Editorial 1/ Saffron threat
Editorial 2/ Dumped
Out of the ashes
Book Review/ Mahatma versus Gandhi
Book Review/ East meets West
Book Review/ Portrait of a journalist
Book Review/ Conscripted into silence
Bookwise/ Going to the pictures
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

An able prime minister always minds his back garden and looks beyond his garden fence to the world outside. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee can feel satisfied that his main problem across the border, Pakistan, seems to be sorting itself out, thanks largely to the pressures operating on Mr Pervez Musharraf, the president of that country. But Mr Vajpayee�s own back garden, the sangh parivar, may become the biggest obstacle to his programmes and their implementation. The reference here is not to the entire sangh parivar but to the more extreme elements within it which are completely out of tune with the central objectives of Mr Vajpayee�s prime ministership. The most vocal and consistent opposition to the prime minister has come from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and on the issue of building a temple to Ram on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. Those that run the VHP have announced in no uncertain terms that they are unwilling to accept the prime minister�s appeal to put the Ram mandir on the backburner and to concentrate on the fight against terrorism. They have declared their intention to go ahead with their plans to build the temple. This cannot make things easy for Mr Vajpayee, who would like to have support from all the constituents of the ideological formation to which he himself belongs.

Mr Vajpayee has successfully demonstrated that he is capable of using his consummate political skills to keep together a coalition government and to give to India a relatively stable government. This balance and the stability can be easily disturbed by an agitation led by a Hindu fundamentalist organization to build a temple on a site already visited by controversy. Mr Vajpayee cannot afford this. The price of disruption is too high. It could lead to the breakdown of law and order in Uttar Pradesh and to large scale communal violence. Such a situation will not only discourage investors but will also create serious tensions within the coalition and may even lead to its breakdown. Mr Vajpayee has held the coalition together by keeping Hindutva outside his agenda and by ascribing top priority to governance and economic development. Ideology has taken a back seat to running the country efficiently. This agenda has not been altogether successful, but a militant Hindu agitation focussing on a Ram mandir in Ayodhya can completely derail the agenda.

There is one more factor which cannot possibly be far away from Mr Vajpayee�s mind. Mr Musharraf, a leader with no major stakes in democracy, has declared his intention to come down heavily against religious fundamentalists and militants in Pakistan. He wants to keep state policy and religion completely separate. It is not unreasonable to expect that Mr Vajpayee should also rein in the activities of all religious fundamentalists who spread the poison of hatred. The National Democratic Alliance has kept its policies, except perhaps in the sphere of history textbooks, free from the influence of Hindutva. A Ram mandir will put the clock back on this matter. Mr Vajpayee thus has to hold firm; he cannot allow India�s secular image to be tarnished under pressure from the VHP.


Perhaps, after all, partners in the National Democratic Alliance cannot be taken for granted. That is the signal that the Janata Dal (United) in Karnataka and the Samata Party in Manipur have given the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Karnataka episode is just a small blip so far, given that the event concerned is just a Lok Sabha byelection in the Kanakapura constituency. The Janata Dal (U) has chosen to support the former prime minister, Mr H.D. Deve Gowda, president of the Janata Dal (Secular), who has always been virulently anti-NDA. It would seem that there are plans for consolidating the Janata Dal base. There is mounting pressure on Mr Deve Gowda and Mr Ramakrishna Hegde, leader of the Janata Dal (U), to forget the past and get together once again. A merger of the two parties would mean a strong regional contender, something the Congress may not relish. But the real loser would be the BJP, which is unlikely to go far without an electoral partner.

There is worse news for the BJP from Manipur. The Samata Party, close to the heart of the NDA, has refused to run with its major partner in the forthcoming assembly elections. The rank smell of breach of trust hangs about the BJP in that state. According to the former chief minister, Mr Radhabinod Koijam, in the people�s perception, the BJP had betrayed the state�s interests by signing the ceasefire agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). Besides, Mr Koijam has still not got over his rancour at the BJP for helping the downfall of the Samata Party-led NDA government in Imphal. For the BJP, Mr George Fernandes�s damage control exercises at the time merely put off the moment of reckoning. These are not serious setbacks for the BJP. But neither are they happy portents. The party is still a little fidgety about its standing in Uttar Pradesh, although its various damage control and profile polishing exercises over the last two years have given it more confidence. Elections are always times when select portions of the past come back to haunt big brother parties. The forthcoming polls are no exception. Without an alliance in Manipur, the BJP is sadly depleted in the Northeast. The party will be placing quite a bit on the stakes in the assembly elections.


