The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 10, 2000

We, the Sandhawalias
Review by Roopinder Singh

Daughters, difficult and defiant
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Jackie: the queen of America
Review by Andrew Rissik

Fiction as reinterpretation of history
Review by Shelley Walia

Write view
The brain behind Rajiv killers
Review by Randeep Wadehra


We, the Sandhawalias
Review by Roopinder Singh

Noblemen and Kinsmen—History of a Sikh Family by Preminder Singh Sandhawalia, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, Pages 108. Rs 250.

ALL families have history, in the case of certain prominent ones it is worth recording. Documentation of histories of families has largely been an oral tradition in which generations of family bards (marasis) recited family history on important occasions. Such accounts were, more often than not, hagiographic.

A family history demands a certain definition of family and also objectivity that history demands. As the author says, he faced problems in defining family, he settled for the root and the branches model of a family tree, and in presenting a credible account. He has traced the root of the Sandhawalia family tree to Didar Sigh who moved from Sukarchack village to Sandhawala village in 1780 to found his own lineage.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a Sukarchakia, who belonged to the same ancestral stock as the Sandhawalias, but did not share a direct line of descent with them.

Documenting 300 plus years of history of the Sandhawalias is a daunting task, the canvas is wide. When you look at the vicissitudes that families go through, the rise and fall theory, a la an Arnold Toynbee or a John Kennedy, has a powerful attraction. If we look at the Sandhawalias, you have Budh Singh who consolidated the presence of his family and "in defiance of the Mughal law enforcers, rode far and wide carrying off cattle and resorting to other predatory acts. He was baptized a Sikh and changed his name to a Budh Singh."

It is this refreshing frankness that is quite attractive about the book. The writer manages to present various happenings about his ancestors in an objective way. Treating the history of the land as a backdrop, he touches on the advent of Sikhism, the dying days of the Mughal empire, the rise of the Sikh empire and its fall (1790-1839), Maharaja Dalip Singh’s abortive bid for the throne of the Sikh kingdom, the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy (1919), World War II, partition, and more contemporary events like the 1962 Indo-China War and the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak Wars, as well as Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh violence in Delhi in 1984.

The Sandhawalias either had a role to play in such events, or were affected by them and as we look at their changing fortunes, we see the rise of the family till 1844, its hour of glory for the next three years, and its decline till it rallied in 1908 by becoming "less feudal and more progressive and pragmatic".

Many of the prominent family members had a larger than life presence in Punjabi polity, even though they were forever to stay in the shadow of their cousin Ranjit Singh and to be content with being his noblemen rather the rulers.

The Sandhawalia sardars, as they were called, were "an ambitious lot. Their competitive character, their past successes in the internecine warfare and the meteoric rise of their collaterals, the Sukarchakias fuelled in them an ambition, which when unbridled, cause the family a fair amount of distress."

They were honoured and used in the court of Ranjit Singh, often as commanders who distinguished themselves. They included Amir Singh Sandhawalia Bud Singh Sandhawalia and Lehna Singh Sandhawalia who distinguished himself in Attock. At the same time, they were not able to consolidate their position because of various reasons, including erratic and even errant behaviour (Amir Singh Sandhawalia, unslung his gun and primed it when Maharaja Ranjit Singh was preparing to mount his horse (1803), Budh Singh Sandhawalia plotted to seize power while the Maharaja was ill (1825).

After the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, there was a tussle for the control of the Sikh kingdom that turned into a struggle between the Jammu Dogras and the Sandhawalia sardars. They lost the struggle, which carried its usual quota of intrigue and bloody assignations (Sandhawalia sardars killed Maharaja Sher Singh, his son Pratap Singh and his enemy Raja Dhian Singh). In becoming contenders for power after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sandhawalia sardars had a significant, though short-lived impact on Punjab polity.

A period of ignominy followed, in which they hunkered down and became feudal lords again. The Sandhawalias, however, gained prominence because of Thakur Singh Sandhawalia (who was also the first president of the Singh Sabha movement in Amritsar). He later played a role in reviving Maharaja Dalip Singh’s quest for his kingdom and was appointed Prime Minister by the latter. Thakur Singh Sandhawalia set up his headquarters in the French colony of Pondicherry and became a thorn on the side of the British Empire for a while.

The canvas is rather broad and condensing the hundreds of years of the history of the Sandhawalias into a 100-page book is quite a challenge, especially since the author says he had no precedent. He writes with remarkable brevity and gives us an overall picture of the rise, fall and recovery of the family. He says that the book was a journey in exploring his family history, which he was not acquainted with since he had not lived in Punjab till his retirement as an international civil servant.

Preminder Singh has engineered a readable family history. He has a nice turn of phrase and often says a lot between the lines. Some readers may want more details of various people who come on the stage of the Sandhawalia saga. Well, if it whets one’s appetite for more, the book has certainly done its job.


Daughters, difficult and defiant
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur. Penguin India, New Delhi. Pages 262. Rs 250

THE opening line of this novel is a steal. "The one thing I had wanted was not to be like my mother." This is Virmati’s daughter Ida speaking. Ida who is without a husband, child or parents. She is embarking on a voyage of discovery to find out more about her mother and the journey begins at Amritsar, a place she had always associated with her mother.

Manju Kapur’s sentimental story "Difficult Daughters" follows the journey of Virmati, a woman torn between family duty, who has the desire to study but is caught in the trap of illicit love and all this is happening to her at the time of partition. What better setting could one ask to tell the story of Virmati, who the author describes as strong, independent and as someone who knows exactly what she wants and how to go about getting it.

But first there is Kasturi, Virmati’s mother who was married off at a tender age. In a marriage spanning 17 years Kasturi bears 11 children, the eldest being Virmati, on whose shoulders the tough role of mothering for her siblings falls. While childbearing takes a toll on Kasturi’s health, child rearing, studying, managing household chores and being an arbitrator in the innumerable fights between her siblings takes a toll on Virmati.

A welcome break to Dalhousie to recuperate works well for both mother and daughter. It is here, in the midst of the hills and the quiet, watching the sun colouring the snow on the distant mountains of the Dhauladhar range that Virmati gets to know her cousin, Shakuntala Pehnji, better. A liberated woman of her time, Shakuntala lives in Lahore where she teaches. Virmati’s imagination is fired by the desire to be independent and like Shakuntala be able to wear what she wants to wear and not look around shyly for approval each time she spoke or acted.

