Editorial 1 / To what purpose
Editorial 2 / Moment of peace
Enter the sheriff
Book Review / The medley that is America
Book Review / In between man
Book Review / A deputy who never relented
Book Review / Defence of a nuclear India
Bookwise / Making of a publisher
Paperback Pickings / History, love and some pranic food
Letters to the editor

The global crisis precipitated by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has diverted attention from the economic reform process in India. One of the principal planks of the reform project has always been the downsizing of government. In India, an example, in this regard, has been set by the Expenditure Reforms Commission which closed itself down after one and a half years and after just one extension. The latter feature is remarkable by the standards that operate in Indian public life. Obviously, members of the commission believe that like charity, downsizing also begins at home. Within the short period of its existence, the commission prepared and submitted 10 reports, all of them addressing issues of downsizing the central government and cutting subsidies. But for reasons best known to itself, the commission did not engage with the real juggernauts. Neither railways nor home were part of its recommendations. This would suggest that the commission was not engaged in making radical reforms. Since it did not bring railways into the scope of its deliberations, it could not raise the most relevant questions: why should the government run railways and what is the need for a separate department for railways? There are many other such departments which mushroomed under the so-called socialist ethos which dictated that every public sector undertaking should be under separate ministries. Nationalization had its own logic of proliferating ministries.

Thus it is not surprising that some of the commission�s recommendations are anodyne. It proposed, for example, the closure of the �save grain�� campaign of the Fifties. It will remain a mystery why it needed an elaborate commission to propose this when the warehouses are full of grain. This is not to belittle the work of the commission. It succeeded in focussing attention on the downsizing of government. As a consequence of this, a voluntary retirement scheme for government employees is on the anvil. The expenditure secretary, a member of the commission, made an announcement to this effect. Such a scheme will have to work in tandem with the abolition of obsolete departments. The real problem of downsizing lies deeper and is not something that can be solved through the recommendations of commissions. Downsizing, when push comes to shove, as they say in the United States of America, will be a matter of political will. Ministers will have to acknowledge that ministries are not there to create vested interests or for feathering their nests. No government, of whatever ideological hue, has ever made such an acknowledgement. It is highly doubtful if the present one, with assembly elections around the corner, will jettison the time-honoured practice of patronage and distributing the loaves and fishes of office. The Expenditure Reforms Commission has had its say. This does not mean that government expenditure will be brought down, size of departments reduced and obsolete ministries thrown into the junk yard.


A reprieve is little consolation, if that is all that has been granted Mr Keshubhai Patel, the chief minister of Gujarat. The immediate cause for his summons to New Delhi was the Bharatiya Janata Party�s defeat in the recent byelections. The loss of the Sabarkantha assembly seat was bad enough. But the loss of the Sabarmati seat was especially galling, since it was part of the Union home minister�s Lok Sabha constituency, Gandhinagar. The BJP high command is in a tizzy, for Gujarat is one of the party�s key states. Besides, it has a personal relevance for Mr L.K. Advani. Mr Advani bereft of Gujarat would be as forlorn as Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee bereft of Uttar Pradesh. But as earlier in the case of Uttar Pradesh, the big men should have seen this coming. It is a measure of the state unit�s blindness or defiance that made it play up the byelections as a referendum for the BJP government�s performance in the state and a foretaste of the victory to come in the assembly elections in 2003. But byelections by themselves are hardly major affairs. A much more serious indication had been the BJP�s defeat in the panchayat and civic elections. These, it must be remembered, had been held before the earthquake. The state�s disappointment and anger regarding the government�s performance after the earthquake were to be added to the disillusion registered in the earlier polls.

Mr Patel has not shone. The alleged mismanagement of funds and relief material and the government�s evident lackadaisical attitude to the plight of the underprivileged after the earthquake are embarrassing bits of his history as chief minister. Factionalism within the state unit and a generally blunt administration are additional woes. Yet Mr Patel�s elevation to the chief ministership had been fairly uncontroversial. Caste-wise and personality-wise, he had been considered the best man for the job. The caste factor is still relevant. The BJP high command, in spite of toying with the idea of asking Mr Patel to go, cannot really gird up its loins for a change of guard. To call a non-Patel to the chair would be to risk much of the powerful upper caste electorate, especially the Patels. The BJP cannot afford this. The majority of the upper caste vote and about half the other backward classes vote comprise its most dependable votebank. None of the names being proposed as alternatives to Mr Patel�s can neutralize the caste issue. Yet the party knows that a change of chief minister alone can prevent the loss of Gujarat. Such a change in Uttar Pradesh has done some good already, although not half as much as was desired. Mr Patel is possibly living on borrowed time, with his rivals in the party throwing their dice behind the scenes.