We have to brace ourselves for the experience. Each year, about this time, when the weather turns pleasant, expatriate economists, much like the migratory birds from Siberia, visit the country for a week or a couple of weeks. The shortness of their stay they make up by the length of their pontification. They cannot, they complain, show their face in Washington, New York and Chicago. The shame of it, the pace of economic reforms is so slow in India. Admittedly, the reforms till now have done little good to the country: agricultural growth has fallen behind the rate of population growth, industrial growth is inching back towards zero, and exports have actually fallen.

But all such misfortune, in the view of the non-resident economists, is because the pace of our reforms is excruciatingly slow, our government has not been able to reduce deficit financing. Public investment continues to be unbridled. Privatization of state-owned industrial and commercial units is of a piffling nature. The World Trade Organization prescriptions are not being religiously followed. Grossly unfair anti-dumping measures are enforced on steel and other intermediate imports; quantitative restrictions on agricultural imports have not been fully suspended either.

Foreign investment is still subject to stray embargoes, such as on foreign entry into the defence industry. Protection of uneconomic industrial units is a habit yet to be dispensed with. Reforms in the financial sector are in a total mess. Several banks still remain in the public sector. Major public financial institutions are yet to be freed and brought into the private domain. Several scandals have rocked the Unit Trust of India; but that is because this agency has not been handed over to private soldiers of fortune. You cannot blame too much these brave soldiers if out of sheer frustration, they occasionally organize some hanky-panky which renders into paupers hundreds of thousands of hapless householders.

Even fiscal policy continues to be retrograde; company taxes have not been slashed to a satisfactory extent, and subsidies are being maintained on a wide front, including for, what nonsense, the public distribution system, a phenomenon which affects adversely private incentive. Labour legislation lags behind, a hiring and firing policy is not yet in place, and wage rates keep going up from year to year.

The patriotic visitors take time off from their personal engagements to discuss the Indian imbroglio with distinguished members of the chambers of commerce and industry. They know exactly what is wrong with the nation�s economy: we have accepted in principle the doctrine of economic reforms, but we have not pursued it the whole hog.

Well, we are by nature a polite people. There must be no deviation from civility in our treatment of the migratory cousins. Where we have however to draw the line is with respect to their prescriptions for curing India�s economic malaise. True, we have not followed the reform measures set down by the Washington Consensus to the hilt. But just look at Argentina. It has dotted all the i�s and crossed all the t�s of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund-WTO-The American administration directives in the minutest details. This has done it no good at all. The bosses from North America wanted Argentina to have zero deficit budgets. The country-government complied. They wanted the Argentinian working class to accept severe wage cuts. The workers agreed to do so. The fund ordered Argentina to link the peso with the dollar at 1:1 parity; the obedient national government did as it was bid.

That was not all. The government was ordered to freeze the payment of pensions and cut back expenditure on social services by 70 per cent. Done. But enough was not yet enough; there had to be a retrenchment of labour to the extent of 30 per cent in the aggregate in the course of 2001. Unless the government of the Republic of Argentina signed on the dotted line on all issues, the Washington Consensus would not any longer regard the country-government as the bluest of its blue eyed boys.

Should the government reject all the extra conditions that were set forth, no additional flow of foreign accommodation would be granted to the Argentinians. The Argentine government was in a pickle. The total external debt of the nation already exceeded 130 billion dollars, and the service payments on account of such outstanding borrowings had reached 12 billion dollars annually. At the other end, though, the country had exhausted its foreign exchange holdings. It was promised in mid-2000, by the fund and its associates, additional foreign exchange accommodation of the order of 26 billion dollars, provided the conditions, spelled out above, were accepted.

The government accepted the conditions. To no avail. The economic recession, already on for the past four years, now entered into grim lower depths. National production fell by 30 per cent over the year, wage cuts proceeded beyond 25 per cent. With pension funds withheld, the middle class were in direst distress. The government even pounced upon private bank accounts to meet its obligatory expenditure towards honouring foreign debt obligations.

This is where the cookie crumbled. The IMF and its friends advanced an extra 26 billion dollars of foreign money to Argentina, but the interest and repayment stipulations were so fine-tuned that the outgo of funds over the year from Argentina added upto as much as 27 billion dollars. That is to say, the situation was transformed into what is known as a Ponzi phenomenon. Ponzi was a celebrated Italian crook of a moneylender from whom an impoverished citizen had to borrow each year, thanks to the laws of usury, an amount higher than what he owed to Ponzi at the beginning of the year simply to meet the burden of interest.

