The classic love tragedy
Review by Himmat Singh Gill
— A Novel by Mohsin Hamid. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages
244. Rs 250.
is a first novel by Mohsin Hamid, who grew up in Lahore and
now lives in New York, and is about his motherland of 1998,
riding high on nuclear tests but dismally low on economy. A
country that just about provides an apt setting for the
drunken hero Darashikoh Shezad to jet set his way to his own
decline, after he has fallen in love with his best friend’s
wife Mumtaz. In true oriental philosophy and thinking, he now
suffers all the consequences. It is a swinging novel of life
in the 1990s in Islamic Pakistan, where the poor and the rich
(read very rich) exist side by side, and the dirty, mean
streets of its cities are as much at ease with its cordless
phones and Pajeros, as its humble hand-pulled carts for a
casually (and that is his strength) and honestly (and that
provides the truth and transparency so necessary in a fiction)
and paints a vivid picture of a rigid society now on the fast
track of western capitalism and consumerism (for good or ill).
The farm house parties (like our own variety in Gurgaon and
Mehrauli) are there with Ecstasy pills at Rs 2000 each that go
half and half down Mumtaz’s and Darashikoh’s throat, the
buying of the mobile police patrol’s silence with a few
hundred rupees after being found drunk behind the wheel and
the Dobermans that were set upon Ozi (Mumtaz’s husband) and
Daru in a friend’s house.
cigarettes ("Reds") and the poor McDowell, smuggled
from India, superior brand Black Label going at Rs 4000 a
bottle, are all there to project a very modern picture of our
neighbour, that very few of us really seem to understand.
The hold of
the mullahs notwithstanding the youth in Pakistan, going by
"Moth Smoke", are definitely having a good time, and
Hamid does paint a vivid contemporary social landscape.
one finds him immensely humorous: "I was happier when we
had load shedding five hours a day: at least then a man didn’t
have to be a millionaire to run his AC", or, in talking
of Khurram uncle, the author says, "He has an
unmistakable tone of command I associate with Sandhurst and
the experience of sitting comfortably in an office while
ordering men to die".
Lahore swings away with "mulligatawny soup and roast
beef", our hero in spite of all his parties and all his
scotch, is not happy what with his rumbling bowels and
dehydrated self. "Liquid. Completely liquid. And acidic.
The worst kind. Frothy and all that I need some Immodium, a
double dose, double quick or I’ll be dehydrated by
sunset." Quite obvious, what else would you expect if he
has taken to selling "charas" and giving heroin a
try; and when his lifelong servant Munuchi advises him against
it, Darashikoh bashes him up, leading to his departure and
symbolically announcing his own imminent downfall. That does
not take very long in coming.
affair with Mumtaz is actually at the root of it all. She is
already married and has a child and so does not wish to marry
Darashikoh. He loves her and wants her to leave Ozi for good.
She leaves Rs 100 notes in his purse after spending hours with
him, yet cannot take his criticism when he tells her that she
is neglecting her son. Both are attracted to each other, live
with each other and steal moments of affection and sex, but
the more pragmatic of the two does not wish to break up her
household and her husband’s heart. A typical situation of
the moth and the candle.
drawn to me just as I’m drawn to her. She can’t keep away.
She circles, forced to keep her distance, afraid of abandoning
her husband and, even more her son, for too long. But she
keeps coming like a moth to my candle staying longer than she
could, leaving late for dinners and birthday parties, singeing
her wings. She is risking her marriage for me, her family, her
reputation. And I, the moth, circling her candle, realise that
she’s not just a candle. She’s a moth as well, circling
another complication in this complicated love tie. Muazzam,
the son of Ozi and Mumtaz, who according to Daru, provides all
the guilt complex to his mother. "Muazzam is what stands
between Mumtaz and me. She feels so guilty about leaving him
that she’s willing to stay in a meaningless marriage. I
wonder what would happen if Muazzam got into a car accident,
if he died suddenly."
It is here
that this reviewer must leave this climax of the narrative and
let the reader imagine what happens next in the last few
chapters of the book. A little later Darashikoh, graduates to
robbing a boutique in league with underworld rotter Murad
Badshah. "A joint in my mouth heavy on the hairy and a
9-mm automatic tucked into my jeans", they hold up the
joint successfully, but while making the getaway in his Suzuki
car, Darashikoh according to the prosecution, overruns over
and kills an ugly little boy, who Daru believes so closely
resembles Muazzam, and lands himself in jail. The Muazzam
coming between him and Mumtaz syndrome again.
later many witnesses and even some members of the
Accountability Commission off the record have continued to
maintain that it was a Pajero (a car that Ozi uses) that
killed the boy at the red light. It cannot be proved
conclusively outside the courts, but the cuckolded husband
possibly has the last say and the last laugh with his wife and
her lover Daru.
novel follows the theme of paying up on this world for your
actions and deeds. Temporary triumphs aside, finally Daru,
Ozi, Mumtaz and every other character of some consequence meet
their nemesis. All these characters also carry out a
self-assessment of themselves which is not such a bad thing
after all, especially for the reader who often just skims
through a book wishing to take everything in but with little
effort on his part. Examples: Aurangzeb or Ozi, "I’m
Aurangzeb, Ozi to my wife, my friends and even those of my
friends who sleep with my wife. But mostly I’m Aurangzeb.
And regardless of what you’ve heard, I’m not a bad
"Maybe" I am a monster, after all." Or,
"When I met Darashikoh Shezad I didn’t know whether I
was going to sleep with him but I knew I wanted to. He seemed
the perfect partner for my first extramarital affair. He was
smart and sexy, and since he was one of Ozi’s best friends,
I knew he’d keep his mouth shut." And so on.
all this and more of what the razzle-dazzle in Pakistan’s
Lahore do today. At least as the US-settled Mohsin Hamid sees
it, one thing is certain. Mohsin couldn’t have got this one
published in Pakistan and then stayed on there to savour its
early success. Which raises one nagging doubt in this reviewer’s
mind. Do most Indo-Anglian writers write for themselves, or
the western readership?
