The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, February 18, 2001

Said he of his life
Review by Shelley Walia

A stateswoman, mother of all Khalsa
Review by V.N. Datta

A mother’s tribute to her daughter
Review by Cookie Maini

Must man always be bound to the past?
Review by Rajesh Kathpalia

Short stories with their small snags
Review by R.P. Chaddah

An officer and no gentleman
Review by Bimal Bhatia

From the maker of mastermind
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Why only some women fight for their rights
Review by Anupama Roy

Speaking in Sanskrit
Review by Stephen David in Mathuru


 Said he of his life
Review by Shelley Walia

Out of Place: A Memoir by Edward Said. Granta Books, London. Pages 295. $ 8.99.

SAID’s intellectual journeys have taken him around the world and across many disciplines, contributing substantially to the shaping of contemporary debates on Orientalism, on discourse analysis, on dissident politics and on post-colonialism. He combines his ethnic provenance with his intellectual abilities, a prestigious academic chair and a political commitment to bring to attention the larger issues of underdevelopment, imperialism and culture facing the contemporary world. Indeed he is among the truly meaningful intellectuals of our time who are difficult to pin down owing to the polarity of their interests.

In a recent memoir "Out of Place" Edward Said, one of the western world’s most outspoken intellectuals, traces his ambivalent and contradictory location with a growing sense of an outsider. A Palestinian but an American citizen, Arab but Christian with an English first name bound to an Arabic surname. His privileged position within an institutional framework has provoked critics, mostly from the Third World who hold him responsible for complying with western material and political values, against which he has himself warned historians to be alert.

Said is fully aware of the imperceptible influence of the dominant ideologies located in cultural and institutional sites. He acknowledges that he belongs "to a kind of establishment of sorts, so (he) knows what that world is like. They feel they can bring me back to the fold because they say you’re really one of us, not one of those people. I become enraged and I become even more inflammatory, and I reveal even more of their horrible secrets."

He goes on to narrate a provocative incident that took place in the British colonial club in Cairo of which his family was a member. Walking on the lawns of the club, he was told to get out of the club as Arabs were not allowed. Said comments: ‘That was the first time I realised that to be an Arab in a country dominated by someone else was, if not a crime, then a misdemeanor." Living as a refugee in Egypt, Said faced the contradictions of an exile which affect him to this day.

Asked by an Israeli official if he had any relatives living in Israel, his answer was: "No one." This, says Said, "triggered a sensation of such sadness and loss as I had not expected. For by the early spring of 1948 my entire extended family had been swept out of the place, and has remained in exile ever since."

Having spent most of his life as an exile, Said has a deep sense of belonging to a dispossessed culture. It was during his growing years as a student in the USA that he gradually began to feel alienated with the pro-Israeli American culture. Finally with the defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war, the rest of Palestine was also lost and this spurred Said to think and write extensively on the Palestinian problem.

Living under "torrents of abuse" in the USA with rightwing conservative Americans burning down his office, Said has learnt to cope with opposition and write on the prevailing atmosphere of injustice. To understand the history of his people and their eviction from their homeland unlike any other colonial experience, he began to educate himself on all relevant accounts of his people and learn Arabic so as to realise the problems and sentiments at the grassroots. In 1977 he joined the Palestine National Council which was the parliament in exile and ever since he has "tried in a certain sense, to combine (his) own literary, philosophical and cultural interests with contemporary political interests."

The problem of Palestine led him to the study of Orientalism and imperialism and also to liberation movements which focused exclusively on "forgotten or repressed histories". This undoubtedly has been a century of border-crossing, of immigration that brings up the question of being an exile. And what better example of a migrant than Said. The location of the exile may be taken in its commonplace meaning which suggests the homelessness of the Armenians or Jews or the Palestinians. On the other hand, Said explains, the exile for him is the intellectual who has to exile himself from what has been given to him, "what is customary, and to see it from a point of view that looks at it as if it were something that is provisional and foreign to oneself".

This second type of exile has, therefore, the connotations of an independent intellectual exercise with inherent qualities of both "commitment" and "detachment". As a committed cultural critic belonging to the world that he inhabits and the one that he has left behind, he believes in "things of this world" where "human beings make their own history". This is the political recuperation of a lost past, not a complete recovery of a pristine past. It is the construction on a new world based on secular principles and justice that is foremost on Said’s agenda.

"Out of Place" is a record of an essentially lost or forgotten world. As Said writes, "Several years ago I received what seemed to be a fatal medical diagnosis, and it therefore struck me as important to leave behind a subjective account of the life I lived in the Arab world, where I was born and spent my formative years, and in the United States, where I went to school, college, and university. Many of the places and people I recall here no longer exist, though I found myself frequently amazed at how much I carried of them inside me in often minute, even startlingly concrete, detail".

This story of his life is told against the background of World War II, the loss of Palestine and the establishment of Israel, the end of the Egyptian monarchy, the Nasser years, the 1967 war, the emergence of the Palestinian movement, the Lebanese civil war and the Oslo peace process.

More than these historic events, it is the story of the displaced form of departures, arrivals, farewells, exile, nostalgia, homesickness, belonging, and travel itself. "The overall sensation," Said says, "was of always being out of place." This explains Said’s "hybridity" or the "in-between space" that he occupies as an exile living on the borders of inter-cultural identity. Said sees this position as one of advantage from where he can speak and write subversively; for him the intellectual is always an "exile or marginal".

The fear of compromise if he was to speak from the position of an insider has prevented him from joining politics and he is deeply unhappy and angry with his doctoral student Hanan Ashrawi for joining Arafat’s government, as this means siding with the policies of the government. Arafat’s government, he thinks, is riddled with corruption and has sold utterly to the Israelis in return for a notional peace. "It’s a government that puts people in jails, tortures them to death, there’s no freedom of expression — well, he says of Ashrafi, "if you can serve in a government like that, fine, do it, but for me, I find it wrong".

In his unstintingly forthright autobiography he examines his life from a tragic perspective of a mortal ailment of leukemia that he has been suffering from for many years. "Sometimes you get tired of the whole thing and just wish that it would end, he confesses in a subdued voice. "I guess I’m committed to going on." He has continued to bridge the gap between the private and the public, his literary criticism always in consonance with his personal political experience and his deeply radical and oppositional stance that "tries to speak the truth to power".


A stateswoman, mother of all Khalsa
Review by V.N. Datta

Maharani Jind Kaur by M.L. Ahluwalia and edited by Prithipal Singh Kapur. Singh Brothers, Amritsar. Pages 141. Rs 150.

