Review by Rumina Sethi
Rushdie by Damian Grant. Northcote House Publishers, London.
Pages xi + 148. £ 8.99.
about the art of novel writing in The Guardian Salman Rushdie
declared that what matters most to him was the "freedom
of the imagination, the great overwhelming, overarching issue
of the freedom of speech and the right of human beings to walk
down the streets of their own country without fear".
Swift before him had already talked about the role of the
imagination which gives access to the whole spectrum of human
potential. Shelley, in "Defence of Poetry", had
declared that "a man, to be greatly good must imagine
intensely and comprehensively". This is the key to our
humanity illustrated by Rushdie’s fiction in terms of its
dual responsibility to the world of historical truth and its
transformation through the fabulous world of imagination. And
Damian Grant rightly pays homage to this sentiment.
Rushdie’s novels as representations of a variety of
intermingling cultures made up of complex and uncertain
processes involving the experience of difference within a
country and internationally. This breaks up the categories of
identity that are either imposed or adopted. Perhaps there is
something congenial in the polymorphous nature of Indian
culture that allows the proliferation of alien cultural
components without really assimilating them. Rushdie’s texts
thus take up cultural dynamics of colonial conquest and the
colonial cultures of resistance.
demonstrates how in Rushdie’s work, culture is taken as the
basis of influence, of subversion and dislocation. Working on
the frontline of imagination, Rushdie makes his fiction a site
of intervention and a metaphor for subtle relationship between
culture and control. Metahistorical formations are thrown to
the wind; the historical specific phenomenon gives way to the
heterogeneous and the sign of difference.
It is not
that Rushdie is against objectivity; he is more for universal
freedom that allows the development of forms of representation
which are emancipatory in their effects and political in their
nature. This emancipatory potential is built into the
self-reflexivity of his texts which apart from giving a new
version to history also take up the dynamics of fictional
writing. This is an endeavour towards a purposive agenda of
historical reconstruction and political engagement. For
instance, "Midnight’s Children" and
"Shame" are particularly good examples of the
processes of movement and transformation, of emergence and
decline, a "reality" that is a historically
post-modernist, Rushdie fluctuates between objectivity and
self-representation. The different voices in his fiction
always promote politics and do not inhibit a heteroglossia
that reacts against the authoritarian centre. Totalising
systems like capitalism are too straightjacketing but
apparently their very existence results in a positive
opposition and resistance that is so essential for human
It is for the
recovery of history and identity that Saleem Sinai has to tell
his story, a self-representation based on memory, lies,
exaggeration and "truth" "I told you the truth,
I say yet again, memory’s truth, because memory has its own
special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates,
minimises, glorifies and vilifies also; but in the end it
creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually
coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever
trusts someone else’s version more than his own."
The sense of
history is made all the more vibrant through "shoring
fragments against one’s ruins", an indication of the
proliferation of the super-rational experience, sometimes
wrongly called "magic realism", that is intrinsic to
Rushdie’s vision. It is a mode of perceptual reality where
the inscription of the imaginative is produced through
dissonance and consonance as well as disjuncture caused by
reactive nationalisms, neo-colonialisms and innumerable cases
Here lies, in
Wilson Harris’s words, "a counter-culture of the
imagination", a philosophy of history that lies buried in
imaginative writings, thus liberating us from the crude
"facts" of history. Rushdie proclaims that no fact
is unqualified or an absolute fiction. The two always
"leak into each other". In "imaginary
Homelands" he holds the journalists more responsible for
writing fiction than the novelists:
in general appear to be the only human beings for whom Graham
Greene has little time or respect. "A petty reason
perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance
from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the
truth and journalists are trying to write fiction," he
says sharply before demolishing one Stephen Pile.
obviously an ironic comment on the novelist’s mistrust of
history. Defending the writing of "The Satanic
Verses", Rushdie declares: "... my overt use of
fabulation would make it clear to any reader that I was not
attempting to falsify history, but to allow fiction to take
off from history ... the use of fiction was a way of creating
the sort of distance from actuality that I felt would prevent
offence from being taken."
frontiers for his fiction " are neither political nor
linguistic but imaginative", an endeavour that always
evolves a new reality and new languages so as to comprehend
our world where reality and illusion are always hand in glove.
Since it is language that basically plays up to the
conventions of literary realism, it is no wonder that it is
language that becomes an obsessive concern for Rushdie. It is
fairly well known that Rushdie’s "polyglot"
language tradition is derived as much form Gogol, Cervantes,
Kafka, Melville as from Grass, Llosa, Fuentes and Kundera.
