119 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, October 24, 1999
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Little chemicals which change genes
Review by J. S. Yadav
Trends in Environmental Mutagenesis edited by R.C. Sobti, G. Obe & P. Quillardet. Tausco Book Distributors, New Delhi. Pages xv+424. Price not mentioned.

What about slave dynasties?
Review by M.L. Sharma

The Founders of Indus Valley Civilisation and their Later History Vol. I by Naval Viyogi. Indian National Historical Research Council, Ludhiana. Pages 366. Rs 300.

About the other Sai Baba
Review by P. D. Shastri
Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism by Marianne Warren. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 439. Rs 375.

Write view

Devi, the symbol and the spirit
Reviews by Randeep Wadehra
Devi Mahatmya by Manoj K. Thakur. World View Publications, Delhi. Pages xvi + 416. Rs 250.

Glory of Spiritual India by Hari Dutt Sharma. Pustak Mahal, New Delhi. Pages 224. Rs 80.

Smoke in the Sun by Ponchie Kanwar. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 182. Rs 501.

Punjabi literature
by Jaspal Singh
50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence



Little chemicals which change genes
by J. S. Yadav

Trends in Environmental Mutagenesis edited by R.C. Sobti, G. Obe & P. Quillardet. Tausco Book Distributors, New Delhi. Pages xv+424. Price not mentioned.

PEOPLE are exposed to a variety of environmental agents, including biological, chemical and physical ones in the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, surfaces they contact and the products they use. These are called pollutants.

Man is introducing new and complex pollutants and chemicals without any rigorous bio-assessment of their toxicity. Furthermore, continued dispersion of such materials may interfere with the biological processes which are fundamental to life.

Chemicals have become an indispensable part of life-sustaining activities and development, preventing and controlling many diseases and increasing agicultural output. The benefits are enormous, yet when misused these chemicals cause adverse effects on human health and that of environment. Chemical safety is essential if we are to ensure that development is beneficial and not harmful for humans and environment.

A realistic risk assessment depends on an accurate estimate of toxicity and exposure related to health effects. Exposure is actually the contact of a biological, chemical or physical agent with the outer part of human body such as the skin, mouth or nostrils, with a carrier medium — air, water, food, dust or soil that contains a minute amount of the agent.

Environmental pollution is now a global concern. All countries are seriously engaged in reducing pollution. Earlier attention was paid more to evaluate acute toxic effects of environmental pollutants. But now scientists are more interested to know if they have any long-term health effects. This is the development of the discipline of genetic toxicology or environmental mutagenesis.

All this started with the observations of Auerbach and Rollison in 1946, that ionising radiation is capable of altering the genetic information of the cells. Since then a lot of information has been accumulated in this respect. It is now known that besides radiation, a large number of chemicals are also responsible for genetic damage, leading to a variety of diseases such as cancer. Genetic toxicology is an integral component of regulatory requirements, providing a relatively rapid and cheap way of screening a large number of mutagens and carcinogens.

The book under review, “Trends in Environmental Mutagenesis”, is an edited work carrying 28 research articles dealing with various environmental mutagens and the process of mutagenesis, mutagens versus carcinogens and different types of environmental mutagens —namely, organic chemicals, industrial products, pesticides, solvents, metals, drugs, including anti-cytostatic living mutagens, nutritional mutagens, occupational mutagenesis and, finally, antimutagens. The contributions are from researchers in laboratories, some of whom are very prestigious. The editors too are associated with well-known laboratories in India, Germany and France.

The first paper, “Genetic Toxicology” by Sobti et al explains that genetic toxicology helps in genetic risk assessment and understanding the mechanisms of spontaneous and induced mutations in man. Of the more than 200 short-term tests, utilising microbes, insects, plants and animals developed over the years, the common short-term tests including the conventional assays and new molecular techniques, have been described. In fact, this paper serves as an introduction to the volume.

