119 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, May 30, 1999
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50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence
A sublime land, in bad times now
Review by Kuldip Kalia
5000 years of Kashmir edited by Balraj Puri. Ajanta Publications, Delhi. Pages viii+137. Rs 155.

An RSS defector fires a blank
Review by Bhupinder Singh
In the Belly of the Beast —The Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India: An Insider’s Account by Partha Bannerjee. Ajanta Books International, New Delhi. Pages 164. Rs 195.

Why Marx is still relevant
Review by Rumina Sethi
The Marx Family Saga by Juan Goytisolo. Faber and Faber, London. Pages 213. 14.99.

Long, long history of a people
Review by M.L. Sharma
Hindus of India by Jagdev Singh. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 460. Rs. 545.

Off the shelf
by V.N. Datta
New look at the killer-judge of Jesus Christ
FRANCIS Bacon was perhaps the most learned man of his times. Like Erasmus he took all knowledge to be his province.



Write view

Review by Randeep Wadhera

Scarred Minds by Daya Somasundaram. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 352. Rs 425.

Om by Rajkumari De Silva. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. Pages 361. Rs 100.

Napolian Dialogues H. Sriyananda. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. Pages 118. Rs 100.

 



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A sublime land, in bad times now

THE lost “paradise” was perhaps found on the earth when the most picturesque, the most salubrious place in Kashmir valley was spotted. Soaring mountains, limpid lakes and gardens enhance its aesthetic appeal. This is the place which boasted of a wealth of flora and fauna, beauty and serenity and attracted great saints and rishis. Today, alas, it is desperately struggling for survival and peace

The book under review is an attempt to study the evolution of a sophisticated society, its culture, faiths and communities which finally coalesced to give the valley its identity and place in the sun. It explores comprehensively the challenges and crises faced by the Kashmiris covering a period of five millennia. Also highlights the forces that moulded the Kashmiri mind.

The ancient history of Kashmir is, perhaps, “wrapped in mystery”. There are many legends regarding the origin of the valley, and the most striking feature is that the mythological traditions match geographical features. The valley was, it is said, once a vast lake. “Sati”, a Shakti manifestation of Shiva, appeared in the form of water and took the shape of a lake. Lake “Satisar” is known by the name of a place from where it originated.

It was infested by demons headed by Jalodhava. Kashyap, a grandson of Brahma, heard of the sufferings of the people and succeeded in destroying the demons and the water was drained out. The place got a new name “ka samira” which means land from which water (“ka”) has been drained out by wind (“samira”).

During those pre-historic times, there was a lake about 2000 feet above the present surface level. Lakes such as the Dal, the Wullar and the Mansabal are said to be the “shrinking remnants” of the once vast lake.

Some believe that the Kash tribe gave its name to Kashmir. What is presently known as Kishtwar was in fact Kashtwar when the tribe was settled in the basin of the River Chenab but named it Kashmir when the tribe began to dominate the banks of the Jhelum.

Kashmir has always been important to different people for different reasons. A “place for contemplation” for philosophers, it was the living monuments of different ages to geologists. However, for scholars it is a fertile field of research on Muslim history, culture and poetry. Then the explorer looks at it as a mysterious land.

Buruzuhoma, ten miles from Srinagar, is perhaps, the first site of settled population during pre and proto-historic periods. Some pits were discovered dating back to 3000 B.C. In the neolithic period, which was divided into four phases, the inhabitants used to live in pits covered with a roof of “bhoj patar” but later they started living in mud houses built with sun-dried bricks. Pottery items have also been discovered.

In these dwelling units, a wide range of bone and stone implements, skeletons of animals, hunting tools, needles and knives have been found. The third phase began with red pottery with a mixture of sand and clay. The bone tools were no more in use and were replaced by tools made of metals. Stone slabs were the prominent specimens of Buruzuhoma culture. An interesting finding was the slab on which is etched a hunting scene.

The Nagas were the original inhabitants of Kashmir but the Pishachas arrived there in search of better land and a warm climate. However, the Nagas preferred Aryans who finally became an essential part of the social fabric by adopting their rites and rituals.