With her as role model, a rather saddened Virmati returns to Amritsar as managing two separate households in two different places was proving to be a rather expensive proposition for her family. Back in Amritsar, when there is talk of getting a separate house for Kasturi and her growing brood, Virmati’s aunt also begins the battle for her rights and the patterns of a communal life are to be disturbed forever with separate houses for the two families.

The transition from Tarsikka to their new dwellings Leppel Griffin Road will also mark the beginning of tumultuous changes in Virmati’s life. It is here that her cousin Somnath finds tenants to rent a portion in his side of the family house. The arrival of the British educated professor who teaches English literature and who happens to fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with Virmati who also happens to be his student in college. To complicate matters, not only are the families different but the professor is already married and has a child from his first marriage. His wife dotes on him but the professor himself is driven to Virmati as he seems to be unable to carry on any conversation with his wife.

This leads to Virmati calling off her arranged marriage, attempting suicide and finally leaving Amritsar for Lahore to do her bachelors degree. But the professor follows her there and their rendezvous at his friend Syed Husain’s home leads to an untimely pregnancy followed by an abortion. Virmati is finally convinced that the professor is not interested in her. After getting her degree she agrees to take up the principal’s post at a girl’s school in Nahan. Here she throws herself wholeheartedly into her work and then again the professor surfaces leading to her untimely dismissal from the school.

Driven to desperation, Virmati again asks to be legally married or tells the professor to end the relationship forever. Finally, just as she has made all plans to leave for Santiniketan, there is a coerced marriage and Virmati finds herself trapped. The professor’s eventual marriage and installation of Virmati in his Amritsar house, next to his furious first wife, helps her towards the course of furthering her studies in Lahore but this is small consolation for her scandalised family who disown Virmati entirely.

Then there is partition and the pain and by the time the professor’s first wife finally leaves Amritsar for Lahore, Virmati has realised that she has created irrevocable lines of pain and partition around her.

While the well-researched novel begins well, Manju Kapur seems to be in a hurry to end the book. "Difficult Daughters" also falls flat in its attempt to portray Virmati as a woman who breaks rules and defies traditions to get something she always aspired for — independence. In the end all Virmati wants is to be the professor’s legally wedded wife and a happy home. Her daughter’s marriage ending up in a divorce and the deduction that being Virmati’s daughter meant such things could happen to her, just seem to be an over-simplistic deduction. On the whole, the book is a fairly interesting read though the story does tend to drag at times, especially when the exchange of letters between the two lovers is presented.

If Manju Kapur can pepper her text with a little more humour, her work will certainly be worth watching out for.


Jackie: the queen of America
Review by Andrew Rissik

America’s Queen; The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford, Viking, London. Pages 600. £ 20.

LONG before Diana Spencer, Jacqueline Kennedy was the world’s ultimate fantasy princess. Her endlessly photographed and pored-over face was a screen onto which her emotionally hungry admirers projected their dreams of flawless refinement. Until she broke her own, extraordinary spell by leaving the USA and marrying Aristotle Onassis in 1968, she possessed, in the minds of most of the American people, a kind of stylistic perfect pitch.

A cool-headed socialite with aristocratic pretension, she began as an ornament to her millionaire husband’s presidency, and ended by redefining it. Her elegantly petite figure and startled gazelle eyes, her familiarity with France, the 18th century and the finer points of dressing, lent a keynote of civility to the image of the Kennedy White House that the young President’s freewheeling, technocratic glamour could not have provided alone.

Then, in the traumatic days following his assassination in Dallas, by brilliantly echoing what had been said and done after Lincoln was killed 100 years earlier, she raised him in death to a pinnacle of nobility that he could almost certainly never have attained in life.

The elaborate state funeral she helped to plan, the solemn obsequies at Arlington, the eternal flame poignantly flickering in the freezing November twilight: these were her final, canonising gift to the husband who, though he had often betrayed and humiliated her sexually, had always hypnotised her imagination. Through a flawless sense of the dramatic fitness of things, and by the moving, healing stoicism of her publicly borne grief, she subtly magnified the nation’s sense of the scale of the loss, and, therefore, of Kennedy’s actual political achievement.

Sarah Bradford is right to spend two-thirds of her quiet, lucid, well-written new biography on the years before the assassination. Between them, the Kennedys altered the whole tone of the modern presidency. Temperamentally, they had much in common and a shared "snobbery of style" united them, more enduringly than sex. Both of them had wanted to be writers, and both possessed qualities of coolness and detachment, of intellectual reserve and ironic cruelty — common in literary or artistic figures but exceedingly rare in the folksy, glad-handing, philistine arena of American political life.

For well over a century — since the days of the log-cabin President Andrew Jackson — the White House had been looking west. Increasingly it thought it fit to identify itself with the down-home Mark Twain/ L Frank Baum aspect of the national character. Theodore Roosevelt, replacing the assassinated William McKinley in 1901, achieved unprecedented personal popularity by bringing explicitly cowboy values into his conduct of government.

The Kennedy innovation was to restore to the presidency some of its old, east coast elegance, to re-evoke, in appropriately modern guises, the spirit of Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers.

It is easy now to be satirical about the Kennedy White House — those tales of naked girls scattering into the undergrowth like cats whenever Jackie’s limousine brought her home unexpectedly still amuse — but one of the strengths of Bradford’s book is that she does not underestimate its genuine, if mild enlightenment. In a dangerous age, it lacked cheap fanaticism.

The tone JFK created in those three short years set the moral agenda for the rest of the decade. His idea of the presidency was aspirational and literary, drawn from the 18th century English Whigs. His tightly honed but grandiloquent rhetoric rang like gold on marble, even when it was covering gross political ineptitude. In public, at his side, Jackie’s air of breathless sophistication, her chic cultural warmth complemented it perfectly. In private, she could be softly malicious, infinitely sceptical of those who jostled for influence, scurrilously funny, and full of the entertaining intolerance of those who are young, rich, beautiful and (as they think) impregnable.

Widowhood, and the relationship with Onassis, were to prove her mistaken. She lived on, massively famous but not especially admired, sad but no longer tragic, an icon of stylish jet-set reticence, a living image of tasteful conspicuous consumption, regretted most because she had proved, in the end, to be more psychologically ordinary than history had hoped or expected.

Outwardly, she dwindled the moment she left America, dwarfed by the shadow of a personal legend that she had now outgrown, finally fulfiling Charles de Gaulle’s cynical prediction that she would "end up on some millionaire’s yacht". Sadly, the second half of her life — much of it spent on beaches or in villas or palatial apartments, after the manner of the idle European super-rich — is little more than a transmutation of the theatrical pure gold of her historically approved widowhood into the base metal of mildly despised celebrity.