The next nine papers deal with specific tests to detect the genotoxicity and carcinogenicity of various environmental or work place pollutants. Almost 80 to 90 per cent of cancer cases have an enviornmental origin, and are caused by pollutants in the soil, air, water, food, solar and cosmic radiation, free oxygen radicals, work place exposure and smoking and dietary habits.

The Ames test or salmonella microsome assay has been the oldest and the most extensively used and validated bacterial test which has played a critical role in determining the genotoxins. It has been used to identify most known carcinogens. Attempts are now being made to explore the structure-activity relationship in mutagenicity and carcinogenicity and how this test can be utilised in the analysis of the chemical structure in order to differentiate between carcinogens and non-carcinogens. The details of the test are given in one paper. In 1982 Quillardet and his friends devised another bacterial assay called the SOS chromotest. The principle, state of validation, advantages and uses of this test have been described by Quillardet and Hafnung.

Williams and Rabin suggested in 1971 that in vitro microsomal degranulation by chemical carcinogens could possibly be used as a short-term technique to detect suspected environmental carcinogens. Details of an in vivo mouse bone marrow and peripheral blood micronucleus test for genetic risk evaluation of environmental mutagens and carcinogens have been given in the next paper.

Since the methods currently available to measure mutations in germ cells of mice are limited and these too require a large number of individuals and extended periods of analysis, the introduction of new animal models, including those produced by genetic engineering, may become important in determining the eventual role which genetic hazard assessment plays in chemical safety evaluation. Transgenic mouse models for mutation offer some excellent potential in this regard. The technology of “muta mouse” forms the subject matter of another paper.

Eleven long papers describe and discuss the mutagenic, carcinogenic and cytogenetic effects of chemicals like ethylene oxide, pesticides like carbamate, thiocarbamate, hexachloro-cyclohexane, asbestos, metals and their salts, drugs, textile dyes and nitroareness. These are some of the chemicals man comes in contact with every day. Contact with these should either be avoided or some of these should be replaced by less toxic ones or they should be continuously removed from the environment by converting them into safer intermediates or ultimates, possibly through biodegradation by using micro-organisms. Without doubt, it is desirable to harness the maximum biodegradative capabilities of micro-organisms for on the site treatment of environmental pollutants.

Carcinogenic and mutagenic risk at the place of work by Sharma and Sobti is almost a review of genetic toxicology, some contributed by the authors, their students and other workers.

Fortunately, there are some chemicals which protect man against mutagens and carcinogens. Popularly known as auticlastogens, antimutagens, desmutagens or modulators, these substances negate the effects of mutagens and carcinogens. Studies on the antimutagenic properties of interferon have shown its high protective efficiency in cell cultures treated with different mutagens.

Awareness of human exposure to mutagenic and carcinogenic agents has in fact, led to greater interest in natural antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic factors in dietary ingredients since these are likely to play a significant role in prevention of cancer. Studies reported here showed that priming with phyllanthus fruit crude extract affords a stronger protection against all metals tested than priming with ascorbic acid alone. A similar anticlastogenic activity of chlorophyllin against nicotine has also been recorded.Top

Punjabi literature by Jaspal Singh

Litany of woes laced with hope

Dalbir Singh is a senior journalist and popular columnist of Punjabi Tribune. He is known for his robust sense of humour which sometimes is laced with sarcastic comments and laconic wit.

This apart, he has, on the serious side, translated classics from English to Punjabi, including some of Lenin’s philosophical works and Tolstoy’s world famous biography by Victor Shklovsky, a monumental work indeed. Students of literature are obliged to Shklovsky who was associated with the Tartu School of Structuralism that has influenced American criticism and French Structuralism.

On the face of it, many will find it difficult to believe that Dalbir Singh could do of all this! More, he has written two books in Punjabi since 1998.