Even without the calamity of September 11, 2001, the Indian economy was already in deepest distress. Following liberalization, the pronouncements of the Confederation of Indian Industry are as good as official: the private domain has come to reign supreme over the public. For the current fiscal year, the CII has offered some grim predictions. Agricultural growth will dip to as little as 1.25 per cent. The prospect for the industrial sector is much worse. A pall of gloom has descended upon Indian manufacturing. Not only is investment, both domestic and foreign, playing hooky; utilization of existing capacity too is awesomely disappointing. The confederation has stretched itself to the utmost to make the picture as rosy as it is possible to make. No go, the rate of industrial growth in 2001-2002, the CII has concluded, will be barely 0.75 per cent.

Were the projected annual rates of growth for agriculture and industry combined, the aggregate rate of growth for the two sectors will at most be 1 per cent. Even taking into account the famine year of 1966-1967, not once since independence has the rate of growth for agriculture and industry together fallen to such a piteously low level, and this despite the fact that the monsoon has been normal this year.

As mentioned above, industrial growth is being held back so much because of lack of capacity. Even the lack of infrastructure cannot provide an alibi for the quasi-stagnation. In a situation where employment is sluggish and the vast majority of the nation is bereft of the wherewithal to raise the level of its demand, production is bound to be held back. These facets of reality however fail to impress the soulmates of the globalization lobby. They are an undeterred lot. Don�t you know, India is as good as an advanced economy, agriculture and industry are no longer as important as they were in the primary stage of the development, more than 50 per cent of our national income now originates in the services sector?

True, this sector too has been adversely affected by the slackening industrial and agricultural growth; growth in services in the current year will not be as high as 8 per cent or10 per cent or 15 per cent as was the case in some of the earlier years. Nonetheless, it will be at least 6.5 per cent so that, what a relief, the overall rate of growth in the Indian economy even in this difficult year is going to be around 5.25 per cent. It is a miracle, the argument will proceed, that the slowdown of the world economy notwithstanding, our growth rate will still exceed 5 per cent. We have therefore nothing to be apologetic about, chime in unison the vanguards of the great economic reforms.

The Indian people have been subjected to a great confidence trick over the past decade. As much as 80 per cent of the nation earns their livelihood from agriculture and industry. Since the rate of population growth during the year will be at least 1.5 per cent, this four-fifths of the community will experience a reduction in their income level, and therefore in their standard of living, in the current year. Given the innate inequality in the distribution of income and assets, overwhelming numbers amongst those who secure their livelihood from agricultural and industrial occupations will actually experience a sharp decline in their income.

Only one-fifth of the nation earn their living from occupations linked to the services sector. Consolation for the hoity-toity ones, their near and dear folks employed in the services sector will on the average experience an income growth of 5 per cent or more despite vicissitudes elsewhere. But for the vast multitude engaged in the services sector, the prospects are as grim as for those in agriculture and industry. A seemingly inexorable process is on. In the services segment of the economy, the passwords are efficiency and increase in productivity, such as would enable us to face global competition. Computerization and economizing of labour are accordingly proceeding apace; the number of employees at the lower rungs of the services sector is shrinking every day. The most glaring instance of what is happening is provided by the banking industry: perhaps 250,000 lower grade bank employees are being summarily retrenched each year or given the dubious handshake of illusory retirement benefits; the work they performed will supposedly now be looked after by a couple of hundred computer-savvy young boys and girls from affluent families.

There is a frightening warping of values in establishment circles: newspapers write gloatingly about how five or ten brats, hardly twenty-five years of age, on passing out from the management institutes, land cushy jobs fetching monthly compensations of one or two lakh of rupees; the media however have no thought to spare for those thousands who are being served marching orders in firms and factories.

The prime minister is a political animal. He is not yet thinking in terms of discarding the claptrap of parliamentary democracy either. He therefore suggested a measure of �pump-priming� through massive public investment in the different sectors so as to extricate the economy from the morass it finds itself in. The prime minister obviously spoke out of turn. His pucca blue economic advisory council knows better; it has a direct line of communication with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The council has lost no time to rap the prime minister on the knuckle: excessive public investment, it has warned, will disequilibriate the fiscal balance, something the masters in Washington DC will not approve of. The prime minister must have been suitably chastened.

