaotic way, almost inevitably. T.S. Eliot puts it well, this process of moving along, moving forward � �Fare forward travellers! Not escaping from the past/ Into different lives, or into any future;/ You are not the same people who left that station/ Or who will arrive at any terminus...�

There is, inevitably, a progression, however muddied, wavering and uncertain it may be, a progression that�s in the very nature of the way we live. It would be well if we recognised that, amidst all our shortcomings. That progression is with all our baggage, including the prophets of doom, who will travel with us, reviling, berating, reprimanding, cursing, exposing and reprimanding. Then again, that is possibly the quality of our progression, where whatever we do is held up to scrutiny, which may not be a bad thing after all.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


By Sanjay Subrahmanyam,
Oxford, Rs 595

For historians of early modern India, Sanjay Subrahmanyam needs no introduction. He has approached the issues of political economy and culture from the periphery � the coast rather than the centre or the hinterland. In the process, he has moved away from standard statist explanations of structures and social change. For Subrahmanyam, the Europeans were not epiphenomenal in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In fact, they brought to bear important changes in the dynamics of local political systems. This finds reflection in the period�s European language sources � Dutch, French and Portuguese � that Subrahmanyam uses in combination with vernacular sources.

In the present volume, he examines the politics of 18th century south India and, through case studies, identifies the constituents of state-building and the articulation of a new moral economy in the peninsula during the transition to early colonial rule. Three political units, the states of Arcot, Wodeyar Mysore and Maratha Tanjore, stand out in this treatment. These states had emerged after Vijaynagar�s decline and within the dynamics of the politics of expansion under the Mughals and the Marathas. The introductory chapter sets out the larger historiographical context in which the case studies are to be located, while the concluding ones speak of an emerging political culture that was only in part dialogic in its reconciliation with colonial power and ideology.

Two features have long dominated the historiography on the south Indian state. First, greater openness to applying comparative concepts and models, and to a deeper appreciation of the cultural and literary profile. Second, the concern with the orientation of its polities. Whether these were modern or traditional? Whether rulers used a traditionalist vocabulary to further radical objectives? In a sense, Subrahmanyam argues, both these concerns are limiting for they derive as much from the historian�s Indological prejudices as from textual representation of the epoch. There is thus need to move on from these positions and look at fiscal, military and ideological strategies more frontally to identify the struggle of these polities to control commerce, warfare and resources.

The study on Wodeyar Mysore, however, concentrates more on sources and deals with the state�s problems from the second half of the 17th century. This was a direct consequence of Maratha inroads into Tamil and Kannada country and later of Mughal expansion into the South. Both these threats led the state to embark on a programme of external expansion, internal change and accommodation through alliances. Developments in late 17th century set the stage for 18th century transformations. The emergence and dissolution of alliances led to major administrative upheavals, stringent revenue management and tightening of the military organization.

The essays on Arcot and Tanjore are more complete in their treatment of the political and fiscal structure. What distinguished the political economy of Arcot was the unusual intervention of the state in matters of trade. It is clear that conventional conceptualizations of the world of internal politics as an autarchic domain did not hold true.

The concluding chapters of the book deal with narratives of state-building. Analyzing a range of contemporary texts, Subrahmanyam argues that these texts were neither constructed for legitimization, nor were they instruments of false consciousness. They constituted points of self-definition as well as a beginning in the emergence of a certain historical self-consciousness in early modern south India. The consciousness was grounded as much in historical memory as it was cognizant of the political dispensation of the Delhi padshah. It used words from the Indo-Persian vocabulary of state-building and reflected the ongoing interaction with the broader reality. Different historiographical modes adhered to the complexity of the state-building process. This was reflected in parodic presentations of the moral economy, which was being continuously modified.


By Richard Symonds,
Oxford, �7.99

Richard Symonds reminds us that the first condition for a plebiscite in Kashmir was the complete withdrawal of Pakistani troops and tribesmen so that the occupied area could be administered by �the local authorities� under the supervision of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. Pakistan is thus responsible for the proposal�s failure.