His “Pehli Kitab” and “Ratto Ratt Punjab” appeared within a span of a few months. “Ratto Ratt Punjab” comprises articles and essays he had written during the late eighties and early nineties. Almost half the book is about the problem of terrorism during those dark days.

“Pehli Kitab” (Bhathal Publishers, Chandigarh), is an experiment in Punjabi prose. The technique Dalbir Singh adopts was earlier used in verse by Punjabi qissa poets. Each write-up begins with a letter of the Punjabi alphabet in the natural order. The 35 letters of the Gurmukhi script open 35 essays written in conversational style, though very readable and revealing.

Most of the essays subject the social system to an analytical dissection. Hypocricy, sycophancy, corruption of all kinds, vulgarisation of socio-cultural and spiritual values, criminalisation of politics and economy and so on are satirically commented upon with unusual vigour and sarcasm.

The author has dilated upon the decline of school and university education, reckless peasant behaviour in Punjab, Sanskritisation of the Punjabi language, insensitivity of the people towards social and physical environment, suffocating poverty and the problems associated with it, the question of women empowerment, police behaviour and deterioration of health services in Punjab and the avarice of doctors, lack of civic sense among the ordinary people, religious fanaticism and growth of population and unemployment.

In short, all aspects of life in India have been commented upon with a view to laying bare the failings, faults and flaws which are built into the system brought about by 50-odd years of freedom.

Commenting on the changes in the farm sector, the author says that farmers in Punjab have bought tractors and other farm machinery with the money borrowed from banks and other lending institutions. They are now under heavy debt. Many of them are unable to pay the interest let alone the principle, for which they have to sell the same machinery at half the price or mortgage their land.

The reckless use of machinery and migrant labour has allowed lot of free time to the farmers who then drink away their time, creating more social and health problems. The government is indifferent to this since it is easier to politically manipulate an inebriated and stupid farmer than the one who has become sensible and conscious of the state of affairs in the country.

The problem of drinking has affected a large number of government employees also, including teachers who take more pride in bunking the schools or take more interest in private tuition than in teaching in school itself. The same is the case with college teachers, particularly those handling science subjects.

The plight of ordinary women in the country is pitiable. A large majority of them are illiterate. They have to work along with their male partners, at the same time have to go through the travails of womanhood. They are doubly exploited by their employers and their husband. The condition of Muslim women from poor families in still worse.

A politician, according to the author, is clever as a crow. Most of his energy is utilised in devising ways and means to hoodwink the innocent people.

The bureaucrat also gets his share of blame. Dalbir Singh says that after the departure of the English, the ICS was replaced by the IAS. But nothing has really changed. Only the quality of raw material used in this contrivance has deteriorated. The officialdom has remained vain but without the previous high integrity quotient. Their pen wields the same lethal power, though their palms are now a little more greasy. They honestly believe that the government does not fully neutralise the inflationary impact and thus justify their itchy palms.

Political culture in the country breeds dynastic rule. If a Chief Minister does not have a son, his daughter is promoted as the future Chief Minister. Now even the sons-in-law do not hesitate to usurp the throne of their fathers-in-law.

Doctors in the country use their work in government hospitals for promoting their private practice. The so-called human touch has disappeared from the health services. It has been replaced by the fabled golden touch.

India claims to have achieved self-sufficiency in food production but millions of people sleep on empty stomach every night. Half a century of freedom has not brought basic needs of survival within the reach of the masses.

There is a shocking disparity in the ways of life of the well-to-do and the millions and millions of other people. There is no education but only literacy, that too for 42 per cent of the people. There is no civic sense in the country. The habit of betel-chewing alone has turned the colour of half the country to a reddish brown.

There is the morning nauseating scene along the railway lines. The author wants to know why only the railway lines are selected for this morning exercise. People with bottles and cans of water descend along the lines and the passing trains have a whiff of “fragrant” air. The compartments of trains are full of garbage thrown by passengers. Peanut-shells are ubiquitous in every nook and corner.