THANKS to the initiative of Prof Prithipal Singh Kapur, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and now Editor-in-Chief, Encylopaedia of Sikhism, Punjabi University, Patiala, a national level seminar on Maharaja Duleep Singh was held at Ludhiana on the occasion of his first death centenary through the courtesy of Khalsa Educational Conference (Gujranwala). A number of prominent scholars of Punjab history and journalists participated in the seminar.

In the course of discussion it was decided to publish a full-scale study on Maharaja Duleep Singh and his mother Maharani Jind Kaur, who had been neglected by historians. Mr M.L. Ahluwalia, a highly trained archivist reputed for ferreting out new source material, particularly on Punjab history, was commissioned to undertake the task. Unfortunately, he could not complete the work due to failing health, and left gaps which have been ably and assiduously filled by Prof Prithipal Singh in the book.

Editor Kapur has not tinkered with the text which essentially remains Ahluwalia’s. Here is drawn a sensitive and vivid portrait of Maharani Jind Kaur as a resolute, fearless and dynamic woman, made of flint and iron, and imbued with a spirit of patriotism, who was determined to fight the British colonial rulers under circumstances heavily weighted against her. It is the patriotic fervour and zeal of Maharani Jind Kaur that Ahluwalia has projected in successive stages of her encounters with her compatriots and the colonial masters. Maharani Jind Kaur was no Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, to win over Julius Caesar to become the sole royal power, nor a Begum Samru to enlist her patron Emperor Shah Alam’s support to maintain her independence. At a critical time MaharaniJind had to depend on her own resources to charter her course. She represented what in his "History of the Second World War", Winston Churchill had called, one of the greater virtues, "defiance in defeat".

This short and unpretentious work based on unpublished source material of the National Archives of India, New Delhi, and Bikaner records, focuses on the political activities of Maharani Jind Kaur. The whole account, lucid and straightforward, captures the spirit of the times, which is gloomy, sombre and murky, when one woe followed another swiftly. This work fits in with the nationalist framework and there is more scope which Ahluwalia acknowledges for a more exhaustive work on Maharani Jind Kaur, particularly by looking from the other side of the hills. The Hardinge papers at Cambridge and the Dalhousie material in Edinburgh lie unexplored on the subject.

It was tragic that the empire which Maharaja Ranjit Singh had created and sustained by sheer force of will power and sagacity, tumbled down within 10 years of his death by the stupidity and recklessness of his self-destructive successors who, intoxicated with power and vaulting ambition, frittered away their energy in petty intrigues and internecine warfare. All this crucial times when the enemy, the British colonialists, were preparing to fish in troubled waters. This has to be acknowledged, as did Lord Dalhousie in his private communications to the Court of Directors, that Ranjit Singh, from being a sowar on 20 rupees a month at Gujranwala, had become the master of Punjab with the greatest military force in India next to the British colonisers; but this power vanished like mist in the air after 1845.

The book opens with a narration of the circumstances that led to a political turmoil in Punjab after Ranjit Singh’s death. Steed threatened steed. There was blood, toil and tears; also rapine, pillage and slaughter, arson, death and destruction. The crucial issue of governance began to be decided by the use of sword. Seldom did Punjab witness such ghastly scenes enacted by sons of soil who knew not where they were and what they were doing. These were self-created tragedies which destroyed Punjab.

The maharajas and princes and their kith and kin were liquidated in no time. Within seven years of Ranjit Singh’s death the British colonisers succeeded in establishing their authority in Punjab. The second Anglo-Sikh war, as compared to the first one, was a trivial affair, a ploy cleverly manoeuvred by Lord Dalhousie to annex Punjab.

When Maharani Jind Kaur appeared on the scene, much water had flowed down the river Ravi. The civil authority had become wrack and ruin and the fierce soldiery had begun to adopt a stridently abrasive posture and dictate terms. All power passed into the hands of the regimental officers appointed by an army that was wild with religious fervour.

Placed in such a vulnerable situation, her freedom of action was naturally put to a severe test. Almost at every step there were challenges to meet! Some of the notable chiefs of Lahore darbar were in league with the British rulers and were acting as agents provocateur.

Ranjit Singh had the prudence to understand the limits of power which his successors did not realise. Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia, a man of innovative ideas, to whom the maharani was keen on offering the post of Prime Minister, instead thought of coming to an agreement with the British by a subsidiary alliance, but nobody was willing to listen to him and he retired to Varanasi in despair. When the winds blow, rain descends, storm rages and the house falls.

Ahluwalia maintains that Maharani Jind Kaur was opposed to signing the Treaty of Bhyrowal on December 16, 1846. The question is: did she have any choice in the matter? She was excluded from participating in it. Doubtless, the treaty was a death warrant for Punjab. Duleep Singh was placed on the throne under British tutelage, and Punjab was put under the general supervision and protection of the British government. Maharani Jind Kaur was shrewd enough to see through the clandestine machinations of wily Raja Gulab Singh, and resisted giving the Jammu and Kashmir territory to him for his services, but in vain. The British colonial rulers were averse to the idea of annexing these areas on geo-political considerations.

The avenging force of fact is that after the setting up of the Council of Regency, Maharani Jind Kaur was not a power to reckon with but a desperate woman, a victim of unsmiling fortune, who was left with little freedom to chart her way. From the evidence in this work it appears that in the initial stages, she was willing to adapt herself to the changing situation, and was reconciled to the idea of stationing British troops in Punjab, but when she found that the British rulers were interfering in the day-to-day administration and were creating disaffection among people by their policy of divide and rule, her attitude underwent a marked change and she became bitterly hostile to the British colonial rulers.

They kept a strict vigilance over Maharani Jind Kaur’s activities. They realised that as Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s wife and Duleep Singh’s mother, she could be a potential rallying point for the disgruntled elements in Punjab and thereby raise the banner of rebellion. She is reported to have devised a scheme for the murder of British soldiers and to hatch plots with the rulers of Afghanistan Dost Mohammad, and Bikaner to subvert British authority. Thirty letters included in this work throw ample light on her denunciation of the British colonial rule. All these fanciful plans led to nowhere. Henry Lawrence wrote, "There was no longer a man in Punjab who would shoulder a musket on her bidding."

Maharani Jind Kaur was confined to Sheikhupura on August 20, 1847, and then escorted by Faqir Noor-ud-din, was spirited away to Varanasi on August 2, 1848, where her allowance was reduced to a paltry sum of Rs 12,000 a year! Not content with her incarceration, Maharani Jind Kaur was dispatched to Chunar but she was not to be found there on August 15, 1849. Her escape from Chunar was an astounding act of daredevilry which boggled the British rulers. During her confinement, she had felt suffocated, humiliated, and longed for the glow of freedom, which took her away to Kathmandu. The British declared her an absconder and issued warrants for her arrest. By now Punjab was annexed on March 29, 1849.