The admission is doubly significant. First, Symonds was attached to the UNCIP, of which Madeleine Albright�s father, Josef Korbel, was a member. Second, he is involved with Pakistan. Though best known for his book, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause?, he also wrote the highly successful

The Making of Pakistan. Margins was published in Karachi.

But much can be forgiven someone who tells us that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi considered exempting brandy from prohibition because he had used it in South Africa to treat snakebite. One day the Mahatma mooted another exemption. �My landlady in London once made me drink some stout because she said I was skinny,� he announced. �It tasted so horrible that perhaps it could be classified as medicine.� He drew the line at whisky.

Symonds was then a 23-year-old Quaker relief worker, recovering from typhoid in Birla House as Gandhi�s guest and patient. Now a research associate at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, he wrote Margins from the notes and diaries he kept between 1942 and 1949, without exploiting the advantage of hindsight. As special officer for relief and rehabilitation during the Bengal famine, he had to be gazetted a deputy secretary in four separate departments before anyone in the �antique inefficiency� of Writers Buildings (does anything change?) would look at his orders. Next, he was accredited observer to report on the care and condition of Hindus in West Punjab and occupied Kashmir. UNCIP was his third stint.

Witness to unfolding history, he describes famine, the effects of war, communal massacres, refugees, Indian independence, the birth of Pakistan and the conflagration in Kashmir. While another reiteration of known events would have palled on readers, this slim volume never does. It can be said of Symonds as his mentor, Horace Alexander, did of Gandhi, �Always he brings laughter into his talk and wisdom and sanity.�

He is a born raconteur. His comments on people, places and events are also always perceptive. Vijayalakshmi Pandit told him in 1942 that her brother was relieved to be arrested as he felt wretched about helping the fascists by opposing the allied war effort. A British officer in the Pakistan army woke up one morning to find that Clement Attlee�s legislation had turned him into a citizen of India. A Hindu moneylender in West Punjab refused to be rescued until he had dug all over his floor for jewellery, and was then pursued by clients all the way out of town. Inviting Lady Mountbatten to dinner, General Douglas Gracey, Pakistan�s British army chief, warned that he might have to arrest her afterwards (was not her husband the first Paki-basher, Mohammed Ali Jinnah being the first Paki?) when war broke out. East Pakistanis resented the imposition of Urdu in 1948.

Symonds does not moralize, and only hints at the big picture. Some might accuse him of sitting on the fence of humanitarianism. He emerges as an innocent who invests others with his own concern, therefore missing their less kindly motives, and seems unconscious of the communion of caste and class that enabled a mere stripling to hobnob with the subcontinent�s great.

He sees Gracey as a witty and benign soldier who defied Jinnah rather than compromise his integrity by moving troops into Kashmir, whereas Indians accuse him of planning the invasion. �I was your Enemy Number One!� Gracey told this reviewer 12 years later in England, when he was promoting a war film about the code of honour between a Japanese officer and his English prisoner. A local reporter furiously took him to task for exalting public school values that excluded the unprivileged.

Rugby and Corpus Christi, Oxford gave Symonds the entr�e to India Office mandarins, viceregal aides, the collector of Sialkot, Maulana Daultana, H.S. Suhrawardy, Kiron Shankar Roy and others. Liaquat Ali Khan, who entrusted him with confidential messages, was �another Oxford graduate�. The Caseys entertained him at Government House, Shyamaprosad Mookerjee dropped in at his Upper Wood Street flat, Jawaharlal Nehru sliced apples for him at breakfast, and Tarak Nath Mukherjee took him touring in his railway saloon. Frederick Burrows and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari offered him jobs. Only Jinnah did not pet and pamper the engaging young Englishman.