The hygienic standard of eatables on railway platforms and in ordinary markets is poor. Every eatable is kept in the open, inviting swarms of flies. The dust raised by the passers-by adds “spice” to every kind of eatable.

In most parts of the country, garbage, including human excreta, is still carried on head by scavengers. Child labour is rampant in the country. There is hardly any middle-class family that does not employ a “mundu”. More children are employed in dangerous places such as fireworks and bidi making. Millions of children are deprived of their childhood though there is a law against it.

There are, however, dozens of laws to protect children, women and workers which are seldom enforced by the state machinery.

Every aspect of social squalor in the country is bluntly detailed and the people responsible for the misery of the masses are exposed by Dalbir Singh. Despite all this he does not fail to notice the greatness and glory of India. Geographically, the country is really the best place in the world which is most conducive to a healthy life and economic prosperity.

The Indians, despite their disparity, have many things in common. The country has a variety of social life styles in different parts of the country. Had the country been managed better by the rulers, it could become one of the best places in the world in the next century itself.

Dalbir Singh’s “Pehli Kitab” is compulsory reading for those who care for India.Top


About the other Sai Baba
by P. D. Shastri

Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism by Marianne Warren. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 439. Rs 375.

Sai Baba of Shirdi (1838-1918), hailing from Maharashtra, was a great Muslim Sufi saint of the 19th century. His great teachings transcend faiths, countries and continents. Only the present Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi enjoys greater popularity and status as a global figure.

Sai Baba of Shirdi was every inch a Muslim. He read the Quran and taught his gospel to his chief disciple Abdul through the medium of the Quran. He offered namaz and lived in a mosque and when he died, he was buried in a grave. He talked of God as Allah.

Once he said to Abdul, “I am going to Allah for three days. You protect my ‘dead’ body for three days.” He returned after three days after meeting his Allah.

His disciple Abdul recorded every word that the Shirdi Baba spoke in his diary of 137 pages. That is his gospel. The last sentence there is, “There is no other God but Allah and Hazrat Muhammad is His messenger.”

The writer of this book is the first to translate Abdul’s diary into English and publish it in 137 paragraphs. It is a pioneering service.

Dr Marianne Warren, the author, was born in England, where she did her B.A. After that she emigrated to Canada where she took her Ph.D. degree from Toronto University; the subject of her dissertation was Sai Baba of Shirdi, on which the present book is based. She is at present professor at Toronto University.

Hers is then a unique work. She being a Christian and a Canadian is able to take a non-partisan view of the Shirdi Baba from her impartial height.

The books written by the Baba’s over-zealous disciplies often err on the side of excessive hero worship, making him much larger than life, while the books written by professionals and intellectuals seem at places too critical and seem to do less justice to this world figure.

This book running to 439 pages examines the Shirdi Baba from various angles — Sufism, Islamic mysticism, as a Muslim faqir, and also the Hindu following of the Shirdi Baba. Her researches are penetrating and comprehensive.

The Shirdi Baba cult is widespread in India and abroad. His temples are found in many cities, where his marble icons are worshipped by a large number of people. His pictures are kept in homes for good luck; some carry them in their purses for prosperity. The Shirdi Sai societies hold their meetings every week or even oftener throughout the year.

A large number of books and other literature has come up around his name; the author gives a bibliography running to 15 pages, followed by 10 pages of appendex. He is truly a grand phenomenon. Even today, Doordarshan is telecasting week after week a serial on the Shirdi Baba under the title “Ham sab ka malik ek” and ending with “Allah malik”.

When the Moghuls come to rule over India a large number of Muslim Sufi saints also come and settled in Maharashtra. The author gives a detailed history of the Sufi movement that started in Maharashtra and of the different Sufis who preached their message. The Sufis are not fanatical; their doctrine is that all religions are different facets of the same truth.