Due to Viceroy Lord Canning’s moderate policy forced by the compulsions of the 1857 revolt, Maharani Jind Kaur was allowed to sail to England. She was shocked to see her son clean shaven. On August 1, 1863, Maharani Jind Kaur, "the mother of all Khalsa" died when she was 46. The British refused her cremation in Punjab. She was cremated on the banks of the River Godavari near Nashik, while Duleep Singh was kept away in Mumbai then. Thus was extinguished the last flickering hope of recovering Punjab’s independence in the stormy seas of many oceans.


A mother’s tribute to her daughter
Review by Cookie Maini

Oona-Mountain Wind by Jasjit Mansingh. Shristi Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 486. Rs 395.

READING this book has a twofold effect — it gnaws one’s insides and grips the being. It is engrossing as it is about a life lived to its hilt, committed to humanity and environment. But what is moving is that a mother recounts poignantly and reminisces her daughter’s life snuffed out prematurely. She has carefully chosen her favourite colour, purple, for the cover and her nickname "Mountain Wind" as the title.

Very pointedly painted is this moving tribute of a mother to her daughter, whose theme in life is spelt out in a letter she wrote from Sussex in 1991. "The work options for me seem so boundless that I feel as if I need about seven lives to go through them all." Yet regretfully even this life was abruptly snapped, yet the achievements recapitulated are by no means meagre and almost compensated for seven lives.

The book is a sporadic journey, the itinerary is charted with the author’s thoughts of the lives primarily of Oona, her daughter (just 33), and her granddaughter (barely three and a half). It is partly a journal, a memoir and eventually biographical, as Oona’s mother compiles her life through letters, memorabilia and the family’s reminiscences. It is essentially her own perceptions. For those who never knew her, she conjures up an ideal blend in a modern woman — daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and yet an ideally charged development professional who gave up the luxury of urban life to take up her mission of running an NGO in Satoli in Kumaon.

In all this surfaces a mother’s quest as she copes with grief of the irreparable loss and she delves into a life she today can proudly recreate (yet regretfully can no longer partake.

Oona was special not only to her parents but as a rare individual in today’s materialist and consumerist world.

Oona spent even her honeymoon in Satoli where she worked and one of the earliest letters to her father is reflective of her mature thinking. "What we make of our lives is something that only time will tell. But, as always, I feel a deep sense of joy and peace in living amongst high mountains, blue skies, and deep forests; where even the routine tasks of cooking things off the land, dreaming of an enchanting garden and keeping one’s own home gives me great pleasure. Life is good."

The book begins with the description of Oona’s simple marriage, a reference to the paradoxical plight fate puts them into. "It is over five months now that Oona and Illya died. Oona was my daughter and Illya her daughter. Oona was my mother’s eldest grandchild and Illya her only greatgrandchild. What seemed so wrong about that was the complete lack of logic. They were the young ones, the future generation. My mother had already lived her life but she had been spared. I was prepared to go myself, in fact, feared last year that it was imminent, and I am still here."

That sums up probably the pathos of any parent who loses a child yet she perforce finds consolation in words. "They are masters in disguise, teaching us about impermanence," beautifully expressed by the Dalai Lama about premature death and quoted in the preface.

Yet as one goes through the book, gnawing pain persists, as one empathises with her meaningful expressions, "time blurred. But the memories of the next five days are sharp. Each a shard, driven deep into my consciousness into my mind and heart".

Throughout the book, the interspesing of events with myriad thoughts, makes it a real-life experience. Instances such as the author seeing her child recuperate and deteriorate in the ICU, cannot help one but experience a wrench of depression as Oona’s life ebbs out.

Subsequently, the author writes some of her deepest feelings to her daughter, which must have been a cathartic as well as an immensely painful process, yet all along the author’s spiritual moorings and her fervent faith in the world beyond the bodily presence is evident; the world where souls transmigrate.

She has succinctly expressed it: "There is no such thing as death, it is only the body that dies." Time and again she repeats that message. In a dozen different ways. "Can anyone ever say, Illya is dead? Who is it that knows, ‘I am’?"

This principle is different from the body; it is the vitalising principle of "matter". It is the all-pervasive, it is ever-existent. Ramana Maharishi phrased it differently. Ask, he said, "Who am I?" The "I" who knows the physical person I-entity must be different from the entity, other than it. The false identification with the body is the cause of sorrow and grief. I did not get that all in the first talk, but I went to hear him, morning and evening, for the two weeks he was here. They say the guru finds the disciple when the disciple is ready. Should I thank you for my "readiness"?"

Often similar religious surmises and meaningful quotes from religious texts make it akin to a spiritual treatise and a more meaningful read.

Further, the reader is acquainted with the NGO conceptualised by Oona after her masters in rural development from Sussex. "The name, Aarohi, borrowed from Indian classical music, means ‘ascendance’. It was appropriate in more ways than one. Top-down, target-driven ‘development’ was firmly eschewed. It was the Gandhian model that they adopted."

Oona felt strongly that any attempt at development to be successful and sustainable could only be if it began at the grassroots. The whole community needed to participate. The people themselves needed to identify their needs and then see how best they could be fulfilled.

The role of the NGO would be that of facilitator rather than a provider of schemes and subsidies often tailored by people who knew nothing about the local environment. The movement for change had to ascent, from the bottom up."

Oona definitely belonged to the genre of zealous, sincere, motivated, youngsters who utilised their western education in a genuine fashion. I do hope the book will also inspire youngsters to give a purposeful direction to their lives so as to ameliorate the lives of thousands of other less fortunate ones.

As I come to the end of the book, it is time to exit from Jasjits — "Oona world" (as she calls it), I feel I crave to know more, I wish that this had been a mere biography (of an individual whose life’s mission was rural development) which could have a sequel. Unfortunately it is an epitaph, penned brilliantly by her mother lending credence to the belief in the genome theory. For such scintillating yet tender candles, which blow out abruptly, she has put it beautifully. "Yet there is sorrow. And there is anguish. But overall, there is immense gratitude. Immense gratitude that they lived and were given to us to cherish for whatever length of time they were in the body."


Must man always be bound to the past?
Review by Rajesh Kathpalia

The Awakening of Intelligence by J. Krishnamurti. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 538. Rs 295.