* * *
India: A Tribute to Maharaj Prem Singh by Sarina Singh. Roli
Books/Lustre Press, New Delhi. Pages 128. Rs 595.
game of the princes, the cavalry and the well-to-do, polo (for
the uninitiated many) is a sport played like hockey on
horseback with long-handled mallets and plenty of guts, vigour
India" written by Sarina Singh, a roving writer based in
Australia but who loves to travel, and printed most
artistically and in arresting style in Singapore, is not only
about this great game, but also about one of the polo legends
of the world, Maharaj Prem Singh, a third generation player from Jodhpur,
who stormed the polo fields of many continents from the early
1950s, bringing India glory and honour, like only a very few
have done during their times. Published in association with
the Maharana Mewar Historical Publication Trust, Udaipur, and
illustrated with dozens of rare and antique colour-plates,
this is a book-lover's delight, if ever there was one.
Who was this
great polo player, about whom Prince Philips, the Duke of
Edinburgh, has said: "Prem.... had an extraordinary
talent with a polo pony, he combined strength with
consideration and always got the best out of his
ponies...."Or for that matter, Rajmata Gayatri Devi of
Jaipur in talking of Prem Singh, "A gentleman, a fine
sportsman... an intellectual and a philosopher... a
traditionalist with a modern outlook. A complete man."
This is what
Sarina has to say about the first player honoured with the
Arjuna award for polo and the man who triumphed in 1953 at
Deanville to win the world cup: "He has certainly rubbed
shoulders with the "caviar" of society, playing polo
with the likes of Prince Philip, Lord Mountbatten and the
Sultan of Brunei, to name but a few. Yet there is not a
pretentious bone in his body. On the contrary, Maharaj Prem
has a propensity to make everyone feel special. That’s what
makes this man shine."
humble octogenarian, for whom polo was his full lifetime,
recounts, "I never ever wanted to stop playing polo and
even if I can no longer play it, I still love it."
was "a man extraordinaire, brimming with zest and vigour,
fun and laughter", as Arvind Singh Mewar, ex-Maharana of
Udaipur, so aptly puts it. Right from his school days at
Jodhpur playing polo at the age of 12 to active field service
in World War IIin the famous Jodhpur Lancers, his father’s
regiment, to coaching young polo players at the Calcutta Polo
Club, to winning the Centenary Gold Cup versus the Rotananda
team in 1962, to managing the Glendale Polo Club in Illinois along with
Harold Reskin, and to winning the Queen’s Cup at Windsor in
1959 along with the Silverlay’s team, Maharaj Prem Singh’s
commitment to the game was all-encompassing and enduring.
His love for
polo, his infectious enthusiasm and capacity to groom the
youngsters with his tireless coaching point to a man who has
even gone beyond the game, to near-perfection in not only
playing and managing the sport, but also in human
relationships and true sportsmanship. What a change from some
of the cricketers of India today, who have muddied their name
in one controversy or the other. Rightly it has been said:" Let
other people do other things, The king of games is still the
game of kings".
From the 19th
century onwards the game of polo was actively promoted and
patronised by the British Cavalry (then they had horses and
not tanks), and the royal houses in Rajasthan. Polo was played
pretty seriously till independence and later on due to a
paucity of ponies and the added infrastructure, the Indian
cavalry regiments like the Poona Horse, 7th Cavalry and this
reviewers’ own regiment Hodsons’ Horse (now also called 4
Horse) switched over to polo of the other kind with bicycles
with many cycle polo tournaments in the cavalry cantonments of
the country, especially in Patiala and Jhansi — Babina in Madhya
Pradesh. All said and done, cycle polo always came out as a
poor second to the real polo played on horseback.
Singh fortunately lives on today with great names in the game
adorning many playing fields in India and abroad. Billy Sodhi,
Pinka Virk, Rupi Brar, Bhawani Singh and Kuldip Singh Garcha
are some who have donned colours for many teams with
distinction and aplomb and one is happy that by writing this
book, Sarina Singh (and Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur) have
woken up our countrymen to this robust and manly sport which
had it not been for the patronage of some of the royal houses
and many commercial companies and corporates, could have
wasted away in the humdrum of a largely middle-class India and
was the only Indian polo player to have raised his handicap
from one to four in one season. He also holds the record for
having scored the longest goal not once but twice, hitting
from one goal mouth to the other! Prem Singh took part in
three World Cup competitions in which India won in 1953 and
1957 in France.
Colonel Kishen Singh, another
big name in polo says, "Whatever Maharaj Prem went, he
promoted polo in a big way.... I think his contribution cannot
be compared to that of any other player’s in this
country." And on a lighter (but quite frankly a serious
note), Prem Singh was so good in polo that it is worth quoting
Brigadier V.P. Singh, another polo player: "Maharaj Prem
Singh would make the very most of every situation. If you gave
him a donkey, he’d sit on a donkey and play polo — he was
poems in one’s
Review by Shalini Kalia
by Arun Gaur Aadhar Prakashan, Panchkula. Pages. 112. Rs 150
mist deepens. There is something that we remember, something
that cannot be forgotten, something that must be, in spite of
never existing outside us. On both sides of the walls are
portraits of our literary forefathers. Dark, gloomy colours
clouding stern, fair faces usually with sideburns, concealing
smiles of alien lands.
We come out
and in the mirror in the hall we see we resemble no one. We
have neither Pound’s long artistic, probing fingers nor the
swagger of a Shelley or a Keats in our walk. We neither sing
like Whitman nor talk wittily like Pope; we have neither Eliot’s
appetite nor Donne’s ingenuity.
Who do we
take after? Indian poets — the "sons of the gods"
who left us only a language — have grappled for long with
the questions of lineage and style. Traces of the
Shakespearean Rag juxtaposed with hot, dusty journeys on
Indian roads and trains.
tracks meet lies the essence of poetry for us. No purging of
our emotions. We are what we are. And also a little of what we
are made out to be. So we talk of our literary fathers in our
father-tongue and desperately hold on to our thoughts and
idioms in our mother tongue. Maybe that is why for us
"the washer women/Merciless beauties/their sarees pink
blue green/scintillate in early morning light."
asphyxiating grammer, no punctuation, no "law of the
father". Here is an anthology of perfectly Indian poems,
perfectly valid but satiating the palate of the
"empire" or the empire-admirer only. The poet tries
to deny rhyme and it creeps in surreptitiously: "one
needle like steeple". And he tries to swap the
post-post-modernism’s "global bug on the head" —
swap! But the imprints of the "son of man" and his
"coy mistress" are deeply embedded in the pages.