Damian Grant’s notably
thoughtful and well-informed book is divided into eight
chapters, each taking up the complex issue of the navigation
between the real and the fictional worlds. Particularly
relevant here is his discussion of the violent response to
Satanic Verses" and the death sentence pronounced on
Rushdie which resulted in heated debates throughout the world
on freedom of speech and race relations. This is an example of
the coalescence of reality and its opposite which, as Rushdie
writes, "is a question of perspective; the further you
get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems
— but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more
and more incredible".
How Hitler fooled entire
Review by V.
the end of World War II, Winston Churchill said, "The
more you go to the past, the more you will understand the
present and the future." Churchill made this statement in
the context of the bitter and hostile relations between the
French and the German in the pre-1939 period. Statesman who do
not foresee the unforseable mortgage the future of their
country. Hardly anyone anticipated the coming of World War II.
Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany, had an uncanny sense
of premonition and he warned the young, volatile Kaiser
William II that 20 years after he was gone, Europe would be
plunged into warfare. This he foresaw because the Kaiser by a
non-renewal of the Reinsurance Treaty between Russia and
Germany had disturbed the balance of power which was the only
security system to stabilise peace in Europe.
In his speech
delivered in Zurich, Churchill observed that "the first
step in the recreation of the Europe family must be a
partnership between France and Germany". Between 1800 and
1940 the Germans and the French fought five wars. The
Franco-German war was regarded in France as a war of national
humiliation which sowed the seeds of World War I. After the
Prussion victory over France, the wife of Bismarck suggested
that the "French should be shot and stabbed to death,
down to the little babies". At the end of World War I,
Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France.
also secured reparations considerably exceeding the large
indemnity that the Germans had taken in the 1870s. The Germans
could not pay up the large indemnity, so the French troops
occupied the Ruhr in 1923. This soured the Franco-German
relations further. On May 10, 1940, Hitler’s army attacked
France which forms the theme of the book under review,
"Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France" by
Ernest R May (Hill and Wang, pages 594, $ 30).
victory over France within just a period of seven weeks was
spectacular. The Germans forced the British, the French and
the Belgium army into a pocket at Dunkirk, imposed armistice
on the new French Government of Marshal Petain, occupied Paris
and to humiliate France staged a victory parade for Adolf
Hitler and his entourage on the Champs Elysees. In six weeks
of fighting, the author states that France lost 124,000 lives
and 200,000 were wounded. General Rommel took at one point on
May 16-17, 10,000 French prisoners while losing one German
officer and 40 men. Nicol Jorden, the distinguished historian,
wrote, "Hitler’s victory over France is one of the
great military catastrophes in world history." Hitler’s
success freed him to concentrate on defeating Britain and
later on attacking the Soviet Union.
that Ernest May asks is why the French, who had a powerful
army, were defeated so easily within such a short time. How do
we explain this French disaster? Was it lack of political and
military leadership or a combination of circumstances that
resulted in the defeat? Or was it that the French were caught
napping, not realising what was coming.
has produced a wonderful work of scholarship by his
penetrating analysis of the war from purely a military angle.
He has made extensive use of German, French, British and
American archives. He has given a perceptive analysis of the
French historiography on the French war in 1940. He
acknowledges a special debt of gratitude to the doyen of
historians, Marc Bloch, who in his brilliant "Estrange
Defaite" recorded his testimony in 1940 which was
published after the war. By that time Bloch, an active member
of the Resistance, had been shot dead by the Germans.
masterly analysis, Bloch emphasised that complete military
incompetence on the part of army Generals combined with
political ineptitude by the French leadership riven by
internecine ideological quarrels brought about the French
collapse. Furthermore, the press like the political parties
was venal and corrupt and was influenced by short-term
personal interests rather than national goals. Bloch concludes
that the war ended before it began.
is a protagonist of what has come to be known as
"counterfactual history". He argues that the French
defeat could have been avoided if things had happened
otherwise. In other words, if military errors committed with
reckless abandon had been avoided, history would have taken
altogether a different course. For May, it is not the French
defeat but the German victory that needs explaining. May
writes, "What happened in May, 1940, is indicated of the
condition of particular military units, not of the French
that Hitler wanted to strike France in the late fall of 1939
but the Generals dithered. The weather proved unfavourable
which compelled Hitler to postpone the attack. But had this
invasion taken place, it would not have been south-west,
through the Ardennes, but west through Belgium, and into the
plains of France. In such a situation, both the armies would
have clashed in Flanders and the French supported by the
British, the Belgians and the Dutch would have had a
reasonable chance of success. This information of the German
attack fell into Belgium hands. The Germans changed their plan
and attacked through the thickly forested Ardennes, instead
sending weaker troops into central Belgium as a decoy.
the author, no one in the army anticipated the German troops
approaching Sedan from the north. General Charles Huntziger,
whose second Army was defending the unthreatened frontier to
the last, refused to send reinforcements. He did not see the
danger inherent in the situation and fell for Geobbles’
bluff about imminent attack near Switzerland.