"Intelligence is not personal, is not the outcome of argument, belief, opinion or reason. Intelligence comes into being when the brain discovers its fallability, when it discovers what it is capable of and what it is not." — (from the Book)

IT is said that Socrates complained about the youth of his day. He felt they had no manners and no respect for their elders and that they were becoming permissive. Mind you, it was in the fourth century BC! We still complain about our children — 2400 years of civilisation after!

After all these technical inventions, culture, education and experiences of war, etc. Do we love our neighbours more? Do we understand more about our jealousies, fears, loneliness, hurts or pleasures? Or, simply put, have we become more enlightened psychologically? Probably not!

Man has lived by thought. He thinks every minute. Without it he cannot live as man. Thought has helped him produce marvellous things — all this extraordinary and fantastic world of technology. There is not doubt about it. But, it has also caused intolerable misery, conflicts, division and wars. In one direction, technological thought has worked wonders and in the other, psychological (if one can all that) it has caused misery. In one field it flowers and in the other it deteriorates!

In analysing things technological, we are able to use thought fairly objectively. The things are separate from us and as analysers we make hypotheses and theories, test, revise or modify these. There have been numerous ups and downs here and many times the dogma of the past knowledge has hindred the progress of new techniques and approaches. Still, over a period of time, technological knowledge has piled up and has had a vision-broadening effect.

Things change completely when we start analysing ourselves in psychological field). Here the analyser is analysing himself. Now, what is the analyser? Is he not the sum total of his past experience, good or bad memories, his hurts, his pleasures, his fears, his conditioning — culture, value system and morality. He is the past. He is the accumulated knowledge of all things that he has analysed. So, when he analyses himself, is it not the past (thought) acting as a centre, analysing!

This centre is "I" and it is the past though it may pose as the present. Thought is moving and creating an image as if there is a crystallised something — "I" looking at "its" thoughts though it itself is playing so many roles. It is thought which has created jealousy and it is thought which says "I must run away from it. I must suppress it." When I am jealous "I" is that jealousy, I am not different from jealousy. One cannot run away from oneself. The observer is the observed!

Thought moves continuously to "preserve" itself. It is momentary by its very nature. Left to itself, it dies. By moving it creates the impression of stability as if something is continuing from the past to the present. Try sitting alone for some time and watch your thoughts — don’t control anything!

It is like death. It is very frightening. You immediately fill your mind with useless and constant chatter. This is the ultimate trick available to thought — to avoid the present. The fact is thought is momentary; it has to die. So the thought moves from the fact to a non-fact — an ideal of immortality. And thought wanting ultimate security has invented something called "God" and it itself clings to it. The "atman", the "brahman", and the soul are still part of thought as we use them, they are inventions of our thought.

The psychological sphere for man is thus they are a sphere where falsity, hypocrisy and trickery reign supreme. Man forever avoids looking at himself, as if it is a taboo. Here the past completely overpowers the present and no wonder, there haven’t been any "psychological" revolutions as against revolutions in scientific-technological sphere.

Herein lies probably the biggest tragedy of man — his perpetual ignorance of himself. Man’s natural capacity to learn has not helped him here. Sure, that is a source of deep sorrow for man.

So what can one do in this situation? Krishnamurti says one cannot do anything here! One cannot pursue some ideal of man’s happiness in future; that is still a thought, a trick. The ideal is not a fact. It is non-factual.

What happens when one does not move away from a fact, however unpleasant it may be? What happens when one realises that escape from a fact to a non-fact will always haunt one? It will become a ghost.

The truth of a fact itself is going to act, says Krishnamurti. Isn’t the understanding of a fact its own action? When you realise that a piece of a rope you mistook to be a snake lying on the road in fact is not snake lying on the road in fact, is not a snake your fear is gone. The action is total you are not afraid at all. So, the truth of a fact is going to act. That is intelligence. This has come about without one’s choice. The truth acts. This happens when thought understands its illusions and limitations in the face of facts and gives in without tricks. So, the movement away from the fact (which is possible only in thought) is a problem and not the fact!

Thought is a measure and intelligence is not. You cannot have freedom along with a measure. Intelligence opens you to the immeasurable — to love and compassion. Love and compassion have no blueprints and that is the beauty of it.

The book contains Krishnamurti’s talks, his dialogues and conversations with people who include people like David Bohm, famous physicist, Jacob Needleman on subjects like life, death, love, fear, security, self, intelligence, boredom and meditation — topics, anybody would find abstract if one looks at these from one’s mind’s eye. Mind, seeking security in fixed patterns, will distort and dull anything!

J. Krishnamurti was not a philosopher. He was no sage, no psychologist, no yogi, no missionary and not even a teacher. Is it necessary for a human being to be "somebody"? Is it necessary for a human being to be divided as such into different categories or compartments?

Krishnamurti himself says: "We are friends, walking alongside a seashore, exploring together this wonderful thing called life—there is no authority not even one’s own, no burden we are travelling light, there is no tomorrow and we have come here for the first time, hand in hand."


Short stories with their small snags
Review by R.P. Chaddah

After the Storm — short stories by Harish Dhillon. UBS Publishers’ Distri-butors, New Delhi. Pages 164. Rs 175.

AFTER quite a long time short story has come on its own and it is in fashion these days. A few Sunday newspapers have started publishing short stories week after week, and I hope this trend catches up with all newspapers. In the past few years some publishers have come out with collections of short stories, very recently a collection of the best Indian stories selected by Khushwant Singh has hit the book stands.

Criticism on the art of contemporary short story in English is almost negligible. Way back in 1993, a book "Studies in Contemporary Indian Short Story" edited by A.N. Dwivedy appeared. This book covered the work of 15 odd practitioners of short story in English and critically examined their work. The writers covered were R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, Anita Desai, Khushwant Singh, Saros Cowasjee and others. After that, none has come to the notice of this reviewer, an avid aficionado of Indian writing in English.

Harish Dhillon, the writer of the present collection titled "After the Storm", has over the years written many short stories for various newspapers and magazines but this collection happens to be his first. Dhillon spent his formative years in Sanawar (Lawrence School, Shimla Hills) and as luck would have it, he came back to head the school for about three decades. At present he heads the Yadvindra Public School as principal at SAS Nagar (Mohali). But his first love seems to be writing, especially short stories.

The collection contains in all 16 stories spread over about 160 pages. Some of the old world charm of living a life in the very lap of the hills far away from the madding crowd of the cities, intrudes unobtrusively into a number of stories. No doubt there is a certain freshness about his approach. His two dimensional characters are dealt with internally and externally. The process of interiorisation leads to individuals with specific behaviour patterns and psychological peculiarities and the writer further brings them into the socio-economic format. His stories dramatise fleeting emotions which are at once tender and brittle, and hence he shuns surprise endings.