The account of his second stint is tendentious for the implication of more people fleeing India than Pakistan is a reflection on Hindu and Sikh communalism. Symonds also says that Hindus were well looked after in occupied Kashmir, whereas Muslims were brutalized in Jammu and by the Dogra army.

Be that as it may, neither Karan Singh�s recollection of the invasion nor Prem Shankar Jha�s account bears out his claim of a spontaneous revolt in Poonch against the maharaja�s tyranny. But then, as a British editor of the Civil and Military Gazette, Kipling�s paper, told Symonds, �there were no impartial Indian or Pakistani journalists.�

Margins prompts a serious question. Would a complete exchange of population, as recommended by Francis Mudie, governor of West Punjab, the East Punjab prime minister, Gopi Chand Bhargava, and K.C. Neogy, have ensured better relations between India and Pakistan? If Greece and Turkey, which did exchange populations, remain enemies, the answer must be �No�. An India without Muslims would have provided Pakistan, groping for an identity, with an even easier target. More to the point, an India that drives out its Muslims would betray its raison d�etre.

As Nehru told Symonds, Muslim-majority Kashmir is of tremendous significance. It is a warning to Hindus and a reassurance to Muslims. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other Hurriyat leaders who invoke the �logic of partition� never extend it to their co-religionists in India who are a living refutation of Jinnah�s two-nation theory. Kashmir is security for them and ballast for Indian secularism; at the same time, India alone can save Kashmiriyat from being destroyed by fundamentalist theology.

Though few foreigners, even those of goodwill and objectivity, can grasp these imperatives, Symonds is not blinded by the �logic of partition�. He probably sympathized with Sheikh Abdullah�s hopes of autonomy (a �Switzerland of Asia� linked to India and Pakistan) but since Cold War fears prevented the Americans and the British from encouraging this novel concept, Symonds suggests �some sort of partition� as �the most appropriate solution� for Kashmir�s demographic complexity.

It remains the best answer until such time as Kashmiriyat can triumph over bigotry to temper south Asian Islam with Sufi benevolence.


By Sitansu Das,
Rupa, Rs 595

Much has been written about Subhas Chandra Bose and his epic struggle for India�s freedom and it seems that any addition would merely be old wine in a new bottle. Sitansu Das�s exhaustively researched and well-documented book belies any such apprehension. The book is remarkable for its in-depth analysis of trends and events that had a bearing on Bose�s political decisions, made possible because of the author�s access to several hitherto untapped sources, such as files, letters, documents and interlocutors.

Das begins with young Bose�s constant search for a �central principle� and his overpowering sense of mission. His �single-minded dedication to the cause of India�s independence�, coupled with an iron will, indomitable courage and organizing ability clearly distinguished him from other political leaders of the time. He also indicates Bose�s imbibed from Vivekananda the spirit of social service, activism and spiritual discipline.

Das dispels certain assumptions about Bose, like his alleged fascist leanings. Das asserts that the mature Bose had argued, �fascism had not started on its imperialist expedition�and appeared�only an aggressive form of nationalism.� In the Thirties, he repudiated the concept of a synthesis between socialism and fascism. A subsequent meeting with Hitler and the invasion of Russia, led to his final rejection of fascism. He realized that his support of Hitler would create problems for him in India.

Das says although Bose saw the Soviet Union as a reliable ally for India�s freedom struggle, the Russians remained cool to his overtures. It is possible that apprehending a possible German attack, Russia did not want to accommodate Bose, although the latter time and again affirmed his commitment to socialism.

The Gandhi-Bose controversy is often simplistically handled as a conflict between violence and non-violence. Yet, Das shows, Bose disapproved of violent acts aimed at individuals. Bose was not against Gandhi�s actions, he resented the abrupt suspensions of the movements. At their last meeting in 1940, Bose had pleaded with Gandhi to launch a nation-wide struggle for complete independence when the tide had turned against the British. Gandhi refused. Yet, Quit India had been a vindication of Bose�s demand for purna swaraj.