There is no getting away from Eliot and Marvell. The fire in
the words at times is however, fire-flies. The pain is
has confessedly shed his pretensions of being surrealistic and
pedantic. But learning and the "anxiety of
influence" cling hard to the compositions as in
"cube on squarish platform/And remnants of tower/As stone
displaces Buddhist brick/Northern spire is born...". Like
the skin we can’t shed off. At times the simplistic doha-like
writing manages to shine through the chinks "Artist
chisels his tender kid/And when law forbids this
chiseling/Tradition dies...". At other times poetry
appears as flat translations — all the dynamic bubbles dying
away. "Mr You have not come here/To have leisure of
works from the margin inwards. The shifting of subject
positions and of voice, where a voyeuristic tourist peeps into
where the "Great God slumbers/Great God dreams..."
Caribbean writer Jamaica Kinciad states bluntly: "One of
the crimes of the colonial era was the violation of the
colonised people’s language. For isn’t it odd that the
only language that I have in which to speak of this crime is
the language of the criminal who committed this crime?"
Arun Gaur has
most certainly "written back" through "the
native’s eyes" of travels in his own country, but of
much else besides. Throughout the compositions railway lines
and roads criss-cross. And Shivpuri’s lost glory, Sagar’s
perfect symmetry, Viket Bhairav’s passion and Badami’s
panting rocks are redeemed from the oblivion of centuries.
snakes, lotuses, Gandharvas and elephants are dusted off and
resuscitated. The scars left by the "Afghans Turks
Mughals Bundelas Britons/And adventurers burglars" are
poulticed. From a mere poet, his role changes into that of a
roaming mendicant, the eternal seeker of truth looking behind
boulders in the cold Tabo desert, to the rocks of Alwar and
Aihole, to peering inside dim Buddhist caves and behind the
"immovable crocodile" stones on the river Betwa. He
passes through the ennui of the military town of Chakrata and
the "demonstrative" greetings of Hyderabad and the
ironic journey goes on in a country where, "Burglars are
icon-lifters/But caretakers of history lift entire
What remains is the yearning
and some crumbs of answer: "O let us build something/That
should remind generations/what we were/Not what became of
A reformist’s revelations
Review by T.V. Rajeswar
Speaking by Chandrababu Naidu with Sevanti Ninan. Viking, New
Delhi. Pages 263. Rs 395.
Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s experiments in
improving his state administration are explained in this book.
Naidu became the Chief Minister in 1995 after an internal
party struggle which had all the markings of a palace coup.
Naidu’s organisational skill, demonstrated while his
charismatic father-in-law N.T. Rama Rao was running the state
in his own fashion, enabled him to take over from him fairly
smoothly. He proved his mettle in the Assembly and
parliamentary elections subsequently. He currently controls 29
TDP MPs crucial to the survival of the Vajpayee government.
overwhelming strength in the State Assembly has given him a
free hand in going ahead with reforms which are largely
information technology-driven. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are
ahead of AP in software development, export and in the number
of software engineers. And Naidu will not rest till he pushed
AP ahead of every other state in the country.
He came out
with a Vision 2020 document about the role which his state
should play in the new millennium and it primarily focuses on
improvements in the fields of agriculture, industry and
services. Assisted by a set of devoted civil servants who are
all experts in computer technology, Naidu was able to locate
the various bottlenecks which are holding up progress in the
He found the
administrative machinery "huge and self perpetuating,
slow and accountable to nobody and, above all, obstructive and
it essentially exists for itself and not for public
service". This is basically true of the administrative
set-up, both in the states and at the Centre.
that while in 1984-85 the expenditure on salaries and pensions
of employees accounted for 76.98 per cent of the revenue, by
1996-97 it has risen to 94.5 per cent. A close look showed
that certain departments had more than twice the number of
people they really needed. Out of the 2,70,000 posts, the
review found that 1.96,740 posts, or 40.62 per cent, to be
He began the
slimming operation by downsizing and freezing new posts. As
for files in the government offices, Naidu says they
proliferate alarmingly and if they are staked one on the
other, we can build a staircase to heaven. Target dates were
fixed to reduce the files drastically and by September 2000,
the number may come down by more than half in the secretariat
It would be a
good idea if a similar exercise is carried out by the central
Ministries. There was a recent report that in one of the
Central Government departments it took two years and 48
nothings to clear a deputy adviser’s application to attend a
several other administrative reforms like abolishing
interviews for recruiting teachers and doctors and going
entirely by the marks secured by the applicants; this was to
eliminate the subjective element and make the process
transparent. In the matter of tenders for awarding contracts
for carrying out public works, Naidu claims to have worked out
a foolproof system after discussing the matter with the
officers, engineers, builders and contractors.
discovered that providing a subsidy is like mounting the
proverbial tiger and that a subsidy gives diminishing
political returns. He cites the case of Punjab where the Badal
Government lost heavily in the 1999 parliamentary elections in
spite of a free supply of power and water to kisans. This
explains why Naidu eventually toned down his opposition to the
NDA government’s cut in the subsidy for fertilisers and an
increase in the PDS grain prices.
situation in Andhra Pradesh had been abysmally poor for the
past few years. Naidu has since restructured the entire system
and set up the AP Electricity Regulatory Commission to take
care of generation, transmission, etc. Towards the end of May
the APERC came out of with new rates for domestic consumers,
increasing the tariff to Rs 7.05 per unit for those consuming
more than 400 units; this is more than double the existing
rate. For the farm sector an annual fees of Rs 500 will be
charged for a 10 HP motor set and the revised rates will bring
in an additional revenue of Rs 1095 crore. Naidu has set a
bold example in cutting down subsidies in the power sector
which the Chief Ministers of other states would do well to
is in the field of electronic conferencing that Naidu has made
remarkable progress. All his 30 Ministers, 294 MLAs and 641
officers from the All India Services have been put through
computer training. It is claimed that the state can boast of
having the largest number of computers in the government
departments which make it easier for improving the levels of
At a more
basic level all administrative details from the village
upwards have been fed into the computer. At any given moment,
Chief Minister Naidu, sitting at his residence at Hyderabad,
can find out how much power has been generated in a particular
power project during the day or how much the Godavari river
would rise during floods and which are the villages likely to
He has his
interaction with the village people in weekly
tele-conferencing. All the district headquarters and the DMs
are cyber-linked and there could be video conferencing by the
Chief Minister from Hyderabad with any one of his DMs or all
of them together. Naidu hopes that soon all the 1125 mandals
of the state would be likewise cyber connected.