The Argentinians now find that the agreement they signed with the fund in 2000 has given them less income, less employment, less availability of goods and services, more intense suffering, and, at the same time, their net foreign liabilities have risen to eerie heights. If we wanted a perfect illustration of that quaint Latin expression, non sequitur, here it is.

The Argentinians, all of a sudden, reached the end of their tether. They went the whole hog with the Washington Consensus reforms; the end-point is hunger and pauperization. They have therefore made up their mind: out, out, Washington Consensus. The Argentinian people have revolted en masse and suspended payments on account of external borrowings. They have driven out the finance minister who had been imposed upon them by Washington DC. They have rejected four presidents pro tem in a row in the course of a single fortnight just to make sure that the country ceases, once and for all, to be an American lackey.

The Argentinians have in effect repudiated foreign debt and yet they have survived. It is the United States administration and the international financial agencies it controls which will see to it that Argentina survives, for otherwise the implications would be grave not only for Latin America but for the entire global economy.

Are not we, Indians, entitled to be slightly nostalgic? In 1991, we too faced a situation of imminent foreign debt default. We shuddered at the prospect and surrendered to the Fund-World Bank-US government trinity. There was, we were advised, no alternative. Now, roughly a decade later, Argentina is proving that TINA was a bogus bogey. Provided you are patriotic enough and courageous enough, you can survive even without capitulating to foreign advice � for the matter to non-resident advice too. And total capitulation does not prevent doom; it accelerates the advent of doomsday.


By S.S. Gill,
Rupa, Rs 295

A statesman or a saint? With a hint of trepidation, S.S. Gill takes upon himself the arduous task of selecting the most appropriate adjective for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The schism is wide and deconstructing a personality, who, in his lifetime has achieved mythical proportions, usually entails an accusation of sacrilege. Such are the snares that lay before Gill in tracing the �sublime failure� of his childhood icon. Gill tries, and is sufficiently successful, in presenting an unbiased, scientific analysis. He is penetrating and strikingly shorn of affectations, providing some startling insights into a character otherwise distanced by hero-worship.

High school history texts single out Gandhi as the harbinger of India�s independence from the British. The contribution of any other freedom fighter has always seemed secondary. Besides, the larger-than-life image that slowly shapes up demolishes any doubt that might arise regarding the feasibility of Gandhi�s means to the end, the flaws inherent in the nature of his freedom struggle. Gill identifies this as the grey area, a slippery zone veering between Gandhi�s spiritual belief and his conviction in transforming it into a mass phenomenon.

Gill works on the premise that Gandhi�s political vision was essentially cluttered by his heightened spiritual dogmas. Consequently, he led �one of the greatest mass movements in history without outlining a cohesive perspective to give a focus and sense of direction to such a movement�. Spiritual inspiration would be his motivating force and he would never feel the need for an organized leadership at the helm. Such an individualistic stance would frustrate his co-workers, like Nehru, who preferred concrete steps rather than impulsive decisions in routing out British power. Gandhi opposed use of force, which Nehru identified as necessary for disrupting the exploiting class.

Politics, for Gandhi was an extension of his belief in moksha, or self-realization, the attainment of which was his ultimate aim. The quest for moksha necessitated the cleansing of soul and body through an unfailing belief in truth and non-violence and reducing physical needs to the minimal. �He believed that a single perfect satyagrahi could win freedom for India,� writes Gill. The conviction that his internal purity alone could transform the external world was flawed. For instance, he overlooked the volatile socio-political situation that thwarted a uniform non-violent movement across the country. If the non-violent movement failed, it had to be due to his moral failings.

Gill�s analysis on Gandhi�s brahmacharya (celibacy) is incisive, yet sympathetic and enlightening. A lot of controversy had dogged Gandhi for his �sexual experiments�, carried out at his ashramas. The author does not censure him, but provides a scientific and logical explanation for such acts. Gandhi�s striving for mastery over carnal desires proved futile. The rigorous tests to which he exposed himself and his female companions were a manifestation of his near obsession with celibacy.

