he of his
Review by Shelley Walia
Out of Place: A
Memoir by Edward Said. Granta Books, London. Pages 295. $ 8.99.
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
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
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
"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
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.
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
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".
Review by V.N. Datta
Kaur by M.L. Ahluwalia and edited by Prithipal Singh Kapur.
Singh Brothers, Amritsar. Pages 141. Rs 150.
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.
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".
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
Review by Cookie Maini
Wind by Jasjit Mansingh. Shristi Publishers, New Delhi. Pages
486. Rs 395.
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.
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.
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
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
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".
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.
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.
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’?"
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
religious surmises and meaningful quotes from religious texts
make it akin to a spiritual treatise and a more meaningful read.
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."
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
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."
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."
man always be bound to the past?
Review by Rajesh Kathpalia
Awakening of Intelligence by J. Krishnamurti. Penguin Books, New
Delhi. Pages 538. Rs 295.
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)
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?
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!
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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."
stories with their
Review by R.P. Chaddah
After the Storm — short
stories by Harish Dhillon. UBS Publishers’ Distri-butors,
New Delhi. Pages 164. Rs 175.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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".
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)
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."
"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
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.
father and daughter wept without shame." (page 34)
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).
officer and no gentleman
Review by Bimal Bhatia
the Indian Army by Trigunesh Mukherjee. Manas Publications,
New Delhi. Pages 228. Rs 495.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)."
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
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
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
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
is a lot that can be said about the incompetence that prevails
at the desk
publishing houses, all must read this book — if only to see
how a theme with immense potential can be truly trivialised
the maker of
Review by Randeep Wadehra
India 2000 by Siddhartha Basu. Penguin India, New Delhi. Pages
XV+ 483. Rs 195.
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
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.
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
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
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
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!
* * *
and Other Tales of Detection by Satyabrata Dam. Minerva Press,
New Delhi. Pages 478. Rs 395.
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."
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
* * *
by Tarlochan S. Gill. Star Publications, New Delhi. Pages 164.
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.
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."
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.
only some women fight
for their rights
Review by Anupama Roy
Protest: Women’s Movement in India by Raka Ray. Kali for
Women, New Delhi. Pages xiii+217. Rs 250.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
Review by Stephen David
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.
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.
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