This has been
facilitated by Naidu using his influence to get the Department
of Telecommunication to lay more than 20,000 km of optic fibre
cable connecting all these places. Moreover, remote sensing by
satellites has also been fully utilised and it is claimed that
the entire state’s 23 districts, 1125 mandals, 224 Assembly
constituencies and 28,245 revenue villages have been
digitalised. The state’s roadwork has been mapped out and an
engineer sitting in Hyderabad can find out the state of
affairs of a particular section of a road after a flood.
bright picture painted by Naidu there are some black patches
such as the state’s inability to work out a practical system
of crop insurance, minimum subsistence wages for landless
labour and credit for marginal farmers. Otherwise there would
not be so many cases of farmers committing suicide year after
year when crops fail, sell kidneys to raise money for paying
the money lenders or sale of babies by the very poor in
villages. What the DMs and mandal pramukhs have done to
prevent such distress is not clear. A sensitive administrator
like Naidu should be anxious to prevent such incidents and
hopefully they would become rare in the coming years.
Chandrababu Naidu says that
to innovate in this country, you require political courage
more than resources. Well said and for the first time this is
practised by the NDA government. Naidu’s book should be
compulsory reading for every Minister and bureaucrat and if
only even half of his sensible and innovative ideas is
followed and adopted in all areas of administration, this
country would indeed leap ahead.
What is karma?
Review by Satish K. Kapoor
Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brahmanical,
Buddhist and Jaina Traditions by Yuvraj Krishna. Motilal
Banarsidass. Pages xviii+650. Rs 595.
"karma" means action. But actions are not isolated
acts. They culminate in inevitable consequences, both good and
bad, in this life or in a reincarnation. In Hinduism,
"karma" is regarded as "a neutral, self
perpetuating law of the inner cosmos much as gravity is an
impersonal law of the outer cosmos. "Karma" is of
four types: the accumulated actions of previous births which
do not influence a man’s present life are called sanchita:
the actions of past life which determine his destiny are
called prarabdha; and the actions which are now
performed are called kriyamana. The kriyamana is
transformed into sanchita and becomes the basis of agami.
has also been classified as white (meaning good) black
(meaning bad) and colourless (meaning insignificant). In a
ritualists sense "karma" has six more categories to
it. They are: daily (nitya), occasional like
pilgrimage, fasting, etc. (naimittika), those performed
with a specific purpose such as a sacrifice to obtain a son (karya),
those activities undertaken with a spiritual motive (adhyatmika),
those relating to tutelary deities such as the repetition of a
mantra (adhidaivika) and those related to living beings
provides a comprehensive study of the doctrine of
"karma" in its various ramifications. It takes in
its gamut such questions as how do Indian religious traditions
view "karma"? How does "karma" operate?
How has the "karma" theory helped the evolution of
the ideal of liberation? Is the doctrine of "karma"
entwined with the concept of the four yugas? What is
"nishkama karma"? Is there a balancing of
"karmas"? How is "karma" linked to
To begin with
the author describes three essential features of the doctrine
of "karma". First, it is an ethical and moral law;
second, it is a law of restributive justice; third,
retributive justice is possible only through rebirth. The
doctrine of "karma" exists in an embryonic form in
the "Samhitas" and "Brahmanas".
Although the Rigveda mentions it about 40 times, it is
primarily used in the sense of sacrificial acts. The
"Brahmanas" specifically identify "karma"
with liturgical acts. Although there is "absence of
ethical or moral concepts in pre-Upanishadic Vedic
literature", the ideas of transmigration and rebirth
occur both in the "samhitas" and the "Brahmanas".
Upanishadic exposition of "karma" is somewhat
ambivalent in the sense that they uphold "karma" as
a moral law, and in the same vein, teach how they can be
"destroyed or arrested and rendered sterile."
elaboration of "karma" is unique in many ways.
Jainism, for example, regards "karma" as a form of
matter which is atomic in its nature. The "Uttaradhyayana
Sutra" states that the number of atoms of each
"karma" is infinite and is to be found in all the
six directions of space. "It is this atomic matter which
binds all souls."
classifies "karma" in eight forms: that which
impedes right knowledge; that which shakes right faith; that
which causes delusion; that which leads to pleasure or pain;
that which determines the nature of one’s existence; that
which prescribes the specific form of existence; that which
determines one’s status in society; and that which prevents
a person from doing philanthropic acts.
In the Jaina
way of life five "mahavratas and five anuvratas
are prescribed for monks and laymen, respectively, for the
creation of a righteous social order.
and Buddhism, Jainism explains the factor of inequality among
human beings as a product of good and bad "karma".
As many as 16 types of "karma" are mentioned in the
believes that man is tied to the wheel of birth and death and
can attain nirvana only by breaking the chains of
"karma". "Karma" is regarded as a
causative force, as a law of personal responsibility and as a
law of inexorable retribution. Reincarnation is the working
out of this law. None can escape the consequences of his
what distinguishes a Brahmin from an outcaste is not birth but
"karma". The "karmic" law is not
discriminatory "like the man-made law codes".
According to the Buddha, past "karmas" determine the
present caste of a human being and the present
"karmas" determine the caste status in future
crisply delineates the doctrine of "karma" as it
occurs in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the
six systems of Indian philosophy. It also relates
"karma" to Indian astrology, to Hindu law, to
Sanskrit drama, to Ayurveda and to the incarnations of God.