Ultimately, like most iconic figures, she remains eerily featherweight, more potent as an image than as any sort of rounded or recognisable personality, the reality of her life rendered insubstantial by the public self that replaced it. Probably no biography can convey what she was really like, although Bradford’s seems a calmer and more authoritative account than usual. As Norman Mailer’s impressionistic prose suggested long ago, the clear-cut certainties of the essayist tell us more about our own aspirations, and their inevitable disappointment, than they do about her.

It seems fruitless now to survey the casual detritus of her life and pronounce her vain, vapid or self-seeking; to call into question her much-vaunted ersatz-aristocratic good taste; or to accuse her of being, at heart, small-minded and avaricious. There is a morally tough common sense in such criticisms that the immaculate self-absorption of her public persona was always designed to elude or frustrate.

Her virtues and their matching, mirroring vices belong less to history than to the world of Scott Fitzgerald, and, like so many of Fitzgerald’s haunting and ambivalent characters, she was deliberately arrested and incomplete. She lived within the poetic fiction of her own impossible sensitivity, and was eventually doomed by it.

In any case, after the husky-sweet ingénue of the Kennedy years, the later, Mediterranean-island Jackie — dark, lustful, greedy, perverse — should come as a relief. It is good to see her turning at last from Audrey Hepburn into Sophia Loren, becoming candidly flesh-driven and obsessively materialistic, as if her hormones were in open revolt against the glacial, photogenic dignity in which she had been imprisoned for so long. She was surely never meant to be either a chaste or a particularly serious person. The small liaison with Bobby Kennedy — if it actually took place, which Bradford more or less accepts it did — certainly makes fine dramatic sense. So, too, does Bradford’s psychologically plausible thesis that she was scared, all her life, of poverty because she felt she had sailed too close to it imaginatively too early on.

Nevertheless, once the layers of scandal and scandalous speculation are stripped away, we are left with certain observable, significant actions, and these mostly do her credit. She gave much more to JFK than he gave to her, and in public she neither betrayed him nor criticised him. When the nation needed her to act like an old Roman, and ceremonalise her private grief, she did so sparely and magnificently. She cared for and protected her children, surrounding them with a cocoon of privacy from which they clearly benefited. The rest — as Bradford’s well done and essentially sympathetic account surely demonstrates — is of very little consequence.



Fiction as reinterpretation of history
Review by Shelley Walia

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif, Bloomsbury, London. Pages 529. £ 6.50.

NOTHING is more important than the writer’s commitment to the work in hand. What matters is the truth of writing, that it is written from the heart and to the absolute best of one’s ability. To alter one’s writing to suit an agenda, may it be that of an extremist or that of an imperialist, Zionist or an Islamist, would be to cater to the art of propaganda or tendentious literature, and this is exactly what Ahdif Soueif, the Egyptian writer, shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize, avoids.

Mainly Soueif’s problem has been her struggle with the issue of language. She chose to write in English though she always wanted to write in her mother tongue which is Arabic. From her childhood, she has been obsessed with piecing together stories, and in her heart she feels that she can only employ the narrative or the anecdote to express the story of her life and her country.

But woven into these stories are the many misconceptions of Egypt in the western mind. The British Museum, the Mummy, or raiders of the lost ark are evidence of the deep-set obsession with the exotic East, its camels and pharoahs, its voluptuousness and desirability. This is a type of a prototype of the seductive eastern woman that Soueif wants to counter. Egypt as royal and desirable represented by Cleopatra, the temptress, becomes the "other" that attracts and repels at the same time.

Egypt in the writings of the western historian, traveller or storyteller becomes a site for social stability, whereas the East becomes paradoxically a place of savagery and unrestricted pleasure, a harem caught in a timeless self-indulgent, violent, cruel, lusty and pagan world. Travellers and story writers wrote these accounts to construct a discourse that would legitimise imperialism as well as eroticise with the only motive of pleasure.

Flaubert had already carried a wealth of imagery and a host of characters from his voyage to the East. The Queen of Sheba in "La Tentation de Saint Antoine" with a pastiche of Oriental female prototypes: she dances like Salome, tells stories like Scheherazade, is regal and ridiculous like traditional portrayals of Cleopatra. It was Europe’s collective day-dream of the Orient.

Eugene Delacroix’s "La Mort de Sardanapale" was painted in 1827 before he actually made his journey East. It contains the stock images of the empire’s Orient, culled from Byron’s popular poem of that name. An oriental despot sits enthroned on his bed while his naked concubines are being stabbed to death. The violence of the narrative is linked with its eroticism; indeed, the female bodies in the throes of death are made to take on positions of languor, of sexual abandon.

Soueif has shown a deep dislike for the West’s insistence on Egypt as a pagan land of extreme Islam, of cruelty and fundamentalism. The terrible killings at Luxor found headlines in the western press, but the heroic efforts of the Egyptians to save western tourist in the floods a few months later went unreported. This lop-sided emphasis of the media is a source of great agitation to her.

Realising the responsibility of the writer and the reader, Soueif uses her western education for the creation of the mobile and diasporic psyche to react against the impact of western civilisation on the traditional culture of Egypt, a motive in a revolutionary society where the art of writing turns into the art of politics, always endeavouring to overturn the stereotypes of the Old Testament Egypt present in the western mind.

Soueif enters imaginatively into the lives of her characters in her novels, "Aisha", "The Eye of the Sun", and now in "The Map of Love" with an ability to portray convincingly the disruptive effect of foreign culture. Her upbringing in both England and in Egypt has been of great advantage in developing a lucid insight and an imaginative awareness of the historical setting of colonialism in Egypt. When she had not even reached her teens, she had attended anti-war demonstrations in Trafalgar Square and Whitehall.

Her mother who was pursuing her Ph D in England and her father who diligently worked on his post-doctoral research were the inspiration behind her creative impulse. Egyptian money was frozen in 1956 by Britain leading to dire financial straits as no grants were forthcoming. Her parents’ friends who had Left leanings, however, supported them.

The multiplicity of imaginative detail, the social variety of characters and the complexity and variety of her personality are the outcome of these heady days. At a personal level, England is where she lost her wider family circle, her grandfather’s home and shop which finally were replaced by a single room in a seedy locality in Stockwell. But it was here, in such circumstances, that she read her mother’s thesis on the impact of the Oriental tale on English literature, as well as other fascinating texts such as "The Arabian Nights", Moore’s "Lalla Rookh", Edward Lane’s "Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians", Richard Burton’s "First Footsteps in East Africa", Charles Robeson’s "News from Allepe", H.M. Stanley’s "Through the Dark Continent" and W.M. Thackeray’s "Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo".