The upshot is a state of cluelessness for those who preside over the economy and the polity. The ultimate destiny in my case now rests with the country sheriff from Texas with a loud-hailer entwined in his hand. Meanwhile,we are being regaled with some wry entertainment. The authorities have asked the nation not to worry, steps are being expeditiously taken to insulate the economy from the ravages wrought by a globalized system.

Besides, growth may be non-existent, rise in employment may be zero, the rupee may plummet, the share market may collapse, exports may dip, so what, we have $ 45 billion of foreign balances in the kitty. Once, inshah George W. Bush, international ballistic missiles start flying, these foreign balances, for all one knows or can surmise, might well do a Houdini.

There is a soul-filling half-epilogue to the story though. The Indian economy could well soon be reduced to the level of a non-entity. The policy-formulators will be unfazed. The �fundamentals� of the economy, they will confide to countrymen, remain strong, and the stock of foreign exchanges assets will perform as a shield. What this stock would dwindle down to should last week�s catastrophe in Wall street � acknowledgedly much worse than even the infamous 1929 crash � be followed by further steeply downward slides is not a matter which finds a place on New Delhi�s agenda.


Hooking up
By Tom Wolfe
Cape, �17.99

Underneath the image of a keen observer and chronicler of contemporary American life, Tom Wolfe strikes one to be highly opinionated in Hooking Up, a novella and a cluster of essays, some perceptive, some cursory. The range of topics that he touches upon � teenage sexuality to modern journalism, the internet revolution to the Genome project � is impressive. But his rhetoric reeks of the snobbery and complacency characteristic of America, the world�s mightiest superpower in terms of �social life, social justice, and, of course, the military�total and indisputable�. The reader would certainly want a re-appraisal from the veteran journalist of Herald Tribune in the wake of the terrorist strikes.

The introductory piece, �Hooking Up�, in a wryly humorous tone, catches up with the trendy and unabashed American teenager for whom virginity is pass�, the pseudo-intellectual influenced by his equally vacuous European counterpart and the new multimillionaires of Silicon Valley, who have written off the inhabitants of Wall Street. Wolfe sounds nostalgic and judgmental, wanting to identify himself with a bygone era. His heroes are the young entrepreneurs who sought and found in the American goldmine their Eldorado.

In �Two Young Men Who Went West�, which is also the book�s most engrossing piece, Wolfe vividly portrays one of them: Bob Noyce, co-founder of software giant, Intel. A Prometheus-like figure in the microchip industry, Noyce played a legendary role in the growth of the Silicon Valley. Wolfe�s introspection on and detailing of the milieu, the extraordinary breed of computer wizards that Noyce generated alongwith a few others, and the rise of a new work culture are simply astounding.

The other equally interesting chapter is, �The Invisible Artist�, on Frederick Hart, a talented sculptor whose artistic genius, Wolfe laments, the American art world recognized much later.

In �Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill�and �Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died�, Wolfe randomly strays from one issue to another, creating a perplexing hotch-potch of the digital age, recent studies in evolution theory, neuroscience and Nietzshe. His views on European ideological tenets seem grossly exaggerated and flawed.

Wolfe scoffs at Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and deconstruction simply because �when �deconstructionists� required appendectomies or bypass surgery, or even a root-canal job, they never constructed medical or dental �truth�, but went along with whatever their board certified, profit-oriented surgeons proclaimed�! Wolfe seems to be a replica of the pseudo-intellectual he decries, passing convoluted dogmas (as in �In the Land of the Rococo Marxists�) and projecting the Big Apple as the land of social and political freedom, a Utopia come true.

�My Three Stooges� is an extended version of Wolfe�s controversial and much-publicized verbal fight with three American novelists � Norman Mailer, John Irving and John Updike � who had rubbished Wolfe�s bestselling novel, A Man in Full, as an �anathema�. As a reprisal, Wolfe dismisses the trio as redundant and irrelevant writers. In an embarrassingly self-indulgent tone, Wolfe, then slots himself in the great Zolaesque tradition of social realism, comparing his novel�s soaring sales with his rivals� plummeting ones. What was supposed to be a critique of the state of the American novel ends up being a platform for settling personal scores.

The novella, �Ambush at Fort Bragg�, deals with the way a group of soldiers are trapped by a television network channel to confess to the murder of a homosexual in front of the camera. It illustrates Wolfe�s idea of how the American novel could be refurbished from its �dying� state � that is, depicting life through the eyes of a reporter. Not surprisingly, �Ambush at Fort Bragg�, falls short of the quality that marks good literature.