The title story has all the ingredients for the peep-hole or voyeuristic type of readers, who subscribe to the magazines of the Debonair-Fantasy type. He is so much overtaken by this base instinct of adultery in a story that he makes the cuckolded husband a card board character. The lady’s one night fling in a far-off forest becomes the inspiration of one of the stories by the same man and she relives the pleasure by reading about it.

Sentimental, emotional touches heighten the effect of some of the stories. Sanawar, Mussoorie, Mumbai and Delhi become the happening places. The stories may not be earth shaking in their resolution, nor do they have epic dimensions in scope and intensity, but they do capture an unforgettable moment of life. The particular stories which have these emotions in plenty are "The Cricket Cap", "The Long Forgotten Song" and "Requiem for a Friend".

"He was playing to be worthy of his grandfather’s cap, playing so that his father could carry the report of his worthiness back to the dear old man (his grandfather)

"Beautiful people, like beautiful songs, do not become less beautiful because they have been forgotten. It is we who are a little lessened with each forgetting."

The story "Requiem for a Friend" seems to be somewhat autobiographical. The pointer to the first person narrative and also the places mentioned by Dhillon are the very places where he has stayed during his growing years. In the story the family heirlooms arrive after many years in the shape of a box, brought to India by the once very dear friend of the mother of the narrator. Looking at the things in the box, the author realises the other side of his mother’s personality. At the end of the story the narrator says, "As children we had fantisised that it (the box) held immense treasures. How true our fantasies had been! In that one evening it had yielded more wealth than the entire outside world contained."

Other stories that hold the attention of the reader for a long time are "The Mona Lisa of the Shikaras", "Fine Madness", and "The Perfectionist". Some Indianisms have crept into a number of stories but they do not hamper the flow of the narrative. A few of them.

"Both father and daughter wept without shame." (page 34)

"To give his life some correction, he had thought of doing a project which would keep him in the hills." (page 64).

"Mama’s taking us out to lunch, she asked us yesterday." (page 81).


An officer and no gentleman
Review by Bimal Bhatia

Inside the Indian Army by Trigunesh Mukherjee. Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 228. Rs 495.

WHO does not want an inside view of the Army? In an environment when most people lack even an outside view of the services, chances are that you will plump for this volume and pull it right out of the shelf.

With over 32 years of service behind him, Brig Mukherjee has been commandant of the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, and was Deputy Director General (Training) of the National Cadet Corps when he sought premature retirement in 1998 to write, share with readers his experience in management and photography.

In a democracy people have the right to know how their army is doing, especially in a country where the army is frequently called out to bail out the civil administration. "This book is a serious attempt to fill the gap between perception and reality as far as the Army is concerned," the inside flap of the attractive jacket informs you.

Chapter one has you understanding national security. A nation’s well-being is as good as it is perceived to be and is directly related to "perceived power", says the author. Surfacing is his management background, and he gives out the equation for it. Pp=(C+E+M+S)x W. C is the critical mass (population and territory), E the economic capability, M the military capability, S the Strategic Purpose, and W the will to pursue national strategy.

The next chapter "Structure and Channels" resembles a discourse to NCC cadets, but even the lay reader would expect to be told where the five army commands listed in the book are located. Description of the combat and support arms and the services is inadequate. The artillery provides indirect fire support, he says. True, but in difficult situations such as Kargil the gunners haul their guns into direct firing mode. This was done with devastating effect on Tiger Hill by guns deployed in advanced positions literally under the enemy’s nose.

While Mukherjee has rued the lack of intelligence, he does not even list the Intelligence Corps anywhere in the hierarchy of arms and services. The Intelligence Corps actually found itself placed in precedence at the tail-end with services like education corps, military police, judge advocate, postal service, military farms and pioneers. In recent years the Intelligence Corps has been upgraded into a combat support arm, but its omission in the book only reinforces the disregard for this unsung and silent support arm.

The organisation tree of the Army Headquarters is again inadequately and wrongly depicted. The Directors General of Military Operations, Military Intelligence and Military Training function not directly under the Army Chief as shown but under Vice Chief of the Army Staff (a principal staff officer). For those who look for finer details, there is no Director General of ASC (Army Supply Corps). He is the Director General of Supply and Transport.

On the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) a brief background and analysis of its functional constraints would have helped the reader form the right picture. But taste this. "Without going into details one can quote this (RR experience) as a decision made in a hurry and implemented in even greater haste. For this the Army will continue to repent at leisure."

You can see the direct snipes at the bureaucracy — not only because of the sloppily installed water coolers in the offices at Army Headquarters or even because a Brigadier is not authorised an air conditioner while a deputy secretary keeps himself cool.

To be fair to the author, he talks about the "olive green bureaucracy" — senior officers bringing with them the impatience of a command tenure that simply would not do in a staff-oriented atmosphere. Or that a general officer scurrying to the junior bureaucrat to have a file or proposal pushed through. The author’s observation is right to an extent but his conclusion is abrupt: "The civilian bureaucracy knows the uniformed bureaucracy only too well and likes playing games — therefore, trips abroad get approved at the last moment (though why some seniors don’t forgo the trip and make an issue of it is hard to fathom)."

"A lot of this takes place," avers Mukherjee, "simply because the Indian Army has no method to ‘grow’ officers to fit into such ranks and appointments." You know that he is talking about the personal and professional growth and grooming of officers for higher ranks. This issue crops up again in a later chapter "Fauji ko gussa kyon aata hai" (Why does the soldier get angry). "Genuine growth is not effectively planned for in the Army," he says. "In some ways it is convenient for senior officers because it is easier to handle officers without an all round growth (officers with education can ask questions). But the problem goes deeper than this: officers without an all round education cannot do their jobs well when they become senior...they know nothing else despite excellent libraries... they are so busy being important....It is so important for them to ‘succeed’ that ‘growth’ ends up flying out of the window... A General would tell a Colonel or a Brigadier to personally take the file to the Under Secretary and get it cleared."

That is a mouthful of loud burst. Shades of "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence" by Norman Dixon. Some senior officers are intellectually inclined, while others are not. How else do you get the expression "thinking general"? Admittedly, the aspect of growth and infusing higher doses of intellectual activity has concerned those that matter in higher rungs.