While breaking a myth or two about Gandhi, Gill�s comparative study also portrays him as a colossal figure in intellectual terms. His identification with the masses coupled with an ascetic lifestyle presented him as a saint-like social reformer. At the fag end of his career, this image suited other leaders to sideline him from mainstream politics. This is also the moment of failure for Gill�s Gandhi. His vision, however noble, has proved brittle. For Gandhi, it had been a gnawing sense of being not understood.

In the concluding chapter, Gill claims to have �dealt with Gandhi, not Gandhism�. He does not sound shallow, as he has been able to delineate the latent contradictions and the multiple hues in this great historical personality. What has endured is Gandhian thought, the man has rarely been examined.


By Andrew Mango,
John Murray, �18

In the Seventies and the Eighties a popular question on the Calcutta quiz circuit was, �What do Cicero, George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi and Kemal Ataturk have in common?� The answer was, of course, that these four figures in the history of the world, separated by time and space, were all known as �the father of the country.� Most school children learn about Washington and Gandhi; a few may have come across the name of Cicero from Shakespeare�s Julius Caesar; but Gandhi�s contemporary Mustafa Kemal remains, for various reasons, the least known of them all. Modern Italy is unrecognizable from the Rome of Cicero�s day (though some would trace its republican ideals to him), and the modern superpower of the late 20th century, a far cry from the 13 colonies on the edge of European civilization. As for India, except for pietistic ceremonies, little remains of the vision of the Mahatma in our brash and consumerist society. But modern Turkey, the state born out of the shattered Ottoman Empire, shoved and pummelled into modernity by Kemal, still bears his stamp. That he was well aware of his role is reflected in the surname he chose: Ataturk, or Father of the Turks.

English-speaking readers have not had access to a good biography of Ataturk since H.C. Armstrong�s wildly inaccurate Grey Wolf. Biographies by Turkish writers have been hagiographies, which hide the complexities of the man and the contradictions of the state he created. Andrew Mango�s comprehensive, admiring but not uncritical study is, therefore, to be welcomed. As he writes: �Ataturk is known today as a radical modernizer and westernizer. The description is true but not sufficient.� According to Mango, he imported Western practices into Turkey in order to bring his country into parity with the richest countries of the world, but his aim was participation on equal terms not imitation. His vision was thus optimistic and humanist, derived from the ideas of the French Enlightenment. Yet his practice often fell short of it. Mango is good on both Ataturk�s ideals and the ruthlessness with which he implemented them.

The Turkish state that he founded suffers from this contradiction. Alone among the major Muslim states it is secular, has full rights for women, is a member of NATO, and would like to be a member of the European Union. Yet its appalling human rights record, periods of military dictatorship and brutal suppression of the Kurds would make most Western democracies hesitate before including Turkey in their ranks. Its successes and failures can both be understood through the career of Ataturk.

Mango�s achievement is to combine a political biography with a portrait of Mustafa Kemal, the man. He was born in 1881 as plain Mustafa in Salonika, then on the Western fringe of the Ottoman Empire. Like Napoleon and Hitler, with whom he shared certain character traits, he came from the periphery, rather than the centre. With his fair hair and blue eyes, there has been speculation that he had some Slav forbears. Whatever the truth, all his life he thought of himself as a Turk. He was born in what has been called the belle epoque of European civilization, but in a multi-racial Empire which was six hundred years old and beginning to show its age.

Mango is good at portraying the context of the reign of Abdulhamit II. It was not the Ottoman state as the Muslim community, which was behind the times: by the late 19th century Ottoman Turkey had acquired a military and civilian infrastructure based on the European model. This puts Kemal�s modernizing project in perspective: he did not start on a tabula rasa as some of his apologists have claimed. Mustafa�s birth and upbringing in the cosmopolitan city of Salonika may have influenced his wider outlook, anti-clericalism and acceptance of Western ideas. He joined a military school and trained as an officer, partly because it was the best way to get a modern education. It was at school, and then at the Staff College, that he found the companionship of many of the nationalistic young officers who were to found the Society of Union and Progress, whom the world knows as the Young Turks. Together they would clamour for major reforms, and form the backbone of the army during World War I. Mango brings out the importance of this network which would sustain Ataturk in his modernizing plans after the downfall of the Caliphate. Mango strips away the layers of myth to show that Mustafa�s role in the Young Turk revolution was rather less than has been supposed.