Edited By Molly Daniels-Ramanujan and Keith Harrison,
Oxford, Rs 325

This slim and elegant volume stands in relation to A.K. Ramanujan�s Collected Essays (1999) and Collected Poems (1995) as a small outhouse-study stands in the lush grounds of an ancestral estate � a little apart from, but in the shadow of, the great old house. It brings to mind Montaigne�s arriere boutique, �a room, just for ourselves, at the back of the shop� � solitary, yet not without its human hauntings � in which �our normal conversation should be of ourselves, with ourselves�. Ramanujan�s book conveys the sense of a curiously private place in which a learned, brilliant and charming man, quite precisely, �uncollects� himself in relative solitude.

The volume opens with a clutch of poems. These are brief five-finger exercises, mostly undated, and those bearing a date written in the last couple of years before Ramanujan�s death in 1993. Then comes the core of the book � two long interviews catching the man at his quicksilver best. These are followed by a fragment essay, �The Ring of Memory�, �a collage of ideas, images, stories and poems about remembering and forgetting and what they mean to a traditional Hindu�. Then, a more personal reflection on memory, written a few months before he died � a eulogy of his dead friend and colleague, Barbara Miller, whose translation of Kalidasa was subtitled �Theatre of Memory�. Haunted by the idea of �absent presences�, this volume is also an elegy to a man who continues to be vitally present to those whose lives and minds he had touched.

The work that Ramanujan has left behind is essentially self-similar. The structure of its individual parts or fragments mirrors and replicates the form and effect of the whole, creating patterns in the mind of the reader which, like those intriguing fractal designs, inspire endless intellectual elaboration. There is, therefore, a unity in his obsessive myriad-mindedness. His own English poetry, the translations of classical Tamil and Kannada poems, and his academic essays as a teacher of linguistics, anthropology, folklore and literature at the University of Chicago all spring from a common set of preoccupations.

In the interviews, Ramanujan describes his interests in the broadest terms � �the study of language in all its forms�, and particularly, of how �the present gathers to itself different pasts� in the systems and processes of language. These abiding interests unify the poetry, theory and criticism in this volume: �I seem to be doing the same thing in all disciplines. The notion that there is a line to be drawn between different interests is not true. Everything we have and know is part of the instrument.�

For Ramanujan, nothing less than �everything we have and know� is at stake in the work of composition, translation, teaching and conversation. In the 1970 interview, this conviction sweeps along, with an effortless and unsentimental lucidity, his interviewer�s predictable questions on Indian writers writing in English: �The language of one�s writing is not a matter of choice�The question is not whether you wish to write or not, but whether you can. If you can, you will. And if you do, you must be judged by results.� He also rejects the sensationalizing of his own position in America as that of an �exile�: �An exile is a person who has been thrown out of his country. I�m not one. I have come to this country voluntarily.�

Yet, Ramanujan keeps returning to the roots of language in childhood, and puts his own linguistically muddled upbringing at the centre of his creative and professional life. �Writing with everything one is� means not having to write �out of a corner of ourselves, filtering out our childhood, our obscenities, our bodies, our mythologies, the rich fabric of allusion that a first language is�. The hierarchical relations between Sanskrit, English, Kannada and Tamil within his own Tamil Brahmin home form the basis of his later reflections on the relations between epic and folklore, Sanskritic Hinduism and vernacular bhakti, and between his translated and original poems. �When I write in Kannada, I�d like all my English, Tamil, etc. to be at the back of it; and when I write in English I hope my Tamil and my Kannada, like my linguistics and anthropology, what I know of America and India, are at the back of it�I�m less and less afraid of keeping all of these doors open even when it�s dark outside and it�s 3 am inside.�

The image of an �in-between man� trying to climb to his �proper dark� through language runs through the poems in this volume. They subject the daily accidents of forgetting (when �words play dead�), the chaos of �common intimate things� and the remembering of �trivia� (the origin of the word in �Roman crossroads where three roads meet� fascinated Ramanujan) to the structures of poetry, its perfected symmetries and repetitions of line, stanza, rhythm and shape: �dreams like poems get lost/ if their tails are not knotted/ for memory.�

These poems are poised in an uncertain parenthesis in time, an interim of waiting or inaction, in the margins and interstices of encounters and intimacies: �I waited, as always/ for someone to arrive from somewhere/ and take me somewhere else.� These islands of time are also where purposelessness is savoured for its own sake, creating peculiar modes of introspection, �as night broods on the eggs of day�. In �Daily Drivel: a monologue�, the speaker, in the temporary absence of his companion, sits down for �ten whole minutes/ doing nothing. But you went/ singlemindedly to see Othello,/ deepening your sense of life,/ while I scattered my hours on the wind not even wishing/ they were precious seed/ that could sprout a harvest/ by springtime.�

These brackets of time also hold in them a stark sense of the cost of life, its inevitable burn-out � �the ash of living�. Keith Harrison remembers Ramanujan as a �sane and joyful spirit�, like Shakespeare�s Feste. But Ramanujan describes the act of writing poetry as �actively composing � or decomposing�. �Oranges�, this collection�s last poem, is a catalogue of decompositions at the heart of living: �Bacteria thrive in the kissing mouth,/ the dying brain. Just wait,/ you too will live again.�


Edited By P.N. Chopra and Prabha Chopra
Vision, Rs 995

Vallabhbhai Patel�s daughter, Maniben Patel, was his constant companion, close confidante and de facto secretary. She is thus eminently qualified for the job of Patel�s diarist, offering a blow-by-blow account of her father�s political activities. The diary covers the momentous years of the freedom struggle, when Patel was loyal to Gandhi, and also the early years of independence when his differences with Nehru came to a head after Gandhi�s death.

To Patel belongs the credit of liquidating all the 562 princely states and integrating them into independent India, despite the ever-vacillating Nehru. Maniben�s diary refers to her father�s proverbial differences with Nehru on several issues. One was the integration of Hyderabad during which the despatch of troops was delayed by two days because of Nehru�s vacillation. Patel finally stopped Nehru from referring the Hyderabad issue to the United Nations and got into the rescue act with remarkable alacrity.

Nehru also bungled the Kashmir issue, according to Maniben. Though Patel was both the minister-in-charge of the states and deputy prime minister, Nehru did not allow him to tackle the Kashmir problem even as Sheikh Abdullah meddled in army operations. Patel was unhappy that Nehru had taken the Kashmir issue to the UN, which tied India�s hands. Unlike Nehru, Patel was a man of action and possessed an iron will.

Patel also slammed Nehru�s Tibet policy. Nehru was not perturbed by Chinese invasion of Tibet. Later, he was caught napping during the Chinese attack on India. At the foreign affairs committee meeting he also blamed Nehru�s Nepal policy and pointed out that nothing had been done to rescue the situation in Nepal after settling the Nepalese king in India. According to Patel, Nehru also �spoiled India�s relations with America after his visit there, by speaking on certain matters which annoyed the Americans.�

Patel was not happy with the Nehru-Liaquat pact, which had been unable to stem the exodus of Hindus from East Pakistan. Maniben notes that her father was particularly � worried about the assault on Hindu girls and their forcible conversion to Islam.� Patel told Pakistan that if it was unable to stop the influx of refugees from East Bengal, it would have to surrender some part of its territory where the refugees could be settled. But Nehru dismissed this as �nonsense.�

The diary gives hints about other Congress leaders too. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, minister of agriculture in Nehru�s cabinet, comes across as a politician of dubious integrity. For one thing, he sought to widen the gulf between Nehru and Patel. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is believed to have had secret dealings with the Cabinet Mission without the knowledge of the Congress working committee. He allegedly supported the Muslim influx from across the border. He also exploited his close friendship with Nehru.

It is surprising that Subhas Chandra Bose, who played an outstanding role during that period, is barely mentioned in the diary. A Gandhi adherent, Patel was known for his strong opposition to Bose. He had once written to Sarat Bose that Subhas�s re-election as Congress president would be harmful for the country. He was a leading member of the Congress old guard that had thwarted Bose�s attempts to assert himself as Congress president.

Maniben�s diary is ostensibly a daily record of engagements and meetings. It may appeal to admirers of Patel, but is likely to appear uninteresting to others. The volume could do with an index. P.N. Chopra�s introduction is quite informative.


Edited By Raju G.C. Thomas and Amit Gupta
Sage, Rs 595

May 1998 was indeed a turning point for south Asia. The summer heat in the sandy deserts of Rajasthan increased even further when India conducted five tests at Pokhran. In response, Pakistan also carried out a series of nuclear blasts at Chagai in Baluchistan. Why did India and Pakistan go for the nuclear tests? The book under review attempts to answer this question.

This collection of 13 essays by American and Indian political scientists eschews the �strategic culture� approach, which assumes that cultural norms and religious ideology shape the defence strategy of a nation. In contrast, the essays of the volume could be categorized under the �realpolitik� approach, which asserts that power politics is the key determinant of a country�s nuclear policy. The essayists belong to Hans Norgenthau�s �power-game school��, which claims that in the international arena, polities seek power for their own sake.