In 1956, Soueif returned to Egypt with a desire to brush up her Arabic. She read up voraciously on Arabic literature, equipping herself to remain deeply in touch with her native heritage which was to give her the creative confidence to write her novels after having absorbed the nationalist politics of her country. She left for England to do her Ph D in 1973 which further broadened her social awareness with the underpinnings of strong cultural affirmation.

Though there is an intense impulse of cultural nationalism in her novels, she moves between the two worlds of Egypt and England where she is now based. In spite of this, as years pass, she maintains that she is increasingly Egyptian and that whatever Englishness she "does have is more to do with English literature than English life". What she is trying to give her children is a sense of "Egyptianness" without undermining their ability to belong to and live in England. She hopes that they will be equipped to choose where they want to be or move freely between the two cultures in the "in-between-space" that she has occupied all her life.

In "The Map of Love", she tells the story of the ever-changing and volatile relationship between Egypt and Britain. Rich in historical detail and debate finally it is Egypt that emerges as the true hero of the novel. Set in the early 20th century, the novel is a story of a trans-cultural love affair that can have no happy conclusion but only a doomed outcome.

Lady Anna Winterbourne, who has unfortunately lost her husband, reaches the shores of Egypt in 1900. There she falls headlong in love with Sharif Pasha al-Barundi, a man committed to upholding the nationalist cause, countering the snobberies and vulgarities of colonialist Britain through reawakening interest in Egypt’s folklore, art, music and cultural habits that are distinct from the metropolitan. He is an Egyptian patriot who extolls close attachment to his country and infusing the present generation with a sense of pride in traditional life and culture.

He realises that without a struggle and without knowledge of the practices of action and popular violence, nothing can be achieved. War, culture and politics become synonymous for him. To him, Anna represents the western worldview which he detests, and for her Sharif is the embodiment of Egypt’s ancestory, gods, mythology, folklore and fantasy — all elements that are used by the writer for the revitalisation of the traditional tales told through the importation of the western genre of novel writing.

Sharif’s obsession with traditional culture and the erosion of it by Christian religion and European culture brings about a reassessment and contemporary reawakening of indigenous Egypt. But in spite of the clash of the old and the new, the two fall in love, but with a lingering fear of the dangers of social and psychic differences between two conflicting cultures.

And then in the year 1997, Isabel Parkman, herself a divorcee and a descendent of Anna and Sharif, meets Omar-al-Ghamrawi, an Egyptian based in the USA. They fall in love and later she, in search of answers to questions that continuously nag her, travels to Egypt, carrying with her an old family trunk which she hands over to Omar’s sister, Amal, a resident of Cairo.

Finally, political tension builds up in contemporary Egypt and when Amal unpacks the trunk, she unravels from Anna’s notebooks and diaries which she finds there, the story of her love affair not only with Sharif but with the nation of Egypt almost 100 years ago.

The past thus continues to speak to us and is always constructed through memory, fantasy and narrative. Soueif very tactfully interweaves these two plots locating them within the political and the historical events that govern the most personal relationships.

The battered trunk ransacked of its treasure sits by the wall at the end of the novel and "the old journals, emptied of their secrets, lie on the table. Beside them are the pages, neatly stacked, in which Amal has written down the story of Anna and Sharif. Next door, Isabel sleeps soundly. Sharif is cradled in Amal’s arms as, once again, she makes her way with him down the long, dark corridor. She holds him close, patting his back, whispering, ‘Hush, my precious, hush’. . ."

In the novel, Soueif has seen the need for reassessment of the story of the Empire, of her land and of the historical cross-currents in last century. It is a novel in which she and Egypt confront their own history and the paradox of the colonial experience which first severs you from your roots, splits the consciousness and distorts psyches along with the feeling that you have no history or culture worth preserving; and opposed to this is the present opportunity for re-examining and recontextualising one’s history.

The novel "maps" in depth the human condition with a deep sense of history. Soueif is undoubtedly a cultural hybrid but uniquely Egyptian and it is for this reason she has now been accepted and recognised by her countrymen. She tours Egypt often, reading from her novels, lecturing at different universities, mainly with the purpose of documenting themes and techniques that are deeply rooted in Egyptian culture and historical context.

Her novels, therefore, derive their force and logic from the two cultures that she inhabits, generating tensions, conflicts and ambivalences in the lives of her characters, especially Anna and Sharif. This is, therefore, her politics of position expressed through the narrative of displacement and shared cultural codes which become powerful creative forces in the rediscovery or retelling of one’s past. It is an experience of dispersal and fragmentation emerging from her response of resistance and identity confronting the western view. Her fiction, therefore, becomes a continuous play of history, culture and power.Top


Write view
The brain behind Rajiv killers
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Beyond the Tigers: Tracking Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination by Rajeev Sharma.Kaveri Books, New Delhi. Pages xxv + 278. Rs 395.

My Life and Times by S. Nijalingappa. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pages 192. Rs 395.

Contemporary India: Transitions edited by Peter Ronald DeSouza. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 388. Rs 475.

Beyond the Tigers: Tracking Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination by Rajeev Sharma.Kaveri Books, New Delhi. Pages xxv + 278. Rs 395.

ASSASSINATION of political figures have always been treated as riddles that have no answers.John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Till date allegations persist that his murder was not a one-man show but a result of a larger conspiracy. The same is said to be true of Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

The present book is an addition to the same genre — albeit with a claim to being a meticulously document expose on the larger conspiracy theme. Since Rajeev Sharma is a journalist who specialises in internal security and investigation-related matters, his claim cannot be ignored, especially when it is reinforced by the former CBI chief Vijay Karan in the forward and introduced by another journalist T.R. Ramachandran.

So, who killed Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur? Was it a security lapse that the LTTE-sponsored human bomb exploited or was there a larger conspiracy? If the answer to the second question is in the affirmative, then what are these dark forces that cannot be identified even after a decade-long investigation and inquiry?

Vijay Karan discounts the possibility of the DMK’s involvement in the assassination. He claims that while conducting investigations in Colombo in June, 1991, he had heard whispers about the late Sri Lankan President R. Premadasa’s complicity again without any corroborative evidence. As far as he is concerned, the LTTE alone was responsible for the act as Dhanu and Sivarasan, the prime suspects, were its members.