The Brahmins were highly honoured. Artisans commanded respect, servants were well treated but “shudras” were never respected. Women were allowed to move freely but it was not clear whether they were permitted to participate actively in religious festivals. However, women could play games like watersport with men folks. There was no restriction in accepting gifts from husband’s friends.

There were certain specifically prescribed rites which women could perform but they were not allowed to accompany their husbands in religious ceremonies.

Another notable feature of social life of Kashmir was entertaining guests. “Rajatarangini” contains valuable political, social and other information relating to Kashmir. But the earliest known text of Kashmir is “Nilamatapurana” which contains many legends regarding the origin of the valley.

The Hindus recognised the valley as a seat of high learning but there were conflicting schools of thought in the eighth century. Man, the universe and its principles were the three objects crisply explained in “Trikha Shastra” which helped restore order, harmony and equilibrium. It emphasises that the first law of universe is change.

Considering it as the effective way of countering Brahmin domination, the Nagas accepted the teachings of the Buddha and thus the land of Shiva became the cradle of Buddhist philosophy. Emperor Ashoka built many stupas. The Mahayana branch of Buddhism was the product of the Fourth Council which was held near Srinagar. One of the greatest contributions of Buddhist scholars is the translation of sacred texts from Sanskrit to the Chinese and Tibetan languages and vice versa.

When Buddhism disappeared, it paved the way for the advent of Sufism. In this valley, there was no dearth of mystics. They were said to possess supernatural power to control time and space. Bulbul Shah was the first mystic.

Contrary to popular belief, there was never any mass conversion to Islam in the strict religious sense; rather it was a gradual and continuing process, without being limited to a particular time or space. However for placing it on a sound footing, the credit perhaps goes to Sayyid Ali Hamdani. Shah Hamdani wrote many books and “Shariat”, the book of basic tenets, was never preached before.

Kashmir enjoys a unique characteristic in mysticism because it is blended with Hindu mysticism, Buddhist influence and Sufism of Islam. Ironically, the people lost the spiritual significance of mystic customs and practices without realising that higher mysticism is another name for service to humanity. In the development of a common culture, the Muslim rishis made significant contribution.

On the political front, the last rulers of Kashmir were the Chaks — Yusuf Shah Chak — and then Kashmir slid into slavery of the Mughals, the Pathans, the Sikhs and the Dogras for about 360 years (1586 to 1947). A movement for freedom surfaced which was perhaps the outburst of oppressed Muslims against Hindu rulers. But one thing is certain: the 1931 revolt was purely by the Muslims but against social and economic oppression.

In 1939, the National Conference not only emerged as a solid social organisation but opened its doors for non-Muslims also. It asked the Maharaja to quit.

The most interesting feature of Kashmiriyat is that most Kashmiri Pandits continued to serve the alien rulers which indirectly helped them strengthen the Kashmiri identity.

Balraj Puri has rightly pointed out that Kashmir is a “unique civilisational experiment” and has been a “melting pot of ideas and races”.Top


 

An RSS defector fires a blank

For over a decade now, the Left has been under a renewed frenzy of attack from its traditional enemies. In the backdrop of the worldwide collapse of “existing socialism” and a swing away from the Left, extreme rightwing Hindutva forces have accused it of being “uprooted” and “ignorant” of Indian, or rather Hindu, traditions. This has made many Marxists renounce their faith, camouflage themselves as reformed “Left-liberals” or go into hibernation. Some have even joined the Hindutva bandwagon.

But while the leftists are scurrying for cover, Partha Bannerjee, author of the book under review, has performed a surreptitious somersault. A hardcore RSS man for 15 years, he has shifted his ideological convictions to Marxism and decided to give an insider’s account of the secretive RSS.

It must be stated at the outset that this book is neither an indepth analysis of the RSS, nor does it seek to probe deeply into the implications of its activities. The book is more about the writer’s experience in the RSS viewed through his new glasses. It is a far cry from the works of Tapan Basu, Sumit Sarkar et al “Khakhi Shorts and Saffron Flags”, D. R. Goyal’s “Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh” and Achin Vanaik’s “Communalism Contested”, to name only a few of the many erudite and scholarly books on the RSS in particular and Hindutva in general.