It was Mustafa Kemal�s role in the Tripoli campaign and the defence of Gallipolli which brought him to prominence. However, he was virtually unknown outside until the War of Independence, in which he worsted the designs of the victorious Allies to partition Turkey. As a Turkish nationalist he wanted a homogeneous state, and bade farewell to the Empire in the Middle East: yet Turkey was the only one of the defeated powers which had the Paris Settlement revised in its favour. Ataturk played the dominant role in securing the core of Turkish state by dividing the Allies, but at the cost of terrible bloodshed, particularly among the Greeks of Smyrna. Mango is careful to give credit to loyal subordinates like Ismet Inonu and Rauf Orbay.

Most people have a vague idea of Kemal�s reforms: in particular, the separation of state and religion, the reform of the alphabet and the forbidding of the veil for women. Mango puts them in the context of his rather ill-digested ideas derived from the French Enlightenment, and points out the contradictions between precept and practice. He does not gloss over Kemal�s growing authoritarianism, which led to �measured terror�. Moreover, he did leave the structure of a democracy in the form of a parliament, which was never a rubber stamp.

Mango never hides the faults of Ataturk the man: the liberator of women, who was unable to sustain an equal relationship with them, the relentless drinking with cronies, and the bizarre ideas about the ethnic origin and language of the Turkish people.

Ataturk has been criticized on three main grounds � that he did not establish democracy, that his secularism divided Turkish society, and that he suppressed ethnic diversity and denied the rights of the Kurdish people. Mango answers these charges. In the absence of agreement about fundamentals of parliamentary democracy, his �enlightened authoritarianism left reasonable space for free private lives�. It has been suggested that, like Egypt, he could have allowed room for Islam in the governance of the republic: this depends on one�s view of modern civilization, which was shaped by anti-clerical forces. (Recent developments in Islamic countries highlight his prescience in this regard.)

Mango does not provide a wholly satisfactory answer to the charge of suppressing the Kurds; while he needed them in the war against the foreigners, Ataturk only talked of autonomy, and in so doing bequeathed a perennial problem to his successors.

It is difficult to fault Mango�s assessment of Ataturk and his work: �that East and West can meet on the ground of universal secular values and mutual respect, that nationalism is compatible with peace, that human reason is the only true guide in life. It is an optimistic message and its validity will always be in doubt. But it is an idea that commands respect.�


By Anita Pratap,
Viking, Rs 295

Among other things, the Kargil conflict has brought reporters to the forefront. One lady reporter in particular has proved that �anything you can do, I can do better� and with good reason. People suddenly have became aware, the medium being television, that reporting from a flashpoint is not an exclusive male job. And yet for years Anita Pratap has been courageously pursuing the job. Island of Blood is her memoir of a career in journalism, produced, as memoirs go, at a reasonably early age, but readable and racy all the same.

Of all the episodes recounted in Island of Blood, Anita�s experiences while reporting from Sri Lanka make the greatest impact. Her efforts to reach Jaffua read like a thriller. Certainly, she was never far away from danger in Sri Lanka. At one stage she was caught by the Indian peace-keeping force, and would have been deported but for the intervention of a major whose sense of wonder overcame his sense of duty. She also emerged unscathed from a number of crossfires. This is remarkable considering the number of victims Sri Lankan gunfights have claimed.

Anita Pratap introduces her adventures by contrasting them with her personal life � an early marriage, one child, divorce, a single mother for 17 years, re-marriage to a Norwegian diplomat. It seems strange that a young lady who was afraid of creepy crawlies should become the journalist who plunges into horrifying situations. She brings a sense of humour to both types of experiences. But then that is the stuff memoirs are made of.

Her interview of Pirabhakaran was something of a coup. He was not the type to give interviews. Yet Pratap interviewed him not once but several times and gives a very objective picture. She does not gloss over the fact that she is dealing with a mean man. Particularly revealing is the interview in which she asks Pirabhakaran directly if he tortured and killed his number two, Mahatiya. It takes a lot of courage to sit inside the tiger�s den and ask a question like that.

The Sri Lankan section of the book, �Sri Lanka: A Ravaged Nation�, towers over the others. The Afghanistan and Ayodhya episodes do not quite take off. The last part of the work, �The Survivors: The Human Face of Tragedy�, sees a bit of pontification on the part of the author which could have been avoided in order to preserve the tone of the work. If Island of Blood has any drawback it is this tendency of the author to lecture her readers.

But the reader should not mind, given the fare Anita Pratap serves up, and the right she has earned to judge after living through such experiences. In one of the last chapters the reader also gets a poignant insight into filmdom and a true tale which can be rated in the Psycho class of horror stories. Anita Pratap�s account is a splendid one and she does not gloss over her moments of embarrassment when covering her various triumphs.