It is the hunger for political status and not economic factors (as the classical Marxists would make us believe), that is the principal imperative in shaping the contours of a country�s national security programme. This comes out clearly from Farah Zarah�s article.

Pakistan�s decision to explode nuclear bombs was a reactive attempt to respond to India�s nuclear superiority. The decision to go nuclear was not taken by the country�s military behind closed doors. Enraged by India�s superior status as a nuclear power, it was the Pakistani public which exerted pressure on it leaders and compelled them to develop the bomb.

What could possibly have prodded India to conduct the nuclear tests in the late Nineties? Sunit Ganguly, professor of political science at the University of New York, writes that in 1995, the Congress government was prepared to carry out nuclear tests. However, American satellites caught the Indians red handed and forced P.V. Narasimha Rao to abandon his plans. Rao�s initial decision to proceed with the nuclear programme was the culmination of attempts by successive Indian governments from 1990 onwards to accelerate research on nuclear technology.

Stephen Cohen and Mohammed Ayub discuss the factors that were responsible for altering the pace of nuclear research in India during the last decade of the 20th century. Following the Baudelian framework, Cohen classifies the causative factors into three levels: long term determinants, intermediate mid-term factors and short-term variables. In Cohen�s analysis, the medium term variable proved to be crucial in India�s case.

In the Eighties, India reigned supreme in south Asia. With China being deterred by the Soviet Union and Pakistan maintaining a low profile, this favourable environment resulted in the promulgation of the Indira doctrine, which was an Indianized version of the Monroe doctrine. The core message was that no Western power should be allowed to intervene in south Asia, and if any country required aid against external or internal enemies, then it should turn to India.

However, the Nineties brought about a change in this scenario. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant that China was free to focus its attention on India. The United States, which was now the world�s only superpower, began paying greater attention to Beijing rather than to New Delhi. To make matters worse, the mid-Nineties witnessed the emergence of Sino-Pakistani cooperation in the military field. According to Cohen, a desperate India decided to counter this by going nuclear.

Once the bombs are produced, delivery vehicles are required. Dinshaw Mistry shows how India�s ballistic missile programme derives technical knowhow from India�s space programme. The manufacture and launching of the Agni and the Prithvi missiles has been possible only because of the Indian Space Research Organization�s successful launching of weather satellites. Clausewlitz�s watertight compartmentalization of peace and war preparation is no longer applicable in the present world.

The neo-realist contributors of this admirable book provide a summary of south Asia�s nuclear programme and examines its achievements. Despite the destruction that they can cause, nukes are a necessary evil. Instead of code-naming the successful Pokhran blasts as �Buddha Smiling�, it would have been more apt for New Delhi to name them as �Devil Grinning�.


If you leave out the fly-by-night Indian publishers who come and go with the seasons, how professional are the established houses 50 years after independence? Do they have systems of checks and counter-checks to ensure the best quality in editorial and production values and in marketing techniques? Are those who occupy the top slots interested in ideas or are they first generation businessmen who have, willy-nilly, found themselves here?

Some time in the mid-Seventies, a Calcutta based national daily brought in a retired executive from a multinational company to revive its Delhi edition. Questions were then asked whether someone far removed from the world of publishing could do much. Not surprisingly, most people felt vindicated when things did not work out.

This was about 30 years ago when there was still a difference between selling aspirin and selling a newspaper or a book. Since then the dividing line between consumer goods and ideas has collapsed, so much so that nobody really cares any more; and the conventional corporate wisdom now is that a smart salesman should be able to market anything � from chips to books.

Soon after this fiasco, Macmillan India got a top finance man from a paints company to head its operations and the first thing he did was to de-emphasize the importance of books, and diversify into other profitable ventures like new print technologies and so on. Macmillan, however, did make money but it did not come from publishing; and certainly not from the kind of publishing that it was known for. Undeterred by these failed experiments, other companies brought in chief executive officers from cigarette and chocolate companies with disastrous consequences. Hence, the question, why?

The first and most obvious explanation was that there was not much upward mobility within the firm. This could be because the right talent with an interest in books wasn�t there or simply because the firm wanted a breakthrough in sales and profits that they believed could only come through an infusion of fresh talent.

And the search for this talent was left to placement agencies with little or no experience of the world of books. They went by the conventional yardstick: academic qualifications, years of experience and recommendations. None of the agencies realized that real talent was not to be found in paper qualifications or fluency in spoken English, but rather in the intellectual stamina a candidate possessed even after leaving the university. Does he still read, and if so what? How aware is he of the world around him?.