Caught in a
trap by the attack of which they had no inkling, the main
French army and the Britain’s expeditionary force retreated
to the coast which the Belgium king surrendered. It was
considered a treachery, and after the war he was never
restored to the throne. This ill-coordinated plan hurriedly
conceived by the French and the British army to resist the
German onslaught, ended in failure. May further stresses that
the French Generals had a contingency plan for a breakthrough
and could "only imagine holes to maintain a continuous
front". They believed in the infallibility of the Maginot
line which became irrelevant in the circumstances.
May shows how
the French army was ill-informed about the German invasion
plans. In fact it did not know what the Germans were up to and
ignored evidence that should have alerted the army to the
impending danger. May cites a portion of the intelligence
report addressed to the French Government. "According to
our information the Hitler regime will continue to hold power
until the spring of 1940, and then will be replaced by
foolhardy complacence was evident in the letter Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain wrote to his sister on March 12, 1939,
three days before Hitler seized Czechoslovakia. "Like
Chatham I know that I can save the country and I do not
believe that anyone else can."
Gamelim, the overall commander, confessed before a post-war
Commission of Inquiry. "Personally I envisaged a group of
few tank divisions around Chalons. How was I to know it would
get broken up? We had no advance knowledge of where and how
the German would attack?" It seems that May has given
exaggerated importance to the role of chance in determining
crucial events in the war.
introduction, May writes that if the French had anticipated
the Ardennes offensive, "it is more than conceivable that
the outcome would have been not France’s defeat but
Germanys", and possibly a French victory on the Unter den
Linden in Berlin. Later in the volume May returns to the same
theme. I think this explanation is too simplistic and is
conditioned by focusing on the military aspect of the war than
seeing the whole situation from the political, diplomatic and
economic angles. May’s speculation is based on the
assumption that the Germans should have fought the war as they
had expected it to go.
May extols the military
strategy of General Georges Blanchard who for some time had an
upper hand and temporarily repulsed the Germans. But this is
an exception, in which success was for a short time. I think
May is taking counterfactual history to its extreme. That is
why this study in partial and incomplete, and mainly military,
exclusive of political and social dimensions. In a study of
this theme it becomes necessary to unfold not one or two
chance episodes but the complex sequence of decisions and
personalities which determine the course of history. The
domestic issues confronting France is 1940 are ignored.
speaking, it is it
Review by Kuldip Kalia
Soul: Truth — A Book on Self-Empowerment compiled by M.M.
Walia. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 64. Price not
you understand what truth is! Is it simply a beautiful
connotation? Does it mean revealing everything to everyone?
Does it offer dexterity in dealing with the materialistic
world? Does it make us physically, intellectually and
spiritually strong and courageous human beings?
Men like Raja
Harishchandra and Yudhishtra had made truth the very basis of
their lives and the practice of truth had been given the most
significance since ancient times. Now it has been categorised
as exemplary and, is being used rarely.
speaking, it is not easy to explain the term truth. However,
the word satya is derived from sat which means
"being". So Mahatma Gandhi said, "Truth is God.
Except truth, nothing is or exists." In the words of Sri
Aurobindo, "Truth is the foundation of real spirituality
and, courage is its soul. Perhaps observing rules in life
without truth is impractical. That is why it (truth) should be
the very breath of life."
explains it thus: "Truth is like all beautiful things in
the world; it does not disclose its desirability except to
those who first feel the influence of falsehood."
Falsehood should be destroyed and in the end truth shall
prevail. This is what the Adi Granth assures us. For the
Buddha, truth is noble and sweet.