By Anuradha M. Chenoy,
Kali for Women, Rs 250

By tracing the course of militarism in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Anurdha M. Chenoy hopes to prove the extent of women�s involvement with militarism � as perpetrators and as victims � to those who still ask the question, �What do women have to do with war or peace?� Unfortunately, those who were not convinced before reading Militarism & Women in South Asia, are likely to remain so after. Chenoy�s account does not offer any new evidence in tracing the major political and militant movements in each country. Her book is replete with statistics on rape and torture, which are shocking indeed, but unlikely to move the unconvinced because such figures have been enumerated before. As the ultimate aim of Chenoy�s book, as with most feminist literature, is to bring about changes in policy and attitude towards women, perhaps more analysis of facts and figures, exploration of reasons and possible solutions would have been effective.

Chenoy defines �militarism� as an �ideology� which emphasizes the importance of �the military over the civil� of military considerations, ideals and values over civil ones in a state.� Examples of militarism in its extreme form, cited by Chenoy, include French Bonapartism, German imperialism under Hitler and the Japanese regime during World War II. However, militarism is not limited to such militarily aggressive regimes, argues Chenoy. It is practised in some form or another in most states today. The difference is in degrees. In spite of the formation of such international bodies as the United Nations, the 20th century has seen an increase in the process of militarization, or �the extension of military influence in civilian life� in many states.

Chenoy writes, �Social practices often promote and inculcate militarism. Young boys are given guns and military toys and taught not to cry; and valour and heroism are associated with military stories.� Contemporary militarism, therefore, is not associated only with power politics, territorial conquest, imperialism and war, but is justified as essential to protecting those territorial boundaries, political systems, and social, cultural and economic structures and ideologies as well. It is conceived as an instrument to fight insurgency, terrorism, militancy, communal violence and secessionist movements.

Contemporary militarism glorifies the role of the military as the all-important defender and protector. Though the concerns about increased global militarization are not new, what is interesting is how Chenoy draws a parallel between this notion of militarism and patriarchal chauvinism. Both perceive men as protectors of the weak. �Military thinking� and military values are essentially masculine in nature. All armies are based on the concept of training boys �to bring out the man� in them. Even when women do join the military the attempt is to masculinize them and, at the same time, to relegate them to subordinate positions. The message during military training is to �kill the woman in you�.

One of the key indicators of militarization is �the quantum of money spent by a society on its defence or its military� in the name of national security, which has traditionally been a male domain. Expenditure on social and developmental needs, such as health, education and social welfare becomes secondary to military spending. Though this structured, state-sponsored oppression of women is less obvious than the brutal realities for women during war time, it is directly responsible for creating the conditions in which such victimization happens. �The belief that mass rape is part of the genocide, humiliation and destruction of the �enemy� stems from a patriarchal construction of a woman�s body as symbolising the territory or �property� of the enemy which has to be violated.�

So, oppressed in peace, women are powerless in strife. �Women organise everyday life in war time and during social conflicts, as mothers of hurt and wounded children who are often hostages in these conflicts; as wives of killed and injured soldiers; and as civilians. More importantly women are assaulted and, humiliated, raped and murdered during conflicts that are not of their making.�


If you visit the 15 th World Book Fair at end-January look inside the covers of the vast array of �general books� on display. General books are a nebulous category that cannot be slotted into fiction or non-fiction; they could be both, meant for the non-specialist reader who is simply curious to know what�s what.

A stark fact will stand out as you flip through the pages: almost all general books are now a sub-division of the entertainment or recreation industry. This means that there are more pictures than words. The basic assumption of publishing philosophy is that most people would rather see than read, remember than think. Show how the game is played and remain silent what the game is all about. And if you have to say something about the game, dumb it down.

But after the show is over the question remains: what is the shelf life of these books. Do people buy the books after they have seen the pictures? For publishers it does not matter whether people read or see the book; the crucial test is whether the book is bought.

Because the market for general books can never be estimated (unlike educational books where enrolment figures are known) the print runs are relatively small. This inhibits economy of scale, restricting the market to gift buyers or the odd connoisseur.

But paradoxically, although the price is high and the clientele limited, from the bookseller�s point of view, it makes sound business sense: he gets a huge discount - upto 50 per cent - credit for 120 days and the assurance that all unsold copies will be taken back. In real terms this means that on a book priced at Rs 1,000 he can make a profit of upto Rs 500. All the bookseller has to pay for is the shelf space.