"karma" doctrine was opposed by the
"Svabhavavadins", "Ajnanavadins" and other
schools of thought. But the real danger to it came from the
"shunyavada" and "Vijnanavada" of the
Buddhists and the Advaits of Sankaracharya. It survived
contends that even though the doctorines of "karma"
cannot be experimentally or empirically proved, it provides
the best possible explanation for inequality and suffering in
life, for the immense diversity in the universe and for
varying results produced by "the equal human effort with
identical environment or other related factors". Besides,
it debunks the view that "karma" breeds an attitude
of resignation or fatalism.
The book having five useful
appendinces, select bibliography, a comprehensive author,
title and subject index, be speaks of the author’s erudition
and the publisher’s skill in producing flawlessly.
Review by Shelley Walia
Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta
Menchu translated by Ann Wright Verso, London. Pages 251. £
Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu’s autobiography,
"I Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala",
is set in the 1970s, a period when the native population of
the Maya Indians faced genocide which almost uprooted entire
villages. It was during this time that the Maya Indians began
their agitation for land and founded unions which threatened
the rule of the totalitarian and ruthless government of Efraim
Rios Montt. Menchu’s book is an account of this terrible
violence, and its publication is largely responsible for the
international attention to the crime against human freedom
which might have gone unnoticed because of the remoteness of
the highlands in Guatemala where militarisation and systematic
killings were taking place.
Menchu, perhaps the most talked about woman in Guatemala, is a
leader who had advanced beyond mere reformism. Her concern is
to be oppositional, to be a public intellectual (though she is
hardly literate) who takes up any issue of injustice, dogma or
oppression, particularly the dominance of certain forms of
human exploitation so as to develop a politics of resistance.
Though Spanish is not her mother tongue, she had to learn the
language of the oppressor and use it as a tool against the
Spanish imperialist rule backed by the USA. A Quiche Indian,
her struggle has been to assert her individuality and cultural
autonomy. The supression of the past 500 years led to a
determined revival of the culture, language and faith of the
Indians she so wholeheartedly represents.
survived the genocide which liquidated hundreds of her
countrymen, she tells her fascinating and sad story about her
suppressed history and the fundamental questions about the
identity of her race. It is a work of great humanity,
poignancy and courage giving the account of the dreadful
moments when her 16-year-old brother, Petrocinio, was burnt
alive in front of family members and the weeks of agony her
mother went through before the army left her to die. Menchu
proclaims her allegiance to her ethnic group, devoting her
life to overthrowing the relations of dominance and exclusion
which characterise internal colonialism.
writings she takes up issues of difference and marginality,
and looks intensely to the future when her people would
finally live in a world that no longer rests on European
hegemony. She emphatically maintains that we in the Third
World inhabit the structures of violence and violation. Ours
is the dilemma of the marginal, incapable to an extent of a
radical critique of the dominant. Either we have to
re-identify our culture and integrate with the dominant or we
risk our political survival.
realistically she presents some of these risks which a
vulnerable and economically and militarily backward race
faces; the more vulnerable the position, the more one has to
negotiate. Menchu has created a demand for a dialogue, and
not, as Gayatri Spivak says, "a neutral dialogue which
essentially results in the death of history". Menchu
refuses to be defined by negation and exclusion.
Her story is
deeply moving because what she has to say is simple and true.
It is not a fictional but a real world that she creates that
constantly questions metropolitan cultures and all this is
sincerely woven into the first-person narrative. It is a cry
for the restoration of humanism and in particular the
classical value of harmony. Menchu’s voice is one the people
around the world are able to hear, especially because it is
full of triumph, sadness and sensitivity. She tells her story
well with the art which conceals art, so that a series of
narratives becomes a complex exploration of the meaning of the
history of exploitation.
all Indians of Latin America, she has succeeded in unmasking
their historical reality. She traces the meaning of the
rhetoric of nationalism to her own life, the history of the
land and the inhuman treatment of the natives. Needless to
say, rhetoric that concerns issues of wider consequence are
often sincere in the very articulation, a fact often
misunderstood by short-sighted and conformist critics of
capitalist development and the inevitable change that goes
with it. Menchu’s story is about slavery and suffering
through history, and its sheer authenticity demands worldwide
Menchu’s work and personal history are not external to each
other, but have an inter-connection, always suggesting a fresh
range of investigation. Her autobiographical novel should be
read in conjunction with works such as Chinua Achebe’s
"Things Fall Apart" or Tyeb Salih’s "Season
of Migration in the North", which "write back"
to the cultural assumptions and modes of representation of
western history. At the top of her agenda is the study of
de-colonisation within which she and her people begin to
recognise the centrality of violence in European culture and
the brutalisation of the Third World. She does not view her
people as objects of history, but as subjects forced to
sacrifice all for the reconstruction of a new and independent
ironically, her appeal is to the old European ideology of
nationalism towards which she and her people endeavour to
channel their energy. Like the Martiniquean poet Aime Cesaire
or the Trinidad-born British author C.L.R. James, her work is
based on studies of domination and control, made from the
standpoint of a struggle for independence and fundamental
human rights. The result of such efforts is the upsurge of
unprecedented opportunities for the oppressed who are
imperceptibly moving into positions of power. It is only last
year that the Commission for Historical Clarification issued
its report describing the government’s act
"racist" and highlighting the "massacre,
scorched-earth operations, forced disappearances and
executions of Mayan authorities, leaders and spiritual
guides". This indicates the attempt to destroy the
"social base of the guerrillas" as well as the
cultural values that ensured cohesion and collective action in
sister aptly remarked at a rally held recently in Guatemala,
"A revolutionary isn’t born out of something good, he
is born out of wretchedness and bitterness." The
revolutionaries like Menchu are the avengers of death and
their race cannot be extinguished "while there is light
in the morning star". They have no personal needs while
their countrymen live in horrifying conditions. But there will
be a time when, "we’ll all be happy perhaps not with
nice houses but at least we won’t see our land running with
blood and sweat".
are not learnt at school. Like Menchu one has to turn
"One’s own experience into something which is common to
a whole people", to "rise and demand" (in the
words of Miguel Angelo Astureas) so that "the universe
will bear your hope". And in this spirit Menchu continues
to "speak truth to power" in spite of the death
threats and telephone harassment she and her friends in the
Menchu Foundation have been victim to in the last few months.