Many of the points raised by the author are well known to the critics of the RSS — that it is a highly hierarchical, patriarchal, conservative organisation based on regressive elements drawn from the Brahamanical tradition. He reiterates the traditional leftist view that the RSS is a fascist organisation (more recently this view has been contested even by some of those who would rather wear their heart on the left).

Bannerjee points out that in the RSS list of six festivities, only Hindu festivals find a place. These too are those that do not have much scriptural significance and this, the writer avers, is to pander to the Dalit and lower caste sections. None of the Buddhist, Jain or Sikh festivals form part of the RSS festivities. In the RSS calendar of holidays too, not only are Muslim and Christian holidays left out, but even Independence Day is missing.

The only Sikh holiday that finds place is the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, which is conspicuous, because the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and undoubtedly as important if not more than that of the former, is missing.

This supports what the writer mentions elsewhere — that though the RSS claims Sikhism to be part of Hinduism, its acceptance of Sikhism is restricted to its militaristic aspects (as the sword arm of Hinduism). It does not accept its spiritual and social aspects. Its totality is not palatable to the RSS.

Similarly it denies any claim to originality for Buddhism and Jainism. The writer quotes from the RSS mouthpiece Organiser: “So far as Buddhism and Jainism are concerned, they have never made any contribution to social and political thought as such. We have not inherited any arthashastra or dharmashastra from them. All we have from them are various mokshashastras pertaining to the supreme salvation of the individual soul.”

Among other accounts that the author offers are those on the daily routine in the RSS, its rituals and his experiences in the officer’s training camps that are annually held to groom senior functionaries of the RSS. His translation of the “Ekatmata Stotra” (morning prayer of the RSS) is valuable for those unfamiliar with RSS rituals.

He also points to the RSS and Hindutva presence on the Internet. There are tens of sites maintained by the adherents. The Left presence on the other hand is weak. The only significant site being the one maintained, almost heroically, by Biju Matthew in New York (http://www. foil. org). FOIL stands for the Forum of Indian Leftists — a loose US based group of South Asian (“desi”) leftists.

The book offers a glimpse of the RSS organisation as recapitulated by a former adherent. It lacks the rigour of more academic studies. Even so, one would have expected the writer to focus on contemporary problems within the RSS — for example, its failure to find new recruits. RSS membership has reportedly gone down over the years and one way it has tried to overcome this problem is by creating new front organisations like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, to cater to the more lumpen and well-off (NRI) sections respectively. This reflects the deepened stratification of a formerly more homogeneous middle class that the RSS accommodated and represented.

These new organisations, while at one level, mark a continuation of the RSS ideology, at the same time also mark a departure. How these organisations relate and operate together is a moot question.Top


 

Why Marx is still relevant

WHAT new can be said about Marx when he has already inspired thousands of texts on his life and work? This prodigious body of interpretations goes on increasing, especially after the heated debates on “whither Marxism?” after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Only the old conviction seems to be missing now. Can we say that Marx is dead or is it true that his spectre still haunts the post-Marxian era? Where does Marxism go from here? No one seems to be sure of its future. Maybe it is here to stay.

Some of the recent books on Marx either return to the man or to his theory, offering little that we do not already know. Even books like Etienne Balibar’s “The Philosophy of Marx”, though sensitive, treads the oft-beaten path and there is no addition to polemics of marxologists. But if we were to step beyond the dry accounts of Marx’s philosophy or stop singing requiems to him, there is one book that has appeared from Spain which could either be called a novel or a historical biography: Juan Goytisolo’s “The Marx Family Saga”. By basically calling into question the doubtful methods of historiography, Goytisolo, who is considered one of the foremost novelists in Europe, places his account at the centre of current post-modernist debates.

In a rather surrealist account, the author imaginatively recreates Marx’s entire family, including his wife Jenny and his daughter, and places them before the idiot box on which they watch the horrors of the contemporary world: the disintegration of the so-called people’s republics, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the final death of the communist ideology. Refugees from Albania display their newly acquired wealth on an Italian beach by blatantly showing off the dollars they possess and shouting “God bless America” much to the chagrin of the wealthy elite who display the new beacons of European culture —Chanel, Saint-Laurent, Revlon, Hugo Boss, and United Colours of Benetton.