Although the two disagreed, there were crucial issues on which they were unanimous, like opposing partition. While Gandhi surrendered to the pleadings of Nehru and Patel, Bose remained firm.

Out manoeuvred by Gandhi and his followers at Tripuri and betrayed by the Congress socialists and the communists, Bose was driven into a corner and forced to resign. Das outlines the failure of Bose�s efforts for left-wing consolidation because of the lack of adequate support. This incident further induced Bose to leave the country and launch the struggle from abroad.

It is often argued that the Imphal debacle and the failure of the Japanese to lend adequate support sealed the Indian National Army�s fate. But Das denies that Japan did not do enough to back Bose�s endeavours in southeast Asia and points out that Bose arrived on the scene nearly 18 months late. But Bose, ensured that the INA participated as a fighting force against the Allies on the Indian frontiers. He also made sure that any Indian territory freed from British control immediately came under the administration of the provisional government of free India, formed by Bose in December, 1943. Das refers to Bose as an �epic hero whose titanic endeavour turned defeat into posthumous triumph.�

A biography of Bose that runs into 600-odd pages must include a chapter or two on the unalloyed secularism of Bose, the architect of Hindu-Muslim unity within his own ranks. And, Das does not disappoint his readers. Bose�s dislike of any resemblance of communalism is brought out through various incidents � Bose�s refusal to visit a Hindu temple in Singapore unless his two Muslim associates were also allowed entry � and statements made by him.

Completely secular in outlook, Bose never mixed politics with religion and entirely divorced religion from nationalism. He did not believe in the use of religion as a means to unite people and seldom spoke about religion in public. Das helps us realize that these strong beliefs formed the backbone of Bose�s character and helped him battle on as a freedom fighter. As Michael Edwardes pointed out, �India owes more to him than to any other man, even though he seemed to be a failure�.


By Rahul Roy-Chaudhury,
Knowledge World, Rs 550

As India enters the 21st century with a flagging economy and millions of people below the poverty line, does she require a navy? Even if a navy is to be maintained, what purpose is it going to serve? Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, one of the foremost naval analysts of India, attempts to answer the questions in his book.

In his first book, Sea Power and Indian Security, Roy-Chaudhury traced the growth of independent India�s naval arm. His perspective in India�s Maritime Security, his perspective is much broader. The author grapples with the contours of a maritime strategy for India, which includes the economic, political and military imperatives behind maintaining both military ships and merchant marine.

According to Roy-Chaudhury, merchant marine and the accompanying infrastructure will increase in importance as the resources of the sea will become vital for the emerging economy. Foreign trade is crucial to India�s economy and this is mostly seaborne. Most of the country�s oil and natural gas, for example, are imported from west Asia by oil tankers which are of foreign make. In times of crisis the countries might withdraw their tankers, leaving India high and dry. Thus, India has to build and buy more tankers and protect its lines of communication along the Arabian Sea, especially from seaborne pirates supported by hostile countries.

Again, India�s capacity to utilize deep-sea fishing is hamstrung by its lack of modern trawlers. Worse, trawlers from neighbouring countries occasionally poach in India�s territorial water. Not only does India require more sophisticated trawlers, but the navy also needs to protect them.

Seaborne terrorism is also becoming a chief threat to the coastal areas of India. The transfer of arms to terrorists and secessionists along the Bay of Bengal and the Palk Straits have made these two areas danger zones for India. Narco-terrorism along these regions needs to be tackled. The only solution, says Roy-Chaudhury, is intense naval policing.

The author�s argument challenges the traditional view of A.T. Mahan and Julian Corbett that fighting decisive battles at sea is the prime task of all navies. He toes the line of Geoffrey Till, who claims that unconventional war waged by terrorists in the sea is going to be a major problem in the future. Thus for Roy-Chaudhury stateless marginal groups operating in the seas with indirect support from the foreign navies pose a real threat.