We are back to the same issue in a moment. The author analyses the decision to hold national-level games for NCC cadets to coincide with Independence Day, a proposal to which he was opposed but which was pushed through by his Director-General. "The basic problem in decision-making in the Army is that people don’t ‘grow’ to be senior officers. They simply get ‘promoted’ to senior ranks," he comments.

As a result of this tiff with his boss the bitterness of the author is evident in a personal note: "The author found the NCC games so out of context that his conscience did not permit his being a party to the games, therefore, he sought premature retirement."

On the issue of human resource planning and development in the Army, the reader has more nuggets of wisdom. But try to decipher this: "If necessary, the Indian Army can build up its own industrial and business bases so that career continuation is also in their hands rather than waiting for bureaucrats and politicians to play ball because they will not. This is apparent even in grave misfortunes like the Orissa cyclone when they are more inclined to look at their gains. Time and again they have proved that they simply cannot be trusted. It is therefore important for the Army to draw the appropriate conclusions."

At this stage you are advised to pop in the rest of the aspirin tablets, if you are left with any. Better still pour yourself a drink. You’ll be able to digest the "brief analysis" of the Kargil war and bashing of the Air Force whose impact on the ground was over-assessed, according to Mukherjee. "The is manifest in the number of senior Air Force officers who were awarded the Param Yudh Seva Medal as if the Air Force efforts made any massive impact on the operations," he chips in helpfully.

Also you will easily overlook the crass language that the author has injected into the book. Savour this: "Anybody (I am tempted to say any idiot) can see that functioning at these heights needs special clothing and equipment." Now a quick rewind to give you a taste of the ultimate in crassness: "Or a Joint Secretary will sign a letter asking for a personal explanation of a Director General with the rank of Lt Gen. Instead of sending the letter back and asking the bureaucrat to shove it wherever he likes — discipline being in his blood, the senior officer gets down to framing a reply."

While there is a lot that can be said about the incompetence that prevails at the desk

of some publishing houses, all must read this book — if only to see how a theme with immense potential can be truly trivialised and demolished.


From the maker of mastermind
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Mastermind India 2000 by Siddhartha Basu. Penguin India, New Delhi. Pages XV+ 483. Rs 195.

WHAT does Siddhartha Basu have in common with Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Govinda? They all are quiz maestros! (Of course, Kher is no more in the Sawaal Dus Crore Ka team). But the similarity ends there. While the latter three have come into the small screen with a clear intention of cashing in on whatever is left of their glamour, Basu has assiduously built his image after a long period of struggle, through sheer force of hardwork. So what is a nice guy like him doing on a brazenly commercial show like the KBC? Well, no matter how glamorous one might be, without the intellectual input he or she becomes as vacuous as, well, a doll.

That Basu is eminently qualified to lend substance to any quiz show is amply proved by the fact that the KBC "has created history by becoming the first non-fiction television series to command the highest viewership on Indian television, four nights a week", as is claimed in the volume under review. This apart, he has anchored, produced and/or directed several quiz shows like the three series of "Mastermind India" (more about it later); the national inter-college quiz that ran for three series in 1985, 1986 and 1988 and commanded 85 per cent viewership segment — "Quiz Time"; the SAARC quiz that was simultaneously telecast in all SAARC countries, titled "Spectrum"; another three series quiz show that was telecast as part of the Nehru centenary celebrations beginning in 1989 called "India Quiz".

Siddhartha Basu has also produced two Hindi quiz shows. One was the "Super Quiz" telecast in 1994 which featured mature quizzers from most states of the country. Another was the "Kissa kursi ka" which had Members of Parliament as contestants. No wonder Basu has won several awards like the Uptron Award and the Pinnacle Award.

Unlike the KBC, the Mastermind India does not molly-coddle the participants. The questions are tough and fired in quick succession. Thus a person’s general knowledge, presence of mind and performance under pressure are tested to the hilt. No wonder a lot of prestige is attached to the Mastermind India trophy. Unlike the KBC, the Mastermind India gives a simple trophy and no big cash dole to the winners. In this collection under review, questions on various topics like assassinations in the 20th century, Amitabh Bachchan’s film career, breeds of dogs, Ian Botham’s cricketing career, etc. have been given under specified headings. Answers appear from page 341 onwards.

Here are some samples from this book that contains exactly 3560 questions: (Q) Which Mughal architectural masterpiece of the 17th century did Khalil and Sadulla Khan design? Ans:- Delhi’s Jama Masjid. Q:- Which Australian captain was Botham’s first victim in Test cricket? Ans:- Greg Chappel Q:- Which Jain Tirthankara preceded Mahavira? Ans:- Parsva Nath Q:- Which Munich-born director, later an ardent Nazi, directed thespian Ashok Kumar’s first three films for Bombay Talkies? Ans:- Franz Osten Q:- Which Marxist President of Chile was killed in a military coup led by General Pinochet in 1973? Ans:- Salvador Allende.

Basu points out in the preface, "Their aim is to prove an excellence of awareness, in a testing trial of speed and accuracy, where the only rewards are honour, pride and recognition. These are the hallmarks of our singular contest, and happily there are enough takers for this austere quiz classic." Thank God for that! Or, perhaps, one should be grateful for the innate good taste of the contestants who, mercifully, do exist in our country.

Whether you are seriously considering entering a quiz contest, sitting in a competitive examination or just improving your general knowledge, this book should prove an invaluable asset. Buy it!

* * *

Eyewitness and Other Tales of Detection by Satyabrata Dam. Minerva Press, New Delhi. Pages 478. Rs 395.

According to the American Heritage English dictionary, the world sleuth — used both as an intransitive verb and noun — is short for the sleuthhound, a dog used for tracking criminals, quarry, etc. for example, the bloodhound. It also denotes a detective. The dictionary further states: "To track down the history of the word sleuth requires a bit of etymological sleuthing in itself. The immediate ancestor of our word is the compound sleuthhound, a dog, such as a bloodhound, used for tracking or pursuing."

This term took on a figurative sense as "tracker, pursuer," which is closely related to the sense "detective." From sleuthhound came the shortened form sleuth, recorded in the sense of "detective" as early as 1872. The first part of the term sleuthhound means "track, path, trail," and is first recorded in a Middle English work written probably around 1200. The Middle English word, which had the form sloth, with eu representing the Scots development of the Middle English, was a borrowing of the Old Norse word slodh, "a track or trait". This quality — of single-minded pursuit of criminals in a detective, generally a romanticised figure — has given birth to a whole genre of popular literature.