These Sufis are not too strict about the Shariat, Muslim laws and the Hadith. This outlook greatly appealed to the Hindu mind, especially during Muslim rule. As a result, a large number of Hindus adopted the religion of their Muslim gurus. To them Sufism seemed a half-way house between Hinduism and Islam, a sort of carrying the blessings of both.

Their Hindu detractors felt that the secret intentions of these Sufi saints and faqirs was to convert Hindus to Islam by other means. In any case. Sufism became a widely established cult in India.

At Shirdi which is the headquarters of this dynamic movement, the pilgrims are almost all Hindu, though a number of Muslim devotees also come.

Abdul, the Shirdi Babas chief disciple, remained with him at Shirdi for 29 years and after his death for a few years. He died in 1954 and the Shirdi shrine passed under the control of a Hindu trust.

In the case of a similar temple in Madras, the High Court and the Supreme Court did not permit a Hindu takeover, holding that the Shirdi Sai cult was common to all religions and should not be monopolised by one.

Thinking people are puzzled over the fact that Hinduism which has any number of gods, deities, gurus and scriptures should find it necessary to go to an outside source, a Muslim faqir, to seek religious instruction on such a vast scale. They start with an anti-Muslim prejudice and are very suspicious of Islam making inroads into Hindu institutions and culture. Then how come this fact?

The following incidents provide the answer. On May 23, 1940 when the present Sai Baba was a lad of 14 he threw away his school books and announced that he was Sai Baba incarnate. “I do not belong to you, my devotees are calling me,” he told his parents. He scattered jasmine flowers on the floor which formed in the Telugu script the name “Sai Baba”.

Our author visited Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh, Satya Sai Baba’s birthplace and the headquarters of the movement. Every time she found the Sai Baba announcing that he was the incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. She has dedicated her present book to Satya Sai Baba.

The Shirdi Baba had said at his death (1918) that he would return as a child after eight years; in 1926, Sai Baba was born, eight years later.

Sai Baba speaks of a trinity of Sais. He would live to be 96 years, until 2022; eight years after his death (in 2030) the third Sai, Prema Sai will be born in a village in Mandya district of Karnataka. The three Sai’s will embrace the three major religions of the world — the Shirdi Baba Islam; Satya Sai Baba Hinduism and Prema Sai Christianity. It will be the second coming of Christ. Evil has spread so deep that it required not one prophet but three Sais to combat it.

Thus we see that the Shirdi Baba rises to global stature on the shoulders of Satya Sai Baba whom millions regard as God.

At first the Shirdi Baba gave herbal medicines to patients. Later he gave only sacred ash (vibhuti) as does Satya Sai Baba.

The Shirdi Baba fought the British on the side of the army of the queen of Jhansi in 1857. His spiritual mission included freedom of the country.

The Shirdi Baba taught his Muslim disciples through the Quran, his Hindu followers heard shlokas from the Gita. In Hindu company he used the names Hari and Ram instead of Allah. This is Sufi accommodation to the Hindu milieu.

The Shirdi Baba believed in voluntary poverty. He gave away the funds collected daily at his satsangs and the next day started from the scratch. He did not believe in fasting and celibacy. He told his disciples: “Next time two of you should come.”Top


What about slave dynasties?
by M.L. Sharma

The Founders of Indus Valley Civilisation and their Later History Vol. I by Naval Viyogi. Indian National Historical Research Council, Ludhiana. Pages 366. Rs 300.

THE book under review is a research work and Viyogi is a recipient of a national award for this study which has also earned many accolades from scholars. The writer has brought out new facts and has focused on the history of the indigenous people of India. He claims the book is the first-ever authentic study on the origin and history of indigenous people.

He writes: “We can say that the Indian history of the ‘Ancient period’ is the history of Aryan Kshatriyas and Brahmins, thereafter comes the history of the Rajputs. Later comes the history of Muslim emperors and now the history of the British. But the history of the Shudras who comprise 85 per cent of the population was never written.”