It is a different story from the publisher�s point of view. He knows that merely because the book is seen all over the place, it does not mean that it is selling. More than that he knows that once a potential buyer has �seen� the book (after all, it is meant to be seen rather than read) he moves on. So the publisher has to target the floating population of gift buyers or tourists and concentrate on those �sites� where they pass through.

This is easier said than done because the number of such outlets are very few, even in the metros, confined mainly to hotel bookshops and giftshops. But these shops keep rolling their presentation items at least twice a month: slow-moving stock is taken off the shelves to make way for new or fast-moving items. Sadly, general books are not fast-moving consumer goods: they await that rare customer who is prepared to fork out cash for what is, after all, instant gratification. There aren�t many around.

What then does the publisher do and why does he keep on publishing general books? Because he knows that such books have an uncertain and limited shelf life, the price is fixed at eight times the unit cost of production which permits him to give a hefty discount and also to recover his investment on the sale of just 300-odd copies. The bigger question is why he continues to publish such books when he knows that most bomb. Perhaps it is that old shot-gun approach: fire a whole mess of pellets and sooner or later you are bound to hit the jack-pot.



How to stop writing wrongs

By R.L. Trask
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Mind the gaffe: The penguin guide to common errors in English by R.L. Trask could well be one of the most important, useful and readable books brought out by this house in recent times. Witty, level-headed, elegant and conservative (in the best sense), Trask sets out to help the reader perfect his use of �standard written English� or �edited English�. He defines this as �the variety of English used in all careful writing...in student essays and dissertations, in business letters and reports, in non-fiction books, in serious newspapers�. His approach is both pragmatic and entertaining, his minimal and user-friendly format never hesitating to distinguish the right from the wrong usage. In this he is able to sustain a difficult balance between standardization and inevitable linguistic change. His preface is in the Johnsonian tradition of lexicographic indignation, particularly his exasperation with what he calls �post-modernist� academic writing, �frequently arrogant, sometimes strident, invariably pretentious, and, above all, almost always opaque�: �The goal of such writing appears to be nothing more than dazzling the hapless reader into stupefied and uncomprehending awe....This stuff is produced by the yard, and it appears to captivate intelligent and well-educated people who ought to know better.�

by Holger Kersten
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Jesus lived in India: His unknown life before and after the crucifixion by Holger Kersten presents what it claims to be �irrefutable evidence� that Jesus lived in India, dying here in old age. Its other conclusions are that Jesus followed the Silk Route to India, studied and disseminated Buddhism here, survived the crucifixion and was buried in Srinagar, where his tomb still exists. The methodology is a dubious combination of devotion, archaeology and biblical criticism (of the German variety), and relies heavily, and precariously, on the Turin shroud. Its religious syncretism is touchingly well-intentioned, but will not be taken seriously by fundamentalists and academics.

by Suchitra Bhattacharya
(Srishti, Rs 195)

Dahan (the burning) by Suchitra Bhattacharya is a very uneven translation (by Mahua Mitra) of a B-grade Bengali novel about sexual violence and (Bengali) middle-class morality, which was made into a reasonably good (Bengali) film a few years ago. Sample (husband forcing himself upon molested wife): �He crushed Romita�s defence with the crazy, blind force of an elephant in heat. Gradually, drained of all strength Romita became limp. Palash forced himself upon her body that lay lifeless like a charred piece of log, flooding it with his virility.�



The show must go on

Sir � The report, �Naidu salve for shehnai maestro� (Jan 12), had a great deal to say about the respect, or the lack of it, extended towards maestros such as the shehnai player, Bismillah Khan, and the percussionist, Sivamani. These two performers were insulted and humiliated by the state tourism department of Andhra Pradesh, who were the organizers of the concert the two were invited to perform in. Bismillah Khan had been offered 50 per cent of his usual fees by the organizers, which he had agreed to. Upon his arrival, he was told that he would receive only a third of the 50 per cent offered. He was also denied accommodation in the state guest house. Meanwhile, Sivamani, who was giving a private performance in a club, was arrested by the police. It is shocking that government officials can behave in such an uncivilized manner, and it was great magnanimity on the part of both artists that despite all the harassment, they still performed for the state.
Yours faithfully,
M.R. Sridharan, Kanpur

Celebrated cause

Sir � The report, �The second coming of Sharmila Tagore� (Dec 16), was disappointing and pointless. The newfound role of pacifist which is being adopted by such film personalities as Sharmila Tagore should not be encouraged by the media. One wonders why readers must be subjected to a discourse on world events by the who�s who of the social circuit. While Sharmila Tagore�s eyes were filling up with tears at the plight of the people of Afghanistan, she surprisingly did not spare a thought for the pathetic situation of the people of her own country.