Detective stories have always had a loyal readership that transcended all barriers of class, creed, age and nationality. Fictional super-sleuths like Sherlock Holmes have become cult figures. If the brilliant Holmes was a bit eccentric with a king-size ego, Hercule Poirot was a paragon of chivalry and rectitude, and Perry Mason is depicted as passionate and more human but as good a detective as the other two legendary characters.

The reason why past perfect tense is being used for these characters despite their enduring reputation is that today the detective-fiction genre is more or less dead. The old world charm has been replaced by louder and more risque thrillers — both in the print and electronic media. The protagonists are one-dimensional caricatures which are eminently forgettable.

Today, if someone wants to attempt writing detective stories, he will have to come up with something breathtakingly different. To catch the reader’s attention — even if fleetingly — is becoming increasingly difficult even for the above average writers. Immense talent coupled with pots of luck might do the trick though. If one studies the art of writing one would learn that it is essential to make characters come alive on the pages so as to catch the reader’s imagination.

The plot, in order to be convincing, should be founded on extensive and intensive research and planning. Mere knowledge of jargon is not enough; one should go deep into the subject in order to come up with an authentic portrayal of places, situations and characters. These are the basic requirements of creative writing.

Satyabrata Dam’s first story, "Day of Judgement" begins well, though it could have been better. However he betrays a lack of even casual information about the manner in which an airman introduces himself to his superior officer. He will never say, "I am Airman Sinha." He is required to give his rank, for example, "I am Corporal Sinha", or whatever rank he holds. Similarly, an Air Force doctor is never escorted by a security officer, and certainly, two warrant officers do not accompany the security officer in his jeep. Perhaps the author will do well to get acquainted with the basics of the Indian Air Force protocol before he ventures into such specialised literary activities.

Nonetheless, Dam can improve. he has the spark. He needs to make his plots and characters more realistic. Perhaps he could try to eschew too much "Americanisation" of his narrative. Let the situations be authentic Indian. This volume has seven stories. Perhaps you might like to read some of them.

* * *

An Accident? by Tarlochan S. Gill. Star Publications, New Delhi. Pages 164. Rs 150.

It is a recognised fact that it is difficult to master the language other than one’s mother tongue. And it is also universally acknowledged that translations often fail to do justice to an original work of fiction. In the light of this one feels that this novel has suffered due to lack of professional translation of the original work in Punjabi which was published in 1978. Since Gill appears to be familiar with the North American life, he must be aware of the affordable services rendered by professional rewrite artists. This would certainly have smoothened the narrative’s flow.

Suchet, the male protagonist, "suddenly feels giddy and as he fell down, he screamed". The reason is not given but the readers are told that he is in great physical agony and his left leg becomes very stiff. With this accident begin the author’s "new experiments in writing...Each chapter is independent as well as part of the novel on the whole."

Gill claims that the novel is based on the life and experiences of immigrants in Canada and other parts of North America "with particular reference to the hospitals and nursing homes in this part of the world. Even though it is of a personal kind, yet the characters and incidents in this novel represent collective feelings and observations..."

Let us hope this work attracts the attention of at least those readers who take interest in the immigrants’ experiences.


Why only some women fight for their rights
Review by Anupama Roy

Fields of Protest: Women’s Movement in India by Raka Ray. Kali for Women, New Delhi. Pages xiii+217. Rs 250.

THE women’s movement in India, as elsewhere in the world, has grappled with questions pertaining to what constitutes women’s interests, who can legitimately define these interests, and significantly, do all women have the same interests. It may be said at the outset that women have rarely, if at all, presented themselves en mass as an absolute category, having unqualified and separate interests as women.

At various moments of the history of the women’s movement one can sift out diverse strands defining women’s interests in truncated ways, pertaining to only a section of women, or interests affiliated with those of other more expansive movements — namely, the national movement, the communist movement, the peasant movement, etc. Thus, in the early decades of the 20th century, women’s interests were defined by middle-class nationalist women within the broader context of the movement for national liberation.

In the decades after independence, the nature and scope of women’s activism as well as issues of feminist concern like work, violence and consciousness raising were embedded within the broader parameters of party-led struggles against feudal and bourgeois structures of oppression. The "specificity" of "women’s experiences" of exploitation on each of these counts, was submerged in other concurrent or simultaneous experiences of collective oppression as peasants or workers.

In the late 1970s, a "new" women’s movement emerged, challenging the manner in which women’s interests were being hegemonically defined and subsumed under these identities. The new women’s movement raised the powerful slogans of the seventies — "the personal is political" — and declared its autonomy from mass-based party cadres.

Giving a feminist interpretation to issues of work and labour, it disentangled them from definitions limiting them to wage labour. Similarly, the notion of violence was broadened to include in its scope, violence faced especially by women in all manifestations — domestic violence, rape, custodial rape, female foeticide, dowry deaths, etc.

In an excellent exposition of the use of the comparative method in political sociology, Raka Ray undertakes a study of these two variants of women’s activism — affiliated and the autonomous — in Mumbai and Kolkata. By means of a remarkable analysis of relationships between variables, Ray offers two significant propositions. It would be erroneous, she suggests, to expect affiliated women’s movements to always define their priorities and course of action within the dominant paradigms of party organisation. Further, the manner in which women’s activism manifests itself, as well as the forms in which women’s interests get articulated, depend in the ultimate analysis on the nature of the political field in which the movement is situated.

The study starts with a pertinent puzzle — why was it that Kolkata, a city with the reputation of being "politically tempestuous", where young men and women participated in political activities with equal passion, was conspicuous by its absence from the publicly acknowledged realm of feminism, whereas Mumbai, a city with a similar social and political history of women’s participation in political life, has come to be acknowledged as the epitome of a vibrant and vigorous Indian women’s movement? The issues which animated women in Kolkata and evinced their participation in democratic struggles were, points out the author, predominantly "economistic" or of "pragmatic interest" to women, like issues of literacy, employment, wage discrimination, water, electricity, etc. Mumbai, on the other hand, brimmed with issues that have come to represent explicitly "feminist" or "strategic" and "authentic" interests of women like issues of violence against women, sexual harassment, safe contraception, aminocentiosis, etc.

The absence of these "explicit" and "authentic" feminist issues could by themselves explain Kolkata’s absence from the feminist public sphere. Not convinced by these cursory explanations, however, the author sets herself more "why"? questions which hold the promise of leading her to more substantive explanations. Why is it that women’s issues get articulated in dissimilar ways in two cities which are otherwise similar in their history of political participation of women? Why is it that affiliated and autonomous women’s organisations articulate women’s interests and issues differently in the two cities?