In the first chapter, the author delves into the past and goes on to trace the roots of world civilisation. The Indus civilisation flourished on the banks of the river Indus. It spread in the north-west of India which included present-day Pakistan, Punjab, Haryana, some parts of Rajasthan and major parts of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. The main cities, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, were situated on the banks of the Indus and its tributaries, and hence the term Indus valley civilisation. Because archaeologists first traced Harappa historians has now given it the name of Harappan civilisation.

The author quotes S.R. Rao, famous for his work in Dwarka, to say that “the Harappans made a substantial contribution to the science of engineering as a whole. As pioneers in construction of an artificial dock with waterlocking arrangements, they laid the foundation of marine engineering in the whole world. It is they who introduced what now goes by the name of English bond in masonry. Their contribution to other branches of engineering can be gauged from the invention of the compass, the augur drill and the circular saw. They are the authors of linear system of measurement.” However, the people were ignorant of the use of iron and most of the weapons of that period like spear, axe, dagger and mace were made of copper and brass.

In one chapter, Viyogi deals with the Aryan race and mentions five theories of their original homeland ranging from Central Asia, the Arctic region, Tibet, Europe or India itself. The noted German Indologist Max Mueller has propounded the theory that the early home of the Aryans was Central Asia. He based his views on a comparative study of languages. The ancestors of Indians, Greeks, Romans, Germans and Celtic tribes, he says, lived in a common home in the distant past. Swami Dayanand has stated that the original home of the Aryans was Tibet.

In another chapter the author remarks that for a long time Magdha was ruled by non-Aryans and “the Brahmin culture was kept at arm’s length”. The rulers were the descendants of the people of the Indus valley and were called “rakshasas” by the Aryans.

Mahapadam was the first king of the Nanda dynasty. Jainist religious books describe him as the son of a barber born of a “Ganika”. He is quoted as saying that his father was a barber who became the favourite of the queen as he had an attractive personality. In due course he became a confident of the king but ultimately killed him and assumed power in the state.

The famous Chandra Gupta Maurya, in whose time Kautilya of the Arthasastra fame flourished, was also a native ruler and not an Aryan. The animosity between the Aryans and the indigenous people was deep-rooted and in support of this view historians refer to the remark of Porus to Alexander that Nanda was a man of low character and the son of a barber. The Aryans who were outsiders had subjugated the original people in the Indus valley and treated them as slaves.

There is a detailed discussion and description of the wars between the Aryans and non-Aryans. The author believes that the Punjabi surname of Puri may have originated from the Puru tribe, who fought Alexander in 327 B.C. He goes on to trace the roots of the words and shows that Pakhtoons are actually Pakhatas.

It is not a history textbook but a research work of considerable academic interest, containing different, sometimes conflicting, views of historians. Each historian views facts in his own way. (Such are the vagaries of the post-modernist theories in history!)

The book is useful for research scholars and those who want to study in depth Indian history in its socio-cultural and anthropological aspects.Top

Write view

Devi, the symbol and the spirit
by Randeep Wadehra

Devi Mahatmya by Manoj K. Thakur. World View Publications, Delhi. Pages xvi + 416. Rs 250.

Legend has it that when the Devtas could not withstand the Asura onslaught they prayed to Adi Shakti — the primordial mother — to save them. Armed with the collective strength of the Devtas as well as the powers of the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the goddess destroyed the Asuras and re-established the supremacy of the Devtas.

This book translates the Sanskrit text of the hymns written in praise of the mother goddess into Hindi as well as English. Details of the battles by the evil forces of Shumbha and Nishumbha against Durga are given in a thrilling manner. I have my own copy of the Durga Saptashati shlokas in Sanskrit with translation in Hindi, and I can vouch that the translation in both Hindi and English is quite faithful, though the English rendering could have been better.

This book is useful both for the pious and those who want to know the engima that Hinduism is. Personally, I look at the description of battles in the book as a conflict between the good and the evil which dwell in my own being. Everytime evil tries to dictate terms to my thought and deed, I turn to mother goddess for succour. She never lets me down.