The style of the novel is incantatory, dense, and many may feel that it is just another diatribe against the greed of the capitalist system. But the book is more than just an epitaph on the end of communism and end of history. It does not spare Marx who is described as a scheming autocrat whose doctrines, like all universalist creeds, invited abuse by his followers, who perpetrated the murder of millions in the name of the people.

Goytisolo clearly sees the irony behind the new world order that goes hand in hand with the fear of disorder and chaos emanating from the South. There is no denying that uppermost in his mind is the guilt of the western powers that would go all out to preserve their carefully nurtured order even if it means dumping or abandoning the developing countries. Migration is a source of great anxiety to the North which sees hordes of illegal immigrants converging on Europe and equips itself with all kinds of measures to stop this inflow.

The author is serious in his critique of exploitation of resources, problems of unemployment, and ecological imbalances hitting the industrialised world. At the heart of the novel is a deep-seated paranoia at the rise of tribalism to a state of respectability which sees only one motive, that of destroying the other for its own survival.

For many decades, a major part of scientific and industrial activity has been devoted to fabricating the means to kill, torture and maim human beings. We live in a world where, according to Cyril Smith, “many millions of the better off sections of the population have nothing to do with creating anything useful at all...” Mafia-type gangs, drug trafficking, pornography and prostitution thrive.

Added to this is mass unemployment and hunger. When about two billion live below subsistence level, the high-tech tabloid entertainment churns out debased entertainment for the masses even in Third-World countries. To free society from exploitation we do need to counter the structural constraints of capitalism with a humanism that Marx always felt could never disappear; the working class must try to think that beyond the present defined modes of production lies another system that could be the answer to their woes.

Marxism must not remain trapped in its historicity; it cannot escape this past by returning to its origins. It must learn from its history and look to the future.

By a mere succession of plans, outlines, drafts and doodles, Goytisolo unfolds the story of Marx and his family. There is no plot, no organising thread, only contradictions and anachronisms which may put the ordinary reader to some exasperation. Yet this is how the writer chooses to tell his story because he firmly believes that it is not possible to speak about the past without fabrication.

Biography, he feels, is a futile attempt to erect a bridge over the discontinuity of life and give coherence to an event that is a mere accumulation of ruins. Like Rushdie, the “what-happened-nextism” of narration or the linearity of story-telling is rejected. Digressions which overflow in the novel will wear down the lazy reader or the story-listener who usually remains impatient like the ineluctable Padma in “Midnight’s Children”.

Episodic fragments are picked from around the world, stories are built within stories and worked into a structure which like the oral form has no tautness about it. Each component is vital to the onward movement of the narrative which has all the features of plurality, exuberance, fantasy and earthiness of thefolk tale and the epic that represents a shared cultural view of our history. The quality it possesses is myth-like which succeeds in enlivening certain basic cultural assumptions.

The American critic Cynthia Ozick writes: “Novelists, when on the job, rely on a treacherous braid of observation and invention, or call it memory and insinuation. Invention despoils observation, insinuation invalidates memory. A stewpot of bad habits, all of it, by and large, a shifty crew, sunk in distortion, misrepresentation, illusion, imposture, fakery.” Rushdie and Goytisolo will heartily agree with this.

The vision of a family saga is recreated in a fictional mode by both in their respective novels, but they also become disturbed visions of both our past and our present that are far removed from any complacent order or a comfortable view of its discourse of “progress” that the West might imagine itself to be experiencing.Top


 

Long, long history of a people

THIS is an exhaustive book on the subject, capturing the spirit of Hinduism, people’s faith, traditions, cultural heritage, history, archaeology and folkore. It gives a taste of the Hindu spirit. A retired Brigadier, the author has studied all aspects of the cultural development of Hindus and also narrates his experience in a racy style, which is generally not a strong point of Army officers.

The author (a Dogra of Himachal Pradesh) believes that one main characteristic of Hindus is that they do not believe in conversion and allow other faiths to flourish in an atmosphere of free spirit and tolerance. “It (Hinduism) does not believe in proselytisation,” he writes, “and for the reason, while missionaries of other religions go about constantly seeking conversions to their faiths so as to seek a clout in the running of the affairs of the State, the approach of the Hindu missionary is totally concerned with the affairs of the religion.”