She holds the
government of Alfonso Portillo responsible for this
"climate of terror" and has warned the powerful
leaders of Guatemala that she would never retreat from her
defence of human rights and a universal set of concerns, all
of them relating to emancipation, including revisionist
attitudes to history and culture.
shall always seek connections with her culture and her
community to contest the dehumanising effects of
dictatorships. This capacity for resistance is the most
significant location of the human agency of colonised peoples.
Menchu’s humanism is not
homogenising so much as liberational and oppositional, not
embedded in any theoretical paradigm so much as being located
in a historically bound category.
twist to development
Surinder S. Jodhka
Agriculture in the Making of Modern India by Akhil Gupta. Oxford University
Press, New Delhi. Pages 256. Rs 310.
like "progress" and "development" naturally evoke a positive
response. In a country where nearly half the people do not get minimum required
nutrition for survival and where nearly than half the population does not know
how to read and write, why should anyone question the desirability of such a
process? However, we also know that things are not as simple as they are made
out to be by economic textbooks. Development is not merely a process that brings
in material progress and riches to a society. Development is also an idea, a
theory and a way of looking at existing state of affairs in the world.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the
theories of development and modernisation were extensively criticised for their
obvious West-centric biases. The evolutionary mode of theorising the processes
of social change placed the countries of the West as being ahead of the
"new" nation-states of the Third World. The "underdeveloped"
or the "developing countries" were to "catch up" with the
already modern West by following policies and programmes suggested by these
The most serious objection that
the critics had raised against these evolutionary theories of development was
their complete ignoring of the experience of colonialism. The contemporary
position of the Third World, or for that matter even of the West, could not be
comprehended without giving centrality to the experience of colonial
exploitation of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America by the countries
of the First World, they argued.
Most of these debates on
development have been carried out at a "grand" level. They were not of
much help when it came to examining the micro level situation or the specific
programmes of development under way in different "developing
societies". At the concrete level, social scientists, particularly
economists, have been working on the nature and extent of social and economic
changes that have been produced by different policies and programmes of
development, which programmes work better and why.
Another problem with much of
the existing literature on development has been that it does not deal with the
question of culture in any satisfactory manner. Even when economists or
sociologists looked at culture in relation to development, they viewed it in
terms of the "enabling" or "disabling" qualities of
different cultures in the process of economic development. While some cultural
values were considered conducive to development, others — mostly those of the
"Oriental" societies — were seen as creating hindrances.
In a remarkably refreshing
departure from these "old" debates on development, in a recent book
entitled "Post-colonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern
India", Akhil Gupta looks at development as a discourse of
post-colonialism. Though based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Alipur,
a village in western Uttar Pradesh, the book makes many interesting theoretical
interventions in the current debates on the issues relating to development and
the emerging nature of the global world order.
His main contention is that
development is not merely a programme of social change. It is also an ideology
and a discourse, a body of knowledge that has been used by the new elite of the
Third World countries to gain legitimacy for their rule and has shaped the
everyday lives of the common people in a specific manner. As Gupta argues,
"since World War II, the everyday life of poor people in the Third World
have been thoroughly transformed by the ‘Age of Development’, during which
have occurred some of the most ambitious national and international experiments
in social engineering that the world has ever witnessed."
Underdevelopment for Gupta was
not merely a structural location in the global community of nations; rather, it
was also a form of identity, something that informed people’s sense of self.
"Who people thought they were, how they got that way, and what they could
do to alter their lives had been profoundly shaped by the institutions,
ideologies, and practices of development". On the basis on his fieldwork,
he claims that in rural north India, a pervasive feeling of being
underdeveloped, of lagging behind the West, articulated with other identities of
caste, class, region and sexuality, produced people’s sense of their selves.
Central to the discourse of
development, according to Gupta, is to look at things through a specific set of
binary opposites — East-West, orient-occident, backward-advanced and
traditional-modern. It was during the colonial period that these binaries and
this language of understanding differences between the West and the
"rest" were first worked out by the colonisers. However, even after
the end of colonial period, the language in which the West understands the Third
World and the way Third World understands itself has not undergone much change.
The most obvious and influential of these has been the traditional-modern
dichotomy that continues to be used quite frequently, and very often
uncritically, even today.
However, there is one crucial
difference between the language of the colonial rulers and contemporary
discourses of development. Gupta contends that the cultural logic of development
is closely linked to the question of nation. It was after the reorganisation of
the world into nation-states during the post -World War II period that the
discourse of development acquired ascendancy.
Gupta also points to the fact
that though development is generally understood as "national
development", right from the beginning it has also had a global context.
The idea of development visualised a new global regime with its own norms of
governance. This new regime allocated specific positions to the nations of the
Third World. Temporally, the Third World nation-states were positioned and were
seen as being "behind" the West. Geographically, newly emerging
nation-states, no matter what their position in the map, were located on the
"periphery" of a world system whose centre lay on the Euro-American
"post-coloniality" as a central category for his analysis of the
contemporary Indian agriculture. For him "the apparatus and discourse of
development is a key to any definition of the ‘postcolonial conditions’."
However, despite this close association with the colonial period and the
continuous global context of post-colonial conditions, Gupta chooses not to view
the contemporary situation as one that could be defined either as being marked
by a complete break from the colonial period or simply a state of
"neo-imperialism". Post-colonialism, for him, does not signify
temporality, as a historical stage that follows colonialism.