* * *

Glory of Spiritual India by Hari Dutt Sharma. Pustak Mahal, New Delhi. Pages 224. Rs 80.

From the Vivekanada rock memorial at Kanyakumari to the Kailash parbat in the Himalayas the ethnic, social and sub-cultural diversity sometimes gives the uninitiated an impression that India has been artificially hammered together into an unworkable polity. Little do these uninformed souls realise that even when India was not a single political entity its spiritual unity and cultural wholeness was never in question.

When Adi Sankaracharya set out from a remote Kerala village to initiate Vedantic renaissance he traversed the length and breadth of the subcontinent. He met resistance on the level of principles and not on the basis of his ethnic, regional or linguistic identity. That he is revered today in Punjab as much as in Orissa, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu goes to show that India is spiritually an indestructible, eternal and vibrant entity.

Written in short evocative verses, this book attempts at presenting the glory of spiritual India in a simple form. The mystic significance of the weapons borne by various gods and goddesses is given — namely, the sword of Goddess Durga implies the power that banishes ignorance, the shield protects against all evil, the arrow destroys carnal desires and so on. Similarly, the mouse — Ganesha’s mount — is the symbol of intuitive intellect, the swan of Saraswati stands for the revelation of the absolute truth.

The concept of kundalini, yoga old age etc. have been dealt with in a lucid manner. A good book to have for reference purposes.

* * *

Smoke in the Sun by Ponchie Kanwar. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 182. Rs 501.

The book appears to make an attempt at cloning Vikram Seth’s “Suitable Boy” in the sense that it too is an “epic-in-verse”. But there the similarity ends. I could not go beyond the 50th page of Seth’s magnum opus despite summoning all my power of concentration and spiritual strength. Frankly I consider every such soul a concentrationmythomaniac who claims to have read Seth’s tome from cover to cover. Anyway I think a family saga in verse is a bit presumptuous.

So I opened the “Smoke in the Sun” with unease. Epics could be quiet daunting. This one however is not. It is quite readable though not exactly memorable. The narration is lucid and the imagery is interesting even if the plot is hackneyed.

Set in the feudal pre-independence India, the canvas stretches from the subcontinent to Europe. The main protagonists are Karan, the scion of a landlord-cum-industrialist family, and Seema from an urbane family of academics in Lucknow. It is a good read for killing time, as you would do while watching on television the “trials and tributlations”of the upper class baba log in Hindi soaps.

Ideally a saga, family or not, should be written in crisp prose. The writer basically tries to communicate his or her views, reactions and innermost thoughts to the reader in order to introduce fresh impulses in society. Ideas and interaction between the writer and the reader should go hand in hand. This is possible only if the latter picks up a book readily and reads it with interest. Unfortunately most of today’s writters are interested in going on an ego trip and treat work as purely a personnal function. This violates the creative person’s social responsibility. This is undesirable as the reader is put off. A literary creation need not be dreary reading.

As for “popular” literature, well, you do have a choice between Khushwant Singh and Shobha De, our desi Harold Robbins-cum-James Hadley Chase! The ribald and the risque galore. One may object to their contents but not to the form. Fortunately, poets of similar calibre or world view, who would unabashedly cash in on their carefully nurtured notoriety, have not arrived on the Hinglish literary scene as yet.

Poetry is an abstraction that portrays truth — relative or absolute — succinctly. The perceptions and thought of the poet stand revealed. Epics in verse are an anachronism in today’s milieu. Moreover, not everyone can be a Maharishi Ved Vyas or Maharishi Balmiki. Nevertheless, Ponchie Kanwar has churned out a readable stuff. If you are not the toffee-nosed snob who buys “classics” for decorating the drawing room, but likes to curl up in the bed with something light to browse through, this book is certainly for you.Top

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