Rajeev Sharma, however, remains "unconvinced by the SIT’s version" because he too feels that there were "forces who (that?) helped the Tigers carry out the plot". He also does not dismiss the possibility of Premadasa’s involvement.

After documenting the efforts made by the SIT as well as the Jain and Verma commissions, Sharma goes on to pinpoint the dark areas of the episode, which, if illumined, could help unravel the murder mystery. The slipshod manner of decoding messages to and from the LTTE strongholds and their sympathisers in India; the manner in which Major Sabharwal, an explosives expert, was made to change his report on the belt bomb which killed Rajiv Gandhi, the various obstacles placed to prevent Kumudavalli to file her eyewitness account — she had to face death threats for her pains — and the Shanmugham enigma are some of the points raised by the author. He also talks about the "frozen intelligence" giving the example of Karamjit who had tried to kill Rajiv Gandhi with a country-made pistol.

Finally, Sharma mentions the former Cabinet Secretary Zafar Saifullah’s revelations that indicated a nexus between the LTTE, Mossad, Chandraswami and Subramaniam Swamy. While reading the book one might feel like being transported to the world of thrillers. But the question that remains to be answered is: what were the forces which scripted Rajiv Gandhi’s murder? What is the truth?


My Life and Times by S. Nijalingappa. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pages 192. Rs 395.

Nijalingappa was born in a poor rural Lingayat family in Karnataka. After a long struggle he became a successful advocate. He was one of the early leaders of the Mysore Congress. Because of his political activism he was debarred from legal practice. However, in order to establish himself as a lawyer he had to face the collective opposition of Brahmin lawyers who dominated the profession. None of them would take him as a junior, forcing him to start independent practice.

Despite all odds, when his practice began to flourish, professional jealousy made his rivals run him down. However, Nijalingappa was well supported by non-Brahmin judicial officers. The bane of casteism had been afflicting our polity’s vital organs even before India became independent.

In fact his narrative is full of caste and creed-based conflicts. At one place he talks of a Brahmin who hates Muslims. Then there is a Lingayat who hates Brahmins and so on. One wonders if we have been unfairly castigating the Laloo Prasad Yadavs of today.

Nijalingappa did go to jail during the freedom struggle. He played an important role as a leader both at the state and national levels. He was Chief Minister of Karnataka for two terms.

His tenure as the Congress president (1968-1971) is memorable due to the fact that during this period the Congress party split. He says he and Indira Gandhi got along well till she decided to nationalise banks, transport, industry, etc. as a "show of socialism". They openly clashed at the Faridabad AICC session.

Things got worse on the choice of the Congress nominee for India’s presidentship after Zakir Hussain’s death. That Indira was not being honest about Neelam Sanjiva Reddy’s candidature has been well documented by various political commentators.

Nijalingappa’s autobiography is a valuable addition to the literature on not only India’s political happenings during a specific period, but it also provides today’s lay reader with insights into the working of India’s oldest political party.

The intrigues, the pettiness and pressure groups et al have been exposed in a "deceptively simple" manner. It is true that he was respected in Karnataka as a principled politician and much admired for his courage of conviction. It could only be a rare soul who would dare stand up to Indira Gandhi, who was reputed to be vindicative and ruthless towards all those she considered a threat to her supremacy in the Congress.

But was Nijaliangappa always on the right? Did he commit no mistake? He was a mortal after all. Some warts and moles are bound to exist even on his political, if not private, face.

Let us leave it with a quote. Will Rogers, an American humourist writes in "The Autobiography of WillRogers": "When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did do, well, that’s memoirs".


Contemporary India: Transitions edited by Peter Ronald DeSouza. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 388. Rs 475.

There is need for a dialogue between modern India and the West, particularly Europe. This need arises from the fact that for an excruciatingly long time India’s image in the West has remained frozen in time — snake charmers, fakirs on a bed of nails or thorns, the rope trick, etc.

Consequently, India’s efforts at communicating by using the contemporary metaphor are seldom taken seriously enough. Even the nuclear explosions created a minor, albeit temporary, interest in what we perceive as modern India.

DeSouza feels that contemporary India "has the potential of rejuvenate the social sciences, especially in the West, which I daresay, has lost its engagement with the grand concerns of social transformation....".

However, the author cautions that basically this book is an outcome of a conference organised in Lisbon in June, 1998, that aimed at beginning "a new conversation, after nearly four decades of sullen silence, between Goa and Portugal.... The larger canvas of contemporary India was chosen to locate this conversation, as it was only within such a location that the transitions that mark the visual, social and mental landscape of Goa and Portugal would gain some perspective."

Romila Thapar points out that initially the European imprint on Indian historical scholarship was very strong. This imprint is now gradually fading as the Indian point of view takes a definite shape. She tries to answer in the first chapter such questions as "What is the nature of these imprints? And to what extent is historical interpretation today in India reflective of intellectual concerns which may have a global context but which, nevertheless, grew out of an Indian understanding of both history and its context." She also attempts to explore the process that causes the disjunction which left an European imprint on Indian scholarship.

Thapar avers that in modern writing of Indian history there is a "continuing dialogue and debate with colonial interpretations, with nationalist interpretations and with the evolution of theoretical formulations in the post-colonial period". As a result of the rise and recognition of Indian perspective, there has been a perceptible modification in the use of theoretical explanations in the histories of other parts of the world. This has enriched historical theory, sharpened the debate and evaluation of comprehending the Indian past.

U.R. Ananthamurthy points out that the literature in Indian languages (the generic Indian term is bhasha) has a frontyard and a backyard. Giving the example of Kannada, he notes that while Sanskrit literature was its frontyard, "it had a secret backyard, fragrant, fertile and neglected. Here one could find the innumerable indigenous folk and oral traditions in Kannada, the desitraditions."

He further states that since Sanskrit as a language had no backyard of its own, it had to admit the bhashas of the backyard to ensure the survival and continuity of its spiritual substance. However, language is but one aspect of India’s cultural transition from the Himalayas to Dharavi. Caste and other factors have made their own contributions to India’s cultural evolution.

Gopal Guru’s essay deals with the dalits’ place in the Indian polity. He maintains that the present form of democracy has not been able to expand the social basis of dalit political aspirations. He asks, "In such a situation, can the civil society expand the social basis of the democratic imagination of the dalits? Or should one invest faith and confidence in the state for such expansion? If the ‘state’ is preferred to the ‘civil society’, how does one come to terms with the experience of the past 50 years which shows that if the state is pressed into service, it ends up producing only passive citizenship among the dalits? Should one go beyond the state for the expansion of the democratic realm?"