In a chapter entitled “The subcontinent and the people”, the Brigadier scans the past to trace the origin and ancestral past of the Hindus. He offers a geographical sketch of the Indian subcontinent which, he says, is as large as Europe, excluding Russia, and has a terrain which ranges from high mountains to fertile plains, the desert of Rajasthan and the largest plateaus made up entirely of volcanic eruptions.

According to him, the Promised Land to which Moses intended to lead his people was actually the Indo-Gangetic plains. In “The Indus valley civilisation”, “The Aryans” and “The Aryan way of life”, he goes on to describe the background to the cultural development of the present-day Hindus and how advanced their ancestors were in arts, crafts, architecture and house building. Finest pottery and terracota were a few of their remarkable achievements.

“The Vedic thought” and “The system of philosophy” offer a detaialed study of the whole spectrum of Hindu philosophy, the details of which do not tax the reader’s patience. The chapter “Religion” is the most readable as it deals with the Bhagvad Gita and the Ramayana. The author tries to establish that Krishna of the Gita is the same. Devakiputra as mentioned in Chhandogya Upanishad, which is part of the ancient Vedas.

In “The caste system” the writer says that despite the superiority of Brahmanism, great reformers appeared on the scene to right the wrong and the fight the cause of the lower castes. Saints like Kabir, Guru Nanak, Namdev and Tukaram preached equality of all castes and tolerance. Eknath used to give priority to the Shudras while serving food and he treated them with more respect than he treated the Brahmins.

The book makes interesting reading and is useful for research scholars and for those who want to have a glimpse of the ancient past. The author has made an in-depth study of several aspects of Hinduism. The instructions on Shiva worship and mantra are unique.Top


 
Off the shelf by V.N. Datta

New look at the killer-judge of Jesus Christ

FRANCIS Bacon was perhaps the most learned man of his times. Like Erasmus he took all knowledge to be his province. He is also regarded as the father of the inductive method which uses observation and experiment in comprehending reality. Bacon’s essays are a source of infinite delight and instruction. They have stood the test of time. They are packed with wisdom, and are distinguished for their crisp expression and thought. Bacon begins his famous essay “Of Truth”, “ ‘What is truth?’ said the Jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer.” The reference here is to Pontius Pilate of Judea (26-36 AD) who condemned Jesus to death.

In his essay Bacon treats Pontius Pilate simply as a sceptic. He implies that men prefer the freedom of scepticism to the fixed belief of the majority and they reject the truth in favour of opinions which satisfy their vanity or caprice. Bacon had a profound insight into human nature and his reflections on Pilate throw light on his attitude towards Christ when he was about to deliver his judgement on his conduct.

From one angle, Christ has immortalised Pilate and stimulated a good deal of literature on him. From another angle, Christ has been immortalised by Pilate. The work under review is “Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man” by Ann Wroe (Cafe, pages 381). It is indeed a learned work, but unconvincing because of insufficient evidence. The play of imagination and fanciful reconstruction of the past do not establish the authenticity of events.

Nothing is known of Pilate’s early life but, of course , he is a historical figure, which is evident from the Gospels and other contemporary evidence. The author quotes Jewish philosopher of Alexandria Philo Judaeur and Jewish historian Josephus to assert that Jesus was condemned by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Philo and the famous historian Tacitus say the same, though the latter did not have a good opinion of the Christians whom he had dismissed in a couple of sentences. “Some coins relating to Pilate existed but they are of no consequence. No other record is available.” In view of the paucity of contemporary evidence, it is a challenging task for a historian to tackle Pilate and Christ

The basic evidence which historians have used is derived from the Gospels — Mathew, Luke and John. These accounts are contradictory; or seen from another angle, may be regarded as complimentary to each other. Pilate has been viewed differently; he has been portrayed as a good man gone wrong under public pressure, who later on repented his action. He has also been presented as the most evil man, a red-haired ranting evil. Some say he committed suicide because of the sense of guilt made it hellish for him to live.

Based on conjectures made in the light of evidence produced by writers, the author tries to reconstruct the early life of Pilate. According to Wroe, Pilate belonged to the provincial Samnite knightly class and migrated to Rome. The author outlines his career as a soldier.