Moreover, book publishing has seldom attracted a great deal of talent, certainly much less than the media or even the teaching profession. Salaries are lower and work conditions far less congenial. If there are any compensations, they are easier access to books, added to which is the fact that the publisher spends a great deal of time in the company of scholars, which is usually good for his ego.

Many publishing houses nowadays organize in-house training courses for recruits. To an extent this helps but as an eminent European publisher has remarked �there is no training that will make a publisher; one ought to have taste, literary discrimination and a grand passion for the work undertaken, along with the patience of an all-forgiving lover, since by definition, creative talent is unbalanced.� Where do you find this talent in a culture where money takes all?


By Manjushree Thapa
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Manjushree Thapa 's The Tutor of History claims to be the first major novel in English from Nepal. This is a valiant and expansive effort to depict the interconnectedness of several lives in a complex society and polity. But Nepalese fiction in English would still have some way to go before it arrives. Thapa�s book is a historical romance set in contemporary Nepal. The eponymous tutor is Rishi Parajuli, a lonely and disillusioned communist who gives private tuition in history. At the heart of the novel is his relationship with Binita Dahal, a quiet and self-effacing young widow who runs a teashop and has managed to minimalize her demands from life. There is also the seriously alcoholic Giridhar Adhikari, chaiman of the People�s Party district committee, and a good British Gurkha, Om Gurung. The political backdrop is Nepal�s struggle for parliamentary democracy. The writing is evocative and intelligent, though given to flat reportage at times: �The morning was frigid. When he left the old brick house the city appeared like a chimera, cloaked in mist. He entered its formlessness...On the streets dogs curled to sleep. Rishi smelled vapours of tea, dust, piss.�

By Vinod Verma
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Vinod Verma�s Eating Right The Natural Way: Ayurvedic Recipes For A Healthy Life believes, with the Charaka Samhita, that �one should eat warm, unctuous and non-antagonistic food in proper quantity, after the previous food is digested, in a favourable place with all the favourable accessories, not too fast, not too slow, not while talking or laughing, with full concentration, and after due consideration of one�s age and constitution.� This is solemn, virtuous and extremely frugal eating, keeping in mind such concepts as desa, kala and prana. Quite forbidding.

By Ranga Rao
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Ranga Rao�s The River Is Three-Quarters Full is described by its author as �legend-inspired�; it is �fiction with sumptuous infrastructural debts to chronicles�. Rao � whose Fowl-Filcher (1987) was one of the first crop of novels to be brought out by Penguin India � has set this historical novel in British India, delving into English and Indian archives to chronicle the rise of the East India Company in the the 1830s. The locale is the Gentoo (Telugu) region of the Coromandel coast. At the centre of the Indo-European panorama is an Englishwoman, Grace Clare, who hopes to find a man for herself in the Empire. While Grace struggles to come to terms with an alien land, a catastrophic famine hits a number of villages near the river Krishna forcing the natives into an exodus. �The Chenchu princess lay in her fibre-string cot, her collyrium-lined eyes semi-shut; her thick and glossy black hair was dishevelled, though tied up with a peacock feather. Her bulging tummy was covered with a woollen kambali.�



Self-serving concern

Sir � Mamata Banerjee is obviously not thinking of the people of south Calcutta, who voted for her, while blocking the eviction drive along the Tolly�s nullah, �Mamata brings Afghan agony home�(Sept 25). The eviction drive is necessary if the Metro railway is to be extended till Garia. This extension will act as a boon for the people living in the area. The squatters, who had no business being there in the first place, need to be expeditiously removed and relocated. It is obvious that having lost face in the elections, Banerjee is itching to get back into the limelight. But such antics are not going to endear her to any one, least of all the electorate. There is an urgent need to extend the Metro railway and playing political games at the cost of the comfort of the common man is just not on. As for the mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, while his initial stand should be praised, has he forgotten that last year he had set up a roadside stall at Kalakar Street to protest against the government�s move to evict hawkers from the vicinity of the Satyanarayan Park AC market. Double standards seem to be the order of the day.

Yours faithfully,
Sunil Garodia, via email

Wrong focus

Sir � I had expected Bishakha De Sarkar to list the atrocities that the United States of America has perpetrated upon various countries in the attempt to explain why the US was on the world�s hate list (�Why the world loves to hate America�, Sept 16). After all, it is the US foreign policy which is the reason behind the universal hatred for the US. Instead of the expected denouncement of the US�s foreign policies, I read an extremely unflattering and incongruous statement made by the former foreign secretary, J. N. Dixit � �An average Muslim looks at the comforts and riches of the Western society and feels bad about it.�

It is not the Muslim alone who holds the view that the US is the land of milk and honey. The average citizen of any third world country also perceives the US in a similar light. Also, the man being considered the prime suspect for the terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, a Muslim, happens to be an heir to a fortune of $ 350 million. So one cannot explain away his hatred for the US by bracketing him with other Muslims who supposedly feel bad about the �riches� of the US. What was required from Dixit as a former foreign secretary was an analysis of the actual reason behind the anti-American sentiment, and not a moral and psychological judgment of Muslims.