Gopal Guru is convinced that the dalits will have to seek active citizenship both within and beyond the state.

Other contributions to this engrossing mosaic of diverse perspectives and voices are S.S. Bhandare, Rajiv Bhargava, Rustom Bharucha, Errol D’Souza, Bhupat M. Desai. Zoya Hasan, Nawaz B. Mody, Seemanthini Niranjana, Maria Ligia Noronha, Ghanshyam Shah, D.L. Sheth, Soli J. Sorabjee and B.G. Varghese. This volume does indeed present a "fascinating account of the complex processes that shape India’s transition from an ex-colony to a modern nation in charge of its own destiny."

An excellent read, and a valuable companion for those who intend doing introductory courses on contemporary India.Top


Hungry in Delhi? Try out these recipes
Review by Minakshi Chaudhry

The Essential Delhi Cookbook by Priti Narayan. Penguin Books India, New Delhi. Pages 292. Rs 250.

EVERY one has heard of Bengali, South Indian, Punjabi, Hyderabadi and Kashmiri cuisine, but Delhi? Many may ponder over what exactly is Delhi cuisine. No need to do that now.

This book under review is a detailed account of the history of Delhi cuisine and presents a rich and diverse selection of recipes drawn from different communities which have made Delhi their home.

It is an excellent work that is different from the run of the mill cookery books. The writer not only offers mouth-watering, delicious recipes but also traces the history of Delhi cuisine from the age of the Mahabharata to present time.

She has put in meticulous work in collecting and arranging the recipes and given interesting information about the gourmet nawabs, Muslim rulers or for that matter the Delhiites.

The author has covered a wide array of food that is as delectable as it is eclectic in its origin and history. Spicy kababs, fragrant biryani, hot paronthas, korma, tangy chat and sumptuous kulfi are only a few temptations. Drawn from different sources, including old cookery books, it is written in a manner that facilitates easy use.

Tracing the history from the period of the Kauravas and the Pandavas who lived around what we now call Delhi, the author states that their cuisine included meats of pig, deer, cow, sheep, birds and even donkeys and camel. The Mahabharata mentions dishes made of milk and rice mixed with ghee, honey and roots.

After the Mahabharata era vegetarianism developed which became the most accepted under the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. Onion and garlic ceased to be widely used as they were considered foods which aroused man’s basic instincts like lust, anger. Even today these are not used in traditional Bania and Jain cuisines, which is probably the only Delhi food that has remained unchanged to this day.

During Rajput rule meat made a comeback, it received greater emphasis with the arrival of Afghans and Turks. The Muslims brought the concept of community eating to the rather austere eating habits of the time.

When Babar came to India he imported grapes and melons and started their cultivation here. Chillies were a late entrant. It is said that the use of chillies in Delhi was recommended by Hakim Alvi, physician to Mohammad Shah Rangila, to ward off the "ill humours" thought to be generated by the canal flowing through the Chandni Chowk.

Tandoori food from Central Asia come to the Frontier Province and then to Delhi around the partition time. The man responsible for introducing this food was Kundan Lal of Moti Mahal restaurant in Darya Ganj. Butter chicken and chicken pakoras were his innovations.

What exactly is Delhi food? Today you can get everything from pizza to paella, South Indian to Thai, Mexican to Chinese to tandoori food. The author has explicitly stated that traditional Delhi food, which is believed to be Punjabi and Mughlai, is available in the old city of Delhi. From piste ki lauz and badaam ki lauz at Ghantewala and Kunwar Sain to habshi halwa at Ballimaran; from rabri and khurchan in Parathewali Gali (in addition to paronthas!); jalebi at the corner of Dariba and Chandni Chawk and Sultan ke kulle at Nai Sarak. At Jama Masjid you can eat kabab, biryani, kheer, kulfi, nankhatai and biscuit. Or, you can go to Karims or Jawahar Restaurant for a proper meal of korma, pasanda, bheja and a variety of roti and nan.

The author adds that the best food of any region is to be found in the homes of people, especially in joint families. Accordingly, she has used the recipes of various families of old Delhi. Mrs Zakia Zaheer’s collection of old Urdu recipe books has been referred to and some excellent recipes have been added to the present work. One of these Urdu books is called ‘‘Rezia ka shahi dastarkhwana’’ another is a 150-year old treasure called ‘‘Pukht-o-paaz shehzada Mirza Mohommed Baker Ali Khan Sahib Bahadur ke daroga bawarchi, Janab Shiekh Ahmad Ali Sahib ka’’.

The recipes in the book under review are basically from the cuisine of the Muslims, the Kayasths. Banias and the Khatris. These were the four main groups of people who settled in Shahjehanabad which became Delhi.

Soups are not part of Delhi cuisine. Kababs, liver, dry chicken and fish were served with drinks and were called gazak. Gazak Daru was a must before the more serious business of dinner began. Among the Muslims and Kayasths the main items on the menu were meat dishes, all others were to complement the meat.

The book has been conveniently divided into 11 sections which include mutton, chicken and fish, lentils, vegetables, rice, roti, deserts and sweets, snacks and accompaniments, chutnis and pickles and beverages.

Mutton refers mainly to goat meat throughout the section. In all there are 32 recipes elaborately explained hence can be followed even by beginners. Most of the dishes are from Muslim cuisine. The recipes include shabdeg, raan, roghan josh, korma dilpasand, bharvapasinde, masala chaap and nargisi kofta.

The chicken and fish section has 13 recipes. Some of the recipes require a lot of time to prepare. This section includes the recipes by Mrs Meera Narayan (sandali murgh), Babu Shahi (white chicken) and grandmother of the author (murg mussalm).

The lentils section has eleven recipes. Most of them are not common and should be tried out. Dal is an extremely versatile ingredient and is used all over the country in a number of ways. Among the Mathurs, Banias and the Khatris the wedding preparations traditionally begin with the making of mangries. This section includes recipes of sookhi mangori, dal ki kaleji, dal ka keema, aalan ka saag, mandhiya, takke paise.

In all 23 recipes have been described in the vegetable section. Many of the vegetables used were fairly late entrants in India. Potato came in 1830 and tomato in 1850. Most of these recipes are known and common such as saag, sabut baingan, baingan ka bharta, masala arbi.