Curiously enough, Wroe finds Pilate’s striking resemblance to the Viceroy of India, Lord Reading, who had condemned Gandhi on a charge of sedition and imprisoned him. Of course, Reading had no difficulty in communicating with Gandhi because the latter knew the English language and wrote in it exceedingly well.

Wroe argues that Pilate had difficulty in communicating with Jesus. Probably both spoke and understood the Greek. The author thinks that the debate about the linguistic difficulty is uncalled for, because the conversation between the two is presumably a fiction anyway. Thus the whole discussion about it is irrelevant.

The author explains that when Pilate asked “what is Truth?, (the Gospel according to John) he was inquiring from Jesus what he meant when he said he had come into the world, ‘to be witness to the truth.’ This was the right type of question provoked by the statement which seemed problematical.”

While narrating the trial scene, Wroe writes that Pilate of the Acta sat on the judgment seat. He did not really know what to say. He was confused. But as he sat there, there was a whisper in his ear. An attendant murmured, “Message from your wife, Sir.’ ‘Not now’, she says, ‘Have nothing to do with this just man, because I have suffered many things today in a dream because of him?’ ”

And so on. Wroe writes that Judas who had betrayed Jesus for 30 silvers was a hireling of Pilate. There is no evidence to support this contention. Further, it raises the question whether Pilate was susceptible to bribe, and even further, whether the judges occupying high position and administering justice were corrupt in ancient Rome. These theories, however interesting, are suggested without a shred of evidence. It is a wild speculation!

Wroe makes a highly interesting account. She presents Pilate as a worried administrator living in difficult times. He and Jesus were probably of the same age, and their careers, widely different from each other, had been “divinely arranged” to make their conflict inevitable.

The author goes over the whole story of Adam and Eve and the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Thereafter she follows the Incarnation and the Redemption. Pilate also ate an apple with disastrous consequences.

Wroe depends largely on later-day writers to fill the gaps in the story which she has reconstructed with imaginative skill and sensitivity. She refers not only to classical authors but to modern ones like Dennis Potter, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov and Tolstoy. Underneath this padding is a view of Pilate which is hard to see as it lies hidden behind a plethora of intricate details.

The author’s argument is that Pilate found himself with a chance either to be very good, considerate and charitable, or he had equally a chance to be very bad, malicious and vindictive. All he had to do was to act on his feelings, and as recorded in the Gospels, there was no case against Jesus. What did he do? The fact that Pilate believed in the innocense of Jesus was the reason why the later writers made him a pious convert. The fact that he ordered him to be crucified led to the rival tradition of taking Pilate for a villian.

Of the two Pilates — one wicked and the other saintly — the author prefers the latter. Her Pilate is a worried administrator deeply influenced by imperialist education, scared of his superiors and uneasy in dealing with that difficult and headstrong people, the Jews. He had a real predicament which exasperated him during the trial. He was Hamlet-like — indecisive and vacillating — and made a mess of his chance.

Wroe does not leave Pilate but continues asking questions about him and his credibilty. Was he sea sick? Was he unpopular? Was he afraid of his reception by the capricious Tiberius? Actually, by the time he got back, Tiberius was dead.

Legends are in themselves worth studying but they do not make history. This study, though wide in scope and extremely engaging, is flippant as a historical record. Perhaps the art of biographical writing has taken a new turn.Top


 
Write view

Warped thinking of terror victims

THERE is an episode in the Mahabharata wherein Arjun spells out to his pregnant wife the various military strategies to break into and out of “chakravyuha”. His main purpose was to prepare his unborn son Abhimanyu as a “maharathi” even while he was in the womb! Such was the understanding of the human mind by our ancestors. Even today it is not uncommon to play religious or soothing music in the room of expecting mothers. The walls are decorated with paintings and calendars creating an atmosphere conducive to the birth and growth of a child with a healthy mind.

The world outside the mother’s protective womb is, however, harsh. Mindless violence that has become a salient feature of modern civilisation has scarred many human minds, mostly beyond redemption. Somasundaram is a Professor of psychiatry at the University of Jaffna, and a consultant psychiatrist at the general hospital, Jaffna, in Sri Lanka. The protracted violence in the emerald island has gone on long enough to leave a deep and ruinous impact on the common people, especially of the Tamil origin.