It was also quite disconcerting to read the gushing tone of Bishakha De Sarkar while describing Sharmila Tagore�s hectic schedule of �anti-war sit ins� � where she recited Pablo Neruda�s poems, �Noam Chomsky lectures�� where she took copious notes, �discussing human rights with Amartya Sen�, and finally her meeting with Amiya Bagchi � in which she tried to understand radhaballavis.

While Sharmila Tagore might have views on any and every subject including the political situation of the country, to have these views on the war in Afghanistan repeated in The Telegraph is quite ludicrous. Must celebrities be touted as social activists on the main news pages?

Yours faithfully,
Pulak Bagchi, Calcutta

Sir � The front page of the newspapers seem to have found no other news other than that of Sunil Dutt and Sharmila Tagore waxing eloquent on Afghanistan and terrorism (�Stars, clerics cry peace�, Nov 7). Particularly appalling were the comments made by Sharmila Tagore who said that certain vested interests might take advantage of the situation in Afghanistan to garner votes for their parties in the name of religion. By making this statement, she has undermined the very basis for the signing of a memorandum of peace. This comment was an obvious slur against the political stand taken by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both Sharmila Tagore and Sunil Dutt belong to the Congress and their comments against the BJP can also be taken as a Congress ploy to defame the BJP. Dutt is a sitting Congress member of parliament, while Sharmila Tagore�s husband, who holds a Congress ticket, lost the elections to a BJP candidate. Therefore their grouse against the BJP is understandable.

Celebrities such as Dutt and Sharmila Tagore should realize that while it is to their credit that they sympathize with the pathetic situation of people in Afghanistan, it is only fair to ask them to do the same for the people of India. Second, they should stop equating the taliban with the BJP. The BJP might not be the most dependable political party in India, but to compare it with the taliban is ridiculous to say the least.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

The minister�s charge

Sir � This is with reference to the report, �Freebie Mahajan does a Paswan� (Jan 2), by M. Rajendran. I would like to draw your attention to certain facts:

1. The first issue that has been raised relates to giving 100 days of free call time to net surfers. This is to bring to your notice that this does not involve net surfing free of telephone charges. It involves free internet access. Free internet access and telephone charges are two separate issues. On the other hand, as people surf more and more, the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited stands to reap higher revenue.

2. On waiver of Rs 800 as installation charges for new telephone connections given in January, I would like to point out that the avenues available for the growth of MTNL in Delhi and Mumbai are limited. To increase its subscriber base, it would be necessary to attract customers with innovative incentives. The need now is to tempt the existing households to go in for a second telephone. You would, thus, appreciate that this decision would help MTNL commercially.

3. The decision to slash STD rates by the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is purely commercial. With rivals cutting rates, BSNL has to push down charges to remain competitive. Our analysis shows that BSNL will be the net gainer from this decision.

Yours faithfully,
Pramod Mahajan, New Delhi

M. Rajendran replies:

1. The impression created by Pramod Mahajan at his press conference in Mumbai on December 30 was that telephones used for internet would not be charged for 100 days and this was duly reported without being challenged. It was not clearly spelt out that subscribers would have to pay the telephone charge.

2. Mahajan�s claim that the avenues for growth in Delhi and Mumbai are limited is surprising since MTNL, despite fixed-line monopoly, has achieved a tele-density of only 14.30 per cent in Delhi and 16.80 per cent in Mumbai. The two metropolises are the wealthiest in the country with a burgeoning population.

The imputation that those who don�t have telephones either cannot afford one or do not want one (why else would the minister talk about the need to persuade people to own second telephones?) does not hold good. If the market has already reached a saturation point, would the private operators be so foolhardy as to enter the market?

Second, it is not clear why MTNL is favouring only those who get their connections in January with a waiver of the installation charge.

3. Mahajan has skirted the main point that the STD rate cut will severely test the ability of the network to handle the expected surge in traffic. This is an aspect BSNL has not addressed before announcing its rate cut.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: ttedit@abpmail.com
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

All letters (including those via email) should have the full name and postal address of the sender


Maintained by Web Development Company