However, Roy-Chaudhury is a bit ambivalent about the role of nuclear weapons in the Indian navy. He states that the nuke-equipped navy is for deterrence and not for actual fighting. But he also warns that if India retaliates against Pakistan, the latter might escalate the conflict into a nuclear one in the sea.

Roy-Chaudhury deserves praise for showing the interrelation between the marine and naval aspects of India. At present, the navy remains the much neglected Cinderella of the armed forces. Only 15 per cent of the defence budget is allocated for the navy. In view of the rising importance of the seas and ocean for India�s economy and sovereignty, Roy-Chaudhury�s assertions regarding the necessity of overhauling the marine infrastructure and increasing the naval share of the defence cake need to be seriously considered by India�s policy-makers.


By Deborah Moggach,
Vintage, �5.99

In 1636-37, a strange fever gripped the citizens of the prosperous city of Amsterdam. The rich and the poor began speculating in tulips. Although the tulip came to the Netherlands from Turkey, it could be transplanted with ease and reproduced through the splitting of the outgrowths. The highly prized varieties, like the flamed and striped blooms of Semper Augustus, were, however, guarded from imitation. The tulip entered the market as a connoisseurs� choice; it became an object of imitation and symbol of upward mobility; there followed an invasion of speculators and this led to regulation and a crash. In the process, huge fortunes were made and lost.

The transformation of a humble flower into a speculative trophy undermined, according to Simon Schama, everything that was decent in Dutch life: hard work, proper relation between labour and reward and the ventures of merchants. On the other hand, only in a deeply bourgeois culture committed to the democratization of taste could something so weird and gross take place.

The tulip mania is the context of Deborah Moggach�s new and clever novel. Cornelis is an ageing and wealthy merchant with a young wife, Sophia. He decides that his status demands that he should have his family portrait painted. He commissions the young artist, Jan van Loos, to preserve his social position and his marriage on canvas.

Jan van Loos proceeds, much in the manner of 17th century Dutch masters, his subjects surrounded by the symbols of their own opulence. During the sittings there develops an attraction between the painter and Sophia. The attraction leads directly to Jan�s bed. Contrasted to the story of this adultery is the tale of simple and uncomplicated love of Sophia�s maid, Maria, and the fish seller Willem.

Willem to marry Maria speculates in tulips and makes money. Jan neglects his calling and enters the tulip market and tries to make a fortune that will help him and his lover escape to the East Indies. Readers are led into a world of deceit and disappointment. There is a thriller-like quality to Moggach�s story-telling. The denouement is funny, even surreal. But the ending is poignant.

Just as Dutch painting invites viewers to look beyond appearances, so this novel asks its readers to go beyond the storyline. It is the story of a city and its people caught in the whirl of an unreal mania. It is also about paintings in the Dutch golden age and some of the paintings are lavishly reproduced in colour in the book.

Moggach makes her artist create a picture called The Love Letter, which is Jan�s visualization of Sophia reading a letter from him. This is a direct evocation of Vermeer�s Girl Reading Letter at Open Window. There is the hint, art historians have observed, and Moggach draws on this, that the girl in Vermeer�s painting is engaged in extra- or premarital sex. Behind the neatly arranged plush and seemingly still interiors, there is a vibrant reality carefully camouflaged. �All painting,� Jan thinks, �is illusion. They are simply things of beauty that will exist for this moment.�

Love or even life itself is transient: a familiar face caught in a crowd in the trembling evening sun from across a street.


By Kate Hubbard
(Short Books, � 4.99)

Kate Hubbard�s A Material Girl: Bess Of Hardwick (1527-1608) is another triumph of the �Short lives� series. The fact that she is remembered most for the magnificent houses she built would have most pleased Bess, countess of Shrewsbury after her fourth marriage. Her Hardwick New Hall was the realization of a dream, and it crowned a �brilliantly managed marital and business career�. The little volume maps the rise of a squire�s nearly portionless daughter to prosperity and social power. Court intrigues and the history and art of building in the period provide a rich context for ambitious Bess�s tale.