Investigations around these questions lead the author to seek answers in the differing political fields in the two cities. Political fields are conceptualised by Ray as "structured, unequal, and socially constructed environment within which organisations are embedded and to which organisations and activists constantly respond". The political field of Kolkata has been described as hegemonic characterised by a homogenous political culture and a concentrated distribution of power. The hegemonism of Kolkata’s political field emanates from the predominance of a powerful and monolithic Left culture and the organisational machinery of the Communist Party. The women’s movement in the city thus has to constantly negotiate its existence within and in response to a "monolithic, impermeable" political environment structured by this political and organisational dominance of the Left.

To study its implications for the women’s movement the author takes up for study two organisations, the Paschim Bangal Ganatantrik Mahila Samiti (PBGMS), the women’s front of the CPM and the state branch of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, and Sachetana, an autonomous women’s group of academics and development workers, both formed in 1981. While both organisations are subordinate actors in the hegemonic, concentrated political field, the PBGMS as an arm of the state, is the relatively dominant women’s group. The reasons for this dominance, however, the author asserts, is also a source of its weakness as a women’s group, so much so that issues like work, violence and women’s choices get defined by it in conformity with Kolkata’s political culture, in a gender-neutral way. While Sachetana, the autonomous women’s group, differs from PBGMS in its feminist formulation of these issues, it is ideologically constrained and dependent on the PBGMS in a hegemonic political field in which the latter is a relatively dominant actor.

Mumbai’s political field, on the other hand, is characterised by a heterogenous culture. The author shows how its political field is more dispersed, with no single political party holding hegemonic sway, with the result that women’s organisations can coexist in their separate spaces with numerous actors in a fragmented field of social movement. The dispersed and fragmented nature of the political field in Mumbai also means that women’s groups are themselves quite diverse and more often than not do not have, nor are they dependent upon a "mass base".

The author studies in detail an autonomous group — the Forum Against Oppression of Women, the dominant group in the political field, not owing to its size, mass base and affiliation to state power, but because of its ability to powerfully communicate and coalesce the feminist discourse in the city.

As in her study of Kolkata, the author also selects for study a subordinate group in Mumbai’s political field, the Janwadi Mahila Sangathan (JMS), a sister organisation of the PBGMS. By picking JMS, the author is able to show how the difference in the nature of political fields affects the functioning of organisations affiliated to the same national political party.

Thus, while the Forum, a relatively small autonomous women’s group, in the absence of an overbearing monolithic political culture and dispersed structures of power, is able to apply "its finely honed techniques of persuasive communication" to introduce in Mumbai’s political culture "the legitimacy of speaking out about one’s own experiences" and "a new way of thinking about violence against women and violence in general", the JMS, an affiliated organisation where it did not derive its position from state power, is subordinate to the Forum which monopolises the terms of the feminist discourse. On the other hand, it has in comparison to the PBGMS, more ideological space to reflect on, refine, redefine and rearticulate its analysis of gender issues.

In many ways this is a remarkable book. Having grown out of a doctoral dissertation, it reflects the rigours of methodical field research and complex analysis. The methodological appendices serve as a window to the many years which went into the study, the various phases of the study, the varied sources and methodology, and the author’s explanations for preferring one kind of source or method over others. Students preparing their research proposals as well as academics well versed in the finer nuances of comparative study will find this book useful. The generalisations offered by this book can serve as research questions to be explored in other regions.


Speaking in Sanskrit
Review by Stephen David in Mathuru

"KATHAM ASTI BHAVAAN?" THE VILLAGER SMILES IN GREETING. The visitor pauses, bewildered. Is it a formidable tongue-twister intended to confuse, or just what it seems — a polite enquiry? The latter, it turns out, Sanskrit for "How are you?" Here in Mathuru, in Karnataka’s Shimoga district, even the youngest child could tell you that "I’m fine. How are you?" should not be your answer. Sammyak asmi. Twam katham asi? is quite the proper thing to say.

"Who said Sanskrit is dead, or a language of the elite?" asks M.R. Ganapathy, the village postman who has a master’s degree in Sanskrit. Visitors to Mathuru would echo the question. The rest of India may dismiss it as the preserve of the gods, of rituals, of Brahmins and the learned, but in this tiny village of about 1,200 nestling on the banks of the river Tunga, Sanskrit is the living, breathing, spoken word.

Ganapathy — his trademark call is "Idhum bhavataaye patram" (You’ve got mail) — will tell you that. "It is easier to get around here in Sanskrit than in Kannada," he says. So it has been since 1987, when a head of the Pejawar Math passed through and exhorted the people to revive the tongue. Taking up the challenge, a group of priests formed the Samskritha Samiti for the promotion of Sanskrit. It worked. And as housewife M. Sasikala says, "Speaking Sanskrit gives us a feeling of living in the Vedic era but with 20th-century comforts like radio and TV."

It is what has made Mathuru a museum of antiquities for those looking in from the outside. But for the people of the place, the desire to search deeper into ancient Hindu texts, to get a whiff of the days gone by, is reason enough. When the Samiti offered classes in spoken Sanskrit, the response was overwhelming. Enthusiastic students ranged from housewives to farmers to doctors. "There is no other language through which you can understand the sounds and the smells of the Vedas," says 46-year-old K.N. Markandaya, a farmer. "This realisation helps us to learn it easily and pass it down to the generations after us."

The logic is simple. It is also drawing attention. Mathuru was discussed at the 1994 World Sanskrit Conference in Australia, and when the venue shifted to Bangalore in 1997, the village was listed as a "sight to see" for delegates. For K. Aveerajan, a postgraduate in comparative religion from the University of Bombay, it is much more. "When I came to know about this place, I wanted to live here for six months and learn Sanskrit," he says, now well-ensconced in the one-room tenement that will be his home for a while.

For all the scholarly attention, Mathuru’s mission has not found any takers beyond Hosahalli village across the river. Says Samrat Kumar, lecturer in a well-known Shimoga college: "Both are Brahmin-dominated villages, which is why the effort has succeeded there." And S. Settar, secretary of the International Association for Sanskrit Studies, explains: "Mathuru is probably a part of centuries-old Brahminical settlements. From the third to the fifth century A.D., the local rulers patronised Sanskrit, which was the official language of the Brahmins, along with Kannada, and the influence is still there."

An influence that the adults of Mathuru fear is waning. "Television beyond a certain point can be corrupting, especially for the youth," says Aswathanarayana Avadhani, a village elder. "Sanskrit is meant to ward off these evils." He may see it that way, but for the children of Mathuru, the language they squabble in, which their parents chide them in, is hardly "the language of the gods". It’s just, well, another language.