The basic and
the best element in truth is "as it is". It means it
can neither be improved upon nor altered. Swami Dayanand,
Swami Sivananda and Baha’u’llah have said almost the same
thing. To Dayanand, "What is not subject to negation is
truth (negation in all the three periods of time)". Swami
Sivananda explains, "That which never changes and is
unrestricted by anything is truth". That is why for Baha’u’llah,
"No truth can contradict another truth".
sorrow, its cause, cessation and the way which leads to the
cessation are the "four noble truths". Most of us
are aware that the root of the Buddhist doctrine is almost on
similar lines of the four noble truths. Suffering refers to
illness which could be due to external conditions or internal
conditions and its state of cure leads to cessation and its
cause. But what cures it is the path of truth. Thus, truth is
the only saviour in the world.
Baba explains known and accepted levels of truth. There is the
truth of sense perception like "the fire burns".
Similarly, the "man is mortal" which is based on our
observation because every human being dies ultimately. Then
there is truth which is incapable of being destroyed or hurt.
It "persists and pervades" the cosmos.
important thing is its sublime association. It is said,
"One acquires the disposition of right thought, right
belief and right endeavour by participating in sublime
It is rightly
pointed out that a truthful person is "not one who always
tells the truth but whose utterance always becomes true".
At the same time, a person who does not have the moral courage
to express what he really feels is a liar.
Chinmayananda believes, "Truthfulness is mainly in
uttering a thought as it is actually perceived". However,
wisdom lies in the constant devotion to spiritual knowledge
and the realisation of the essence of truth, or anything
opposing this is ignorance. This is what the Bhagavad Gita has
can never be shaped to suit human connivance. It is the love
of truth which makes the person "fearless". He
becomes a shining example for human society and the fear of
death no more terrorises him. Strictly speaking, truth pays no
homage to any society, whether ancient or modern; on the
contrary, society has to pay homage to truth and the society
where the highest truth becomes practical is in fact the
greatest society in the universe.
It brings in
spiritual boldness and strengthens moral courage. That is why
we say, "Truth is strength, truth is purity and truth is
all knowledge." We must analyse what is "not seen
but true" and what is "seen but false".
Chinmayananda explained in a simple but easily understandable
couplet, "World we see, but not true; truth we see not
Lama has given more practical and worldly views on truth when
he says, "Truth is the best guarantor and the real
foundation of freedom and democracy." It is an immense
force in human mind and, as a result; in the shaping of
Here is a tip for the seeker
of truth. Mercy, character, control over the senses, peace,
courage and humility are said to be the virtues which every
seeker of truth must possess. The compiler deserves a word of
appreciation for encouraging and brightening the lasting
instinct in life.
Malwa: as the folk
constructs and lives
Review by Jaspal Singh
Singh, a reader in the School of Punjabi Studies, Panjab
University, Chandigarh, has emerged as the top folklorist of
Punjab. Of course, Banjara Bedi, who lives in Delhi, the
compiler of an exhaustive encyclopaedia of the folklore of
Punjab, has a much wider range and sweep. Yet the work done by
Nahar Singh single-handedly in the field of folksongs of Malwa
is unsurpassed in the history of folkloristic studies in the
has done a lot of field work and has collected thousands of
folksongs fromMalwa, moving from village to village in all
kinds of weather.
University, Patiala, has shown great interest in publishing
all this material in 10 volumes, seven of which have already
appeared. The first volume "Kalia Harna Rohiyen
Phirna"(The black-buck in the moor) deals with the songs
of dances by men. The second volume, "Laung Burijian Wala"
(The carved nose-stud), carries the songs accompanying women’s
volume, "Channa ve Teri Chanini" (The light of the
moon), has the long songs of Malwa women — their songs of
strife and separation. The fourth volume, "Khuni Nain Jal
Bhare"(The wet bloodshot eyes), is the second part of the
third volume on the same theme.
volume, "Baagin Chamba Khirh Riha"(The champacca in
bloom in the garden), deals with wedding songs. The sixth
volume, "Rarhe Bhambiri Bole"(The dragonfly
reverberates in the arid plains), carries the lampooning songs
by the bridesmaids and the prolonged multipurpose singsongs.
four volumes deal with ritual songs, invocations,
incantations, play-songs, rhymed adages and proverbs, mourning
wails and folk couplets, etc.
songs cover the entire life span of an individual in the Malwa
from womb to tomb. There are hundreds of birth, wedding and
death songs. But most of them are associated only with wedding
since the occasion specially calls for singing and dancing by
both men and women.
A few decades
ago this singing and dancing during the wedding went on for
days together. These songs are the collective creation of the
Punjabis in their long struggle for existence through
turbulent times across centuries. Every community devises its
own life