The explanation put forward by Ashok Mitra in the article, �Pipe down, America� (Sept 18), for the terrorist attacks was a welcome change after De Sarkar�s article. At a time when everyone is paying lip service to the US, Mitra stands apart for refusing to sacrifice honesty or logic in an attempt to validate the US stand against terrorism. We have been condemning the attack and the terrorists involved in them without asking why the world hates the US. Sarkar could learn a lesson or two from Mitra. His use of Shylock�s words, �The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction,� could not be more appropriate for the current situation.

Yours faithfully,
Mehnaaz Shami, Calcutta

Sir � It was disappointing to read the comment made by the former foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit, stating that an average Muslim channels his relative deprivation of material comforts into a cultural-religio�social movement (�Why the world loves to hate America�). According to Dixit, an average Muslim hates the US because he cannot afford Coke. Dixit further displayed his ignorance by stating that contemporary antipathy to the US can be traced back to the crusades. America was discovered long after the crusades ended.

The main reasons behind the antipathy to the US is its unstinting support to Israel, the physical presence of its armed forces on other people�s land, which is resented by the local population, and its collective punishment of large populations in west Asia. The resentment against these policies has found expression in heinous acts of violence. It was shocking to read such racist comments being made by a former foreign secretary. It makes us question his contribution to the decisionmaking process with regard to foreign policies.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, via email

Sir � The article, �Why the world loves to hate America�, made for a very disappointing read. The illogical argument put forward by the writer and the incongruous statements made by the Indian diplomat, J. N. Dixit, made manifest a lack of understanding of the actual reason behind the attacks.

In contrast, Brinda Karat�s article, �New war against old foes� (Sept 24), was particularly insightful. It aptly related terrorism to a backdrop of social history and geo-politics. Instead of de-contextualizing terrorist acts as sporadic, rootless happenings, one needs to make an educated observation about how terrorism unfolds as a continuous process over decades.

Throughout history, one man�s act of terrorism has been another man�s right to dissidence and independence. What is missing in Bishakha De Sarkar�s article � the real cause of the anti-America feeling shared by most countries � was clearly explained through Karat�s.

Yours faithfully,
Debjani Chakrabarti, Mississippi


Sir � According to Parimal Bhattacharya�s article, �Conserving the future� (Sept 13), the improvement of civic qualities in the city is certainly necessary, but how can one ignore the heritage of a city in the process? It is no surprise that the indifferent stand of the mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, regarding the classification of Rabindranath Tagore�s home as a heritage building is being supported by the city�s entrepreneurs and realtors. These people have no respect for the state or its culture. But they do love the resources of the state which they are milking for their own selfish benefit.

While the cleaning up of the Tolly�s nullah should remain on the agenda of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Tagore�s 10, Sudder Street home should not be neglected. The importance of any building associated with an eminent personality should not be based on the number of years the person had lived there. What should be taken into account is the relevance of the place to the person concerned. The Sudder Street house played a major role in young Tagore�s life. A sunrise witnessed from the verandah of that house is related by him in Jibansmriti. The poem Nirjharer Swapnabhanga was written on the very day that he saw the sunrise. A house which has played such an important part in Tagore�s writing should not be sacrificed simply because it serves the interests of realtors and builders.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir � It is with increasing frequency that one hears the declaration of various old buildings in the city as �heritage� buildings on the ground that some renowned person lived in or even visited the building. The latest on the list is the Sudder Street house in which Rabindranath Tagore once lived, the Bishop�s house and a house owned by the first chairman of the CMC. The state government and the CMC, encouraged by certain �intellectuals�, are vying with one another in the rush to identify various �heritage� buildings. But who will maintain these buildings? Parimal Bhattacharya in his article, �Conserving the future�, correctly says that instead of spending lakhs of rupees on maintaining them, the CMC should use the funds to improve the ecology and civic amenities of the city. If the CMC is indeed concerned about architecture, it should first renovate the dilapidated state-run courts, schools, colleges and hospitals before acquiring heritage buildings.

Yours faithfully,
A.C. Chakraborty, Calcutta

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