The ongoing Sri Lankan conflict has some similarities with the Mahabharata war. It is fratricidal in nature. It involves control over real estate being claimed as its exclusive property by both sides. Neither is prepared to compromise. Alas! There the similarity ends. It is no “dharmayudh”. Common people are the greatest sufferers. Worse, there are no stalwarts of unimpeachable integrity like Bhishma or Yudhishtra, nor are there any conscience-keepers like Krishna. No wonder, terror pervades the land once famed for its sublime tranquillity.

Prof Somasundaram provides in vivid detail the background to the civil strife, presenting a clinical study of the causes and effects of relentless use of terror on a large scale. The Tamil population of north and east Sri Lanka had to suffer violence of various kinds — spectacular, hidden, organised and random, destroying their lifestyle.

Unlike the human rights activists, Somasundaram makes no attempt to pass judgement on the actions of the various parties involved. His is a therapeutic intervention which is more concerned with the brutality inflicted on young minds, either by the militant groups or the government forces. The author points out that Sri Lankan society has suffered from too much of politics. He wants the moral order to be restored through love and understanding, as well as through constructive activities. “Normality” and “sanity” assume new connotations as the communities adjust to their violent surroundings. Yet the first constructive step towards the original concept of sanity has to be taken, which requires great moral courage.

This book provides 21 tables and figures ranging from employment and education of ethnic minorities to psychological first aid and triage.

Daya Somasundaram’s treatise favours the cessation of all types of violence. In fact hatred and violence are counterproductive, as they take a heavy toll of sanity, and of all those human values so dear to us. Will love triumph ultimately? Only time will tell.

***

If Somasundaram is a psychiatrist delving deep into philosophical seas, De Silva is a poet on a long voyage across the spiritual ocean. Her writings remind one of the romance of “atman” with “paramatman (soul with the supreme being) so popular with the bhakti movement stalwarts, the Sufi saints and other philosophical-spiritual streams flowing through the subcontinent’s consciousness.

Love has many facets. The highest form of love is spiritual. The author makes it clear in her very first narrative “Gypsy”. A gypsy girl accompanies her family to a cattle fair. There, she feels strange attraction towards a palatial house across the river. Somebody in blue robes appears to be watching her. She is unable to resist “his” unarticulated call and, breaking all restraining bonds of her family, the gypsy girl goes across to “rejoin” the Master.

Her other narratives dwell upon “omkaara bijaakshara”, advaita, dvaita and vishishtadvaita, vishva shanti,deva rahasya, Krishna-Arjuna samvada, etc.

The treatment of the subject is not novel, yet it is infused with a purity of mind and spirit. Poetry flows through the narrative, and is capable of transporting one to a world that is ethereal and sublime.

***

This time it is a Sri Lankan electrical engineer who sallies forth into the realm of creative writing. He has tried to create a world where the identities of individual countries have been merged into a monolith dominated by “five big tuskers” (FBTs). Napol, a tiny Indian Ocean island, is the only one that is heroically resisting the merger. The narrative tries to create reader-interest by introducing intrigue, subterfuge and individual heroism. But frankly, the description is laboured. I had to struggle through to the end, only to feel a bit let down by the entire essay.

Perhaps the book is not in tune with the current international trends and thought processes. With the destruction of the Soviet Union the concept of merger of national identities for the betterment of humanity stands discredited. Almost all major countries are facing separatism and insurgency. Today Yugoslavia epitomises this situation.

Though there is no definite trend towards the creation of small city-states, any chance of giant multinationals dividing the world into a couple of compact entities appears improbable. Canada has its Quebec, India the North East, Yugoslavia has Kosovo, the UK has Northern Ireland... the Basques in Southern Europe and the Kurds in West Asia are a threat to the existing boundaries of several countries.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but the point is there can be no supreme ruler of this planet. The USA the sole super power, is finding it increasingly difficult to get approval of the NATO allies for punishing assorted “recalcitrant” nations.

Since it is the first attempt of Sriyananda, one wishes him better luck in engineering a creative work next time.Top


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