For Gupta, post-colonialism is
a methodological category that enables him to view the micro level ground
reality in terms of its hybrid nature. It is for this methodological condition
that he criticises those who celebrate "indigenous" identities. Given
the legacy of colonialism and the impact that global capitalism has had on
ground reality, one could not think of an untouched, pure "indigenous"
surviving anywhere in the world. The "continuously transforming impact of
global inequalities on the lives of marginal people in the Third World"
make the very idea of "indigenous" meaningless. He views the
"indigenous" as a twin to the idea of "tradition" that
essentially means the Third World and subaltern cultures into a motionless and
dormant reality. The so-called "indigenous knowledge is not static or
closed system but is itself heterogenous, hierarchical, and infused by relations
of power and inequality".
It is through this recognition
of the hybridity and multiplicity of discourses that Gupta analysis the
agricultural practices in Alipur. The farmers of his village "did not
confirm to the descriptions of ‘traditional’ farming or to the idealised
picture of subalterns earnestly guarding ‘indigenous knowledges’ against the
insurmountable odds of a homogenising world system". However, they also
differed from the industrialist-agriculturists of the West.
argues, was not merely a recognition of the complex empirical
reality. Such a framework of understanding would also have
serious implications for politics, particularly for those
raising issues of environment and ecology or those fighting
against globalisation. Although he does not celebrate
globalisation or liberalisation policies, the point that Gupta
wishes to make is the need to recognise the fact that, in a
sense, we were all already globalised. Thus questions around
which politics needed to be articulated today ought to go
beyond the "binaries" that feed into the politics of
the dominant West.
Build a battlefield in the air
Review by R. S.
in New Millennium by N. B. Singh. Manas Publications, New
Delhi. Pages 284. Rs 595.
reading through the 284 pages of this riveting book will have
only admiration for Air Cmde (retd) N.B.Singh’s
comprehensive study. His "empirical research and
analysis" of wars in West Asia during last 50 years
validates the view that high technology air power has become
an important element of force projection. "In mere 100
years, there has been an exponential rise in importance of air
power as a war winning factor". The Arab-Israeli war of
1973 and the Gulf war of 1991 have transformed the air power
from a support to a predominated element of warfare. Nearer
home, Kargil points in the same direction.
The book aims
at highlighting the impact of technology on air power and the
need for continuous re-evaluation of doctrines, strategies and
organisational structures. However, I must mention here that
there is another school of thought which believes that demands
of doctrine and strategy must be met by developing matching
has tried to cover a vast canvas and "attempted to
integrate the creative streams of thoughts on air power
strategy from the early beginning" to date. The
capabilities claimed by great visionaries when the technology
was not yet an asset have largely come true. Mitchel’s
"global reach, global power" prediction is the most
Arab-Israeli war of 1967, the last one fought with
conventional weapons and aircraft, brought home some very
important lessons which were emulated the world over.
Lightening pre-emptive strikes by Israelis that decimated the
Arab air forces on the very first day led to hardened shelters
for aircraft, extensive use of SAMs and integration of
fighters with early warning radars. India was no exception.
Here one cannot help it but compare Israeli retaliation (air
strikes) against Arab guerrilla operations inside Israel with
Indian inaction (except for rhetoric) against
Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in J&K since 1989.
reviewed their doctrine and re-organised their forces after
their stunning defeat at the hands of the Israelis. The
seemingly defensive strategy of extensive development of the
SAMs and guns, strangely helped them acquire the "command
of air". Which resulted in initial success and
"psychological boost for the Arabs that they could after
all win from the tenacious Israelis". In this novel
situation "the Israeli ground forces had to support their
air force and attack the Egyptian missile and gun sites before
their air force could operate effectively".
of hi-technology air power was reached during the Gulf war of
1991 which revealed an unprecedented technological marvel in
aerial warfare. In this 43-day air campaign "the emerging
technologies made air power a very potent force in
international politics". Here the author makes an
interesting observation that the air power and missile
combination may soon push the infantry and the armoured duo to
the back seat, if lessons from the Gulf war and Kosovo are any
chapter is of great importance. It deals with air power in the
South Asian context. He highlights an interesting but not
quite well-known fact that it was Galbraith, US Ambassador to
India, who advised the Indian leadership against the use of
air force in 1962. He was asked for US air force protection
for Indian cities so that the IAF could be employed tactically
against the Chinese. Had the IAF been employed the ignominy
suffered by the nation might not have been that much hurting.
author is not quite forthright in respect of Air Force
decision to start the air war in 1965 with outdated Vampire
aircraft. The IAF lost all the four Vampires and three pilots
in the very first wave. Even if the urgency of halting the
Pakistani thrust was grave, it did not justify this faux pas.
The Air Force
has been supporting the anti-insurgency operations in the
North East for last 50 years but when it comes to the West
(J&K), the author avoids the oft-repeated question as to
why the same is not being done on this side. Strange but true,
the militants have not harmed any IAF establishment or
personnel in J&K as part of their offensive against the
It is rather sad for the
fourth largest air force in the world with a long history of
wars that there are just a handful of books authored by its
men. To that extent, Air Cmde N.B. Singh’s maiden effort is
not only welcome but commendable. Coupled with good research,
its racy and precise narrations are its added strength.
Reading through this book is an illuminating experience.
Balkans endemic to big power play
is an abridged chapter from "The Balkans 1804-1919:
Nationalism, War and the Great Powers" by Misha Glenny.
important practical reasons for the West’s final involvement
in Yugoslavia. Most of them are prompted by extra-Balkan
considerations: the place and future of NATO, the role of the
United States as the global military superpower and especially
its strategic stake in European affairs, and so forth. All of
this is euphemistically enveloped in the favourite word in
recent American diplomatic vocabulary: credibility. If ancient
examples are any good, perhaps the most evocative is the
behaviour of the deities in the Trojan war who followed their
own game when tipping the scales without, however, ever
pretending they were doing it for the sake of humankind. But
they were deities, after all.
propaganda war accompanying the conflict in Kosovo was intense
even by modern standards. In Serbia itself, Milosevic’s
government likened the airstrikes to the Nazi bombardment of
Belgrade in 1941. This was a cynical appeal from a regime that
regularly used violence against its opponents at home and
abroad. Yet the imagery reinforced the sentiment inside the
country, shared even by many of Milosevic’s most bitter
opponents, that the NATO campaign was at best inappropriate
and at worst immoral.