Rice is auspicious in all cultures. It is a symbol of fertility, prosperity and good fortune. Pulao and biryani are a term for a dish of rice cooked with meat. Rice and meat cooked together go back a long time and even find mention in the Mahabharata. In the rice section there are 13 recipes and nearly all of them are uncommon and need to be tried out by rice lovers. There is Sunday pulao, the yakhni pulao (layered mutton pulao), moti pulao, Babu Shahi’s biryani, mahi pulao and, of course zarda pulao (sweet rice). The roti section has 12 recipes.

Indians have a sweet tooth and Delhiites are no exception. There are as many as 25 mouth-watering recipes simple and easy to make. These include various kinds of kheer made with bajra, rice, lotus seed, almond and vermicelli. Other sweet dishes include shahi tukra, kurchan, kulfi, daulat chaat, halwa prepared in the traditional manner, pistachio sweet and almond sweets.

Snacks and accompaniments include 26 recipes with that of gooja, keoka, gari, sabut matar, dahi bara, gol gappa and alu ke kulle.

No Indian meal is complete without pickles and chutnis and in this section the writer has given 15 recipes which are to be made to be believed in their tangy and spicy taste. There are yummy chutnis of mint, corriander, onion, ginger, mango and tamarind. Pickle recipes include that of lime, garlic, onion, cauliflower, mango and green chillies.

Before the advent of bottled drinks, thirst quenchers were made at home to help one get through the hot summer days. Unfortunately now no one makes them except for nimbu pani. There is no doubt that both taste as well as nutrient wise they are no match to the empty calories being provided by bottled aerated drinks. All the five recipes of sharbat-e-gulab, aam ka panna, imli ka panna, zeere ka paani and kachri ka paani are excellent concoctions, easy to make and fresh in taste.

It may be taken into account that the recipes in the book are not for the diet conscious, diabetic and heart patient. Most of them are rich in ingredients with oil and ghee extensively and freely used. Moreover, the dishes cannot be eaten daily but during special occasions when one can indulge in rich, oily and calorie laden food.

A drawback of the book is the lack of photographs. One picture is equal to a thousand words applies to food too. Good photographs of delicious dishes garnished to please the eye would surely have motivated the reader to try these dishes.

Shelling out Rs 250 is worth it.


A little compassion will do the trick

This is an edited chapter from "Worlds in Harmony", a conversation between the Dalai Lama and a distinguished panel of psychologists and psychotherapists of the USA.

Audience Question: Much of what we’ve talked about has to do with suffering and harmfulness. Can you say more about joy and happiness?

Dalai Lama: It is already happiness when someone decreases your suffering. We have a saying in Tibet, "If you are too excited by joy, later you will have to cry." This shows the relative nature of what we identify as joy and pain, and it implies that there should be a limit.

From a Buddhist practitioner’s viewpoint, the important thing is that your mental state remain steady, not too many ups and downs. There are joys and pains, even depression, but not too low or too high. This way of life may seem colourless, but a more colourful, exciting way of life is, in a deep sense, not good. It is like having lighting in the room. If sometimes it is blindingly bright and other times it is too dark to see, it is not very useful.

This whole way of life depends mainly on mental attitudes, remaining calm and stable. This, I think, is most important. This stability of mind is developed through training. One’s heart and mind become more resilient, firmer, less likely to be pushed around by external events. The opposite is too much sensitivity, so that the slightest negative input will agitate you or throw you into depression, and the slightest positive input will get you very excited. This is not helpful.

In the depths of your mind, you have wisdom that will carry you when you encounter something negative. You don’t get thrown by it; you simply take it in your stride. Likewise, when something good happens you can take this in your stride. Taking things in your stride is the key.

Daniel Brown: Your Holiness, I wish to ask a question about the inner nature of this practice. There seem to be two kinds of practices — those designed for working with the more negative, or non-virtuous, qualities of mind, and those that are designed to actively cultivate virtuous qualities. These seem to be complementary but independent practices. Working with negative states doesn’t necessarily lead to the rising of positive qualities. One needs, in addition, to actively cultivate these virtuous qualities of mind like faith, patience, and an altruistic attitude.

In our society, a lot of the more analytically-oriented therapies like psychoanalysis have been emphasising working with the negative qualities of mind. Other therapies — namely, the transpersonal therapies — have said that isn’t enough, that we also have to cultivate these positive qualities. So we are also struggling with the same kind of issues. How, in Buddhism are these positive qualities developed?

Dalai Lama: To cultivate an altruistic attitude, a meditator takes the well-being of others to heart and reflects again and again on the benefits of caring for and cherishing them. But he balances this by reflecting on the disadvantages of simply cherishing his own well-being, placing priority on himself as opposed to everyone else. These two facets of this meditation together lead to a wholesome state of mind.

Similarly, when he practises the cultivation of loving kindness, he balances this by countering hatred. These two also go together and are mutually helpful. Which should you emphasise in the beginning? We cannot make any uniform statement. It is really an individual matter.

Daniel Goleman: Your Holiness, we in the West have a model of mental health, of mental wholesomeness, that only goes part way. What is the Tibetan Buddhist model of mental health?

Dalai Lama: Ultimately, the only healthy person is a Buddha. But this is a bit far away. So, keeping our feet on the ground and looking at our present circumstance, we simply look to worldly convention to see when a person is healthy. When does society acknowledge a person as good or wholesome? There is nothing absolute here. One person might appear to be very fine but then, when you see another person with even deeper compassion or greater wisdom, the first person appears to be inferior. There are no absolute criteria here.

But if you want to be more precise, you say that a healthy person is someone who, when there is an opportunity to be of service to others, engages in that service. When that is not possible, he or she at least avoids causing harm. A person who does that is a healthy person. This is the essence of Buddhism. In fact, I believe that this is the essence of all spiritual traditions.

Daniel Goleman: So a single person loving someone who is unloved can open the way to compassion?

Dalai Lama: Yes exactly.

Margaret Brenman-Gibson: That is very frequently the position in which a helper, a psychotherapist, finds him or herself to be that one person who can genuinely feel love for this person who comes in suffering, in pain, and who has so sense of ever having found in him or herself anything lovable.

So I often say to students, after the first hour when they have seen somebody who is in great pain and who wants some help, "Do you like this person at all? Really, honestly?" And if the answer is, "I really don’t," then I say, "Please let someone else be the therapist for this person. If you cannot see anything lovable in this person, that you can respond to in a genuine way, then you are not the right person to help this person."

Dalai Lama: Yes, absolutely. This is very true.