By Lynn T. Kozlowski, Jack E. Hennigfield, Janet Brigham
(Sage, $29.95)

Lynn T. Kozlowski, Jack E. Hennigfield, Janet Brigham�s Cigarettes, Nicotine & Health: A Biobehavioral Approach is intimidatingly different from the usual �Stop smoking now or die� books. The history of tobacco, of cigarettes and smoking complement the research into the social, psychological and physical factors that make cigarettes the most popular light for fools on the way to a dusty death.

By Sharda Pargal
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Sharda Pargal�s The Chicken Cookbook serves a delectable fare of dishes containing chicken, the most commonly used meat in non-vegetarian Indian kitchens. Divided into salads, snacks, main course dishes, rice, roti and accompaniments, it seems that every conceivable chicken preparation from every part of India has been brought between the two covers. There are the renowned ones like Xacuti, and those that are less heard of, like Aleti Paleti, a savoury dish made from chicken liver and gizzard, �served at Parsi weddings to the family members who sit down to eat after all the guests have departed.�

By Khansahab Alladiya Khan
(Thema, Rs 80)

Khansahab Alladiya Khan�s My Life is a thoughtfully executed translation of Khud Ki Zubani, the short memoir of the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana of Hindustani classical music. The memoirs were penned down by Azizuddin Khan, Khansahab�s grandson, to whom he recounted his life. The result, expectedly, is more anecdotal than chronological. But according to the translators-cum-editors, Amlan Das Gupta and Urmila Bhirdikar, �It is only when we are able to see the anecdote as serving certain distinctive functions in the oral narrative that we can hope to move beyond a na�ve historicism�. The north Indian music scene at the turn of the century is still largely in the dark. Sifting fact from fiction in Khansahab�s memoirs, the reader is able to reconstruct the world of the musician as a travelling professional, performing to small gatherings and moving from one town to another in search of patronage.



Star partners

Sir � The encounter that sent sparks flying needed no astrologer to predict it (�Physicist versus poet at IIT�, Aug 19). The communists, with their professed hatred for anything remotely religious or superstitious, would never miss an opportunity to put the saffronites in their place. But while Murli Manohar Joshi and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee vigorously disagree on certain educational policy decisions, their parties display uncanny similarity in certain others. The most striking similarity is in the desire of the communists and the Hindutva-mongers to bring all elements of the education system under their respective patronizing umbrellas. Consequently, the West Bengal government orders the Ramakrishna Mission schools to recruit teachers from the school service commission, and the Centre makes it mandatory for an academic going abroad to seek permission from the home ministry. Although Joshi and Bhattacharjee may not have noticed the similarities yet, thankfully the people have been quicker on the uptake.

Yours faithfully,
Srikanta Hazra, Siliguri

Doubtful celebration

Sir � The 54th anniversary of India�s independence went off almost unnoticed. Barring the statutory flag-hoistings and speeches by politicians and dignitaries, there was nothing that could bolster national pride and create new hope in the minds of Indians. Even the president�s speech on the eve of Independence Day was mellower than last year�s. The media did not give it much importance, or to the occasion. Very few newspapers came out with special Independence Day supplements containing thought-provoking articles by eminent writers and thinkers.

Is it that the race towards globalization has made it unnecessary for Indians to seek new meanings of independence? The political leaders of the country, when they are not trying to fill their personal coffers, are mostly concerned with ways of bringing the country in line with the requirements of globalization within the framework set by the World Trade Organization. First generation economic reforms have already been put into practice. When it is time to follow it up with the second generation reforms, the government seems to be dithering. There is a slowdown in economic growth, inadequacy of infrastructure, an ebb in foreign direct investment and so on.

The middle and lower class people are getting the rough end of the stick, and there is an unconcern about the plight of people below the poverty line. No political leader of recent times has been able to give a clear direction to the people for a stable and prosperous future. With the bright promises of the Constitution being pushed to such murky eventuality, there was perhaps no reason to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the country�s independence.

Yours faithfully,
P.N. Pal, Calcutta

Sir � For the first time since independence, the prime minister in his Independence Day address did not extol the role of the armed forces in keeping a continuous vigil at sensitive borders, in maintaining the sovereignty and integrity of the country and in rescuing the nation during natural calamities. With an eye to the clouds on the horizon, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was perhaps right in focussing on economic issues. He announced the Rs 10,000 crore Sampuran Gramin Yojna, declared 2002 as the year of implementation of schemes, announced the national nutrition mission for adolescent girls and expectant and nursing mothers, the Ambedkar Valmiki Awas Yojna and the Rs 17,000 crore bank credit scheme for women entrepreneurs.

The soldiers who are fighting in adverse conditions in high altitudes, deserts, jungles, and amidst insurgency have been completely forgotten by the prime minister. A word for the welfare of ex-servicemen would have gone a long way in boosting their morale. A mention, however cursory, of the contributions of the soldiers during the last year, would have restored the faith of the soldiers and their families in the political leadership of the country.

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Vasudeva, Panchkula

This must be India

Sir � The proposal for the introduction of more than one time-zone in India sounds good (�East and West, divided by a time line�, Aug 20). While I am in favour of such a change, I think people would find it very difficult to adapt to the new time zones. But the benefits of such a step cannot be overlooked. It would save electricity, for instance, as it does in European countries and in other continents.

The difference in the sunrise and sunset in the eastern and western zones of India shows that, with the introduction of time-zones in India, the electricity saved could be put to use in the states where the supply of electricity fails to meet the demand. This would also help the industry grow. The government should keep this benefit in mind, since any improvement in the power scenario is bound to improve the overall infrastructure of the economy.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir � It is strange that a proposal as sensible as the introduction of time zones was not put forth earlier. But it is always better late than never. For the individuals opposing the move, saying that countries like the United Kingdom and China have only one time zone, it must be pointed out that in many of these countries, it is the practice to advance or delay clocks as required to make best use of daylight, for summer and winter months. It is not unusual to find in Calcutta, for example, that there is little time to read the morning newspaper during the winter months, when the clock seems to be in undue haste.

Yours faithfully,
Sakti Biswas, Calcutta

Sir � In a country where people are yet to get used to living according to the one time zone they have, two time zones, while theoretically necessary, will remain as unworkable as other time management techniques.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, via email

Going with IT

Sir � Of late, one finds that a lot of claims are being made about the progress of West Bengal on the information technology front. A number of upcoming projects are being talked about. But what is really important is how many of the promises already made have materialized. Two projects readily come to mind. A distance learning project in collaboration with IBM was announced some months ago. But there is no news of how many people have taken up the course, and if they have not, why.

Also, almost a year back, an incubation project was announced at Webel, which promised programmers with original ideas that they would be able to give shape to their ideas with the help of venture capital from the state government within six months. This was aimed at promoting entrepreneurship in the IT sector. Why have we not heard of any results yet?

The people of the state have a right to demand answers to these questions before pinning their hopes on the next batch of promises.

Yours faithfully,
Nitin K. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir � The West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has recently been seeking to champion the cause of information technology. For a communist leader, this is a refreshing and welcome change. But, at the risk of repeating others� fears, it must be said that blindly imitating states like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka instead of developing the infrastructure in the state is not going to take West Bengal very far.

There is no dearth of English-knowing, skilled IT professionals in West Bengal, who are in high demand overseas. But the movement to promote IT began in West Bengal nearly five years after it gained momentum in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. So the state has began its IT journey with a handicap of five years.

To add to its woes are the leftist trade unions, ever ready to nip an ambitious project in the bud. So, before putting forth pictures of a rosy future for the people, Bhattacharjee must make sure that he has enough ammunition to attack adversaries and adversities. Or else, he will turn out to be just another communist hypocrite.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Mridha, Calcutta

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