of NATO claimed that the organisation’s first unilateral
military intervention "out of area" was a moral act,
driven not by the strategic or economic interests of its
members but by a commitment to humanitarian values.
for moral superiority during this war centred on two opposing
concepts of international relations. Serbia relied on the
long-established if frequently violated idea of sovereignty
— that if a country had not actually threatened a third
party, then there could be no justification for military
intervention against it.
acting upon a new premise that had emerged during the
conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. Military intervention against
sovereign states, so this embryonic doctrine proclaimed, is
legitimate if it prevents or halts the abuse of human rights
by a state against its own citizens, in this instance, the
Kosovo Albanians. Humanitarian considerations alone may
represented a clear break with the morality of the cold war,
established at Yalta in 1945 and symbolised by the Brezhnev
doctrine of limited sovereignty, during which NATO was not
prepared to disrupt relations with the Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe over human rights abuses. NATO, of course,
expected reciprocity on Moscow’s part with regard to western
complicity in human rights abuses, notably in Indo-China,
Latin America and the Middle East.
implications of the new doctrine of humanitarian intervention,
still ill-defined, extend far beyond the Balkans, especially
since the creation of the International War Crimes Tribunal on
alleged crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and
Rwanda. They are intimately connected with the Spanish
government’s attempts to bring the former Chilean dictator,
General Augusto Pinochet, to trial. If it is applied with any
consistency in the future, the elevation of humanitarian
issues to a central position in foreign affairs will
necessitate a fundamental revision of international relations.
presented the war in Kosovo as a clash over the principle of
sovereignty in order to bolster public support for their
position and to obscure less convenient matters. Milosevic
made the simple calculation that his political position would
be strengthened if he defied NATO’s ultimatum. NATO’s
leadership highlighted the humanitarian issue, less to cover
up any ulterior motives it may have had in waging war than to
camouflage its own deep confusion regarding its aims and
serious consequence of framing the war in this language of
sovereignty emerged after Yugoslavia had capitulated
militarily. The bombing inflicted severe damage on Serbia and
Kosovo, while their Balkan neighbours suffered collateral
economic damage. Estimates of the losses sustained by Serbia,
including Kosovo, during the three-month war range from $ 7-10
billion. Reconstruction of Serbia and Kosovo alone will cost
some $ 10 billion over a three to five year period. But other
countries also need assistance in the short term to offset the
drop in GDP caused by the war, from 5 per cent in the two
worst-affected states, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, to
0.5 per cent in Romania and Hungary. This is quite apart from
the much greater sums required for the long-term recovery of
the region caused by 10 years of instability in Yugoslavia.
Early estimates from the Vienna Institute for Economics
suggest that as much as $ 100 billion will be needed to create
stability in the Balkans.
It is these
issues of reconstruction and recovery that will in retrospect
define the morality of the Kosovo war, rather than the
Manichean battle proclaimed by NATO and the leadership in
Belgrade. The West’s claim to a moral victory in the Balkans
when Yugoslavia surrendered in early June, 1999, was
unsurprising but irrelevant, within the larger historical
context of relations between the great powers and the Balkans.
To claim such a victory honestly would require the reversal of
a pattern that has persisted for over a century. This has seen
the great powers intervene massively in the region, either
deploying or exciting violence, before beating a retreat and
disclaiming any responsibility for the consequences of the
the great powers had intervened three times in the Balkans.
The first was at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 when European
diplomats agreed to replace Ottoman power by building a system
of competing alliances on the Balkan peninsula. The second
began with the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia in the
summer of 1914 and culminated in 1923 with the Treaty of
Lausanne and the Great Population Exchange between Greece and
Turkey. The third started with Italy’s unprovoked attack on
Greece in March, 1940, and ended with the consolidation of
unrepresentative pro-Soviet regimes in Bulgaria, Romania and a
pro-Western administration in Greece.
interventions were so destructive that they guaranteed the
Balkans’ relative economic backwardness, compared to the
rest of Europe. And the violence that these interventions
encouraged, often inflicted by one Balkan people on another,
ensured the continuation of profound civil and nationalist
strife. In the West, however, these events are rarely regarded
as the result of external intervention. On the contrary, the
Balkan countries are seen as culprits who force the reluctant
outside powers into their unfathomable conflicts. This
imagined Balkans — a world where people are motivated not by
rational considerations but by a mysterious congenital
bloodthirstiness — is always invoked when the great powers
seek to deny their responsibility for the economic and
political difficulties that the region has suffered as a
consequence of external interference. "The Balkans,"
Theodore Geshkoff wrote in 1940. "are usually reported to
the outside world only in time of terror and trouble; the rest
of the time they are scornfully ignored." It is during
these long periods of neglect that the Balkan countries have
badly needed the engagement of the great powers. Yet the only
country to demonstrate a sustained interest in the economic
development of the Balkans was Nazi Germany during the 1930s.
assault on Serbia and Kosovo should be judged above all in
this light. Should the West fail to address the effects, not
merely of a three-month air war in 1999, but of 120 years of
miscalculation and indifference since the Congress of Berlin,
then there will be little to distinguish NATO’s actions from
any of its great power predecessors. The NATO campaign can
hardly claim either a moral or political victory if its sole
achievement is expulsion of Milosevicy’s Serbia from Kosovo.
There is an unassailable case
for political and economic restitution in the Balkans. Yet
this is a daunting challenge. The lack of preparedness on the
part of NATO was obvious during the air campaign. It was
evident after victory, when the Alliance proved incapable of
stopping the KLA from imposing a regime of intimidation and
murder which provoked the departure of almost the entire
Serbian minority population from Kosovo within weeks of the
Albanians’ return. If the greatest military machine in
history is unable to impose law and order in a small province,
one cannot help wondering what the future holds for the
international community’s other, larger Balkan protectorate,
Bosnia-Herzegovina; and whether the great powers, above all,
the USA, have the political and economic resources to deal
with Serbia as it hovers between civil war, economic collapse
and conflict with its sister republic, Montenegro. Yet if the
great powers fail to seize the present opportunity by
investing heavily in the region, the suffering of the Balkans
will surely continue for several decades into the new