Daniel Goleman: It seems when people have been brought up feeling unloved or have been victimised, abused by parents, or so on, it is very hard for them to find compassion for other people. Your Holiness, how can you help someone who doesn’t feel love for himself to be able to love others, to be compassionate?

Dalai Lama: If this person has never encountered love directed towards himself or herself from any quarter, if no one has ever shown this person love, it is very difficult. But if that person can meet even one person who will show unconditional love — simply acceptance and compassion — then even if he hasn’t experienced compassion himself, if he knows that he is an object of someone else’s affection and love, it is bound to have an impact, and this will be appreciated. Because there is a seed in himself, this act of love will start to catalyse or ripen that seed.

Stephen Levine: Your Holiness, I know many people who, after doing very profound work on themselves, come to a place where they find it difficult to experience joy in their lives. It is more than just the recognition of the suffering of grasping after satisfaction and pleasure. A profound sadness arises in many people I know who are of service to others. There is not a lot of joy in their lives. How can we learn to play in the dharma?

Dalai Lama: Maybe you can extract a little bit from the Tibetan brain. Tibetans are really cheerful. I’m just kidding. When someone, through his whole life, experiences a lot a tragedies, it can be helpful to adopt the perspective that there are many past lives and future lives also. Then, even if one’s present life appears hopeless, there is a broader context.

But I think you are not talking about a life filled with misfortune, but rather a life that is focused on spiritual practice and on serving, and, in the context of this, still feeling depressed and unhappy, not having the capacity for joy. In the process of meditation, one may gain a fairly deep insight into the nature of mind and the unsatisfactory nature of this cycle of existence. In the process, one develops a yearning to be free of this round of suffering. However, as a result of one’s own personal practice and engagement with society, one many find that one’s expectations were not fulfilled. You didn’t do as well as you wanted, or expected to, and this disappointment can detract from your capacity for joy. So it may have something to do with expectations. One might have too many expectations in the beginning that can take away the joy later on.

Jean Shinoda Bolen: Your Holiness, I have a question about balancing detachment and compassion. In conventional western psychotherapy, there seems to be a different level of closeness that we want to foster in a person — an ability to be closer to another human being than, I think, is encouraged and developed in Tibetan Buddhism. The Buddhist position, I think, is more like the position of the psychotherapist. As a psychotherapist, we have compassion and no judgment. We are detached; we observe the feelings in the other person and attempt not to get caught in our own feelings as we are in the process of doing our work. But if we were to go home with that attitude, observe the people closest to us and not react to them, just watch them, think about them, and feel compassion towards them, then we aren’t close enough to form an intimacy that will endure over the years and bring us into our own feelings.

One of the problems that psychotherapists have, that mediators may also have, is an inability after a while to react spontaneously to someone else’s situation. Taking it further and further down the line, we could get to the detachment of the bomb-maker, where we are just too far away from the heart level, the reactive level, and the fear level — all the emotions.

There is a need to pull these opposites together — to be able to observe and be compassionate, and also to be intensely involved and care greatly, so that emotional loss will affect us, other people truly matter to us, and we will grieve deeply and be hurt deeply by them because they matter not just because we have become pathologically detached or attached. There is a different optimal level, I think, that we foster in our work. I am raising this as an observation and also as a potential shadow side of meditation practice.

Dalai Lama: If one feels very profound compassion, this already implies an intimate connection with another person. It is said in Buddhist scriptures that we are to cultivate love just like that of a mother towards her only child. This is very intimate. The Buddhist notion of attachment is not what people in the West assume. We say that the love of a mother for her only child is free of attachment.

Jack Engler: Americans in particular, often feel that we have a right to be happy. In fact, we get angry when we’re not happy or when someone else gets something and we don’t, or they get more of it. This seems to be built into many of the assumptions on which this country was founded.

It is different, I think, from the Buddhist notion that we can be happy. The idea that we have a right to it, and we have a right to it now, and we shouldn’t have to wait for it, or we shouldn’t have to work very hard to get it, is very destructive. But it is part of the American dream. Although the American Constitution says that we have a right to the pursuit of happiness, we usually think that means we have a right to have happiness all the time. This colours the way we act. If, for example, our Buddhist practice doesn’t produce happiness immediately for us, we have little ability to assume the perspective of a bodhisattva and concentrate on service and compassion. Behind all of this tends to be the issue that our own happiness is paramount, and this is reinforced by our culture, over and over again.

Dalai Lama: It is natural to pursue one’s own happiness and to work hard to get it now. But this is different from pursuing it while neglecting and ignoring, and even at the expense of, others’ happiness. There is a big difference between the two.

Audience Question: Can you speak more about compassion in organisations — business organisations, social organisations or government organisations? How can one help organisations act compassionately as organisations?

Dalai Lama: On the one hand, there is no organisation that is not composed of individuals. Apart from individuals, there are no organisations. So it is best to focus on the individuals in the organisation, especially those who bear the most responsibility for it, and try to encourage in them a greater sense of awareness and compassion. If we can bring about a greater awareness of the benefits of compassion for society as a whole, this will be critical as a matter of survival.

Jean Shinoda Bolen: Can you say more on it being a matter of survival?

Dalai Lama: We have talked a lot about the crisis of contemporary civilisation, the great turmoil, the problems we are encountering. What do these arise from? From a lack of loving kindness and compassion. If we focus on this, the benefits of compassion are obvious. Of course, the threat of nuclear weapons is extremely dangerous, but in order to stop this threat, ultimately the solution is compassion, realising that other people are our human brothers and sisters.

Audience Question: I have noticed that children begin to lose compassion when they enter school and meet uncompassionate others. What suggestions do you have for children who must learn to handle people who do not have compassion, and still develop their own compassion?

Dalai Lama: It is very important that they have very close ties with their good friends, their wholesome friends, and with their parents, their own family. That is where the effort needs to lie, in very close and wholesome family ties. Apart from that, there is not much to do.

Human beings, when they are born, start nursing on mother’s milk. This is the first lesson in compassion and love. By nature, taking milk from our mothers is, in itself, a lesson in human relations on the basis of affection. We must try to maintain that spirit. That is how we develop intimate relationships — based on affection between ourselves and our mother, through nursing on her milk. Compassion in the family is very important. If there is a compassionate atmosphere in the family, not only the parents but also the coming generations will benefit. Their mental and physical development will be much healthy.

I believe very deeply that compassion is the route not only for the evolution of the full human being, but also for the very survival of the human being, from conception through birth and growing up. To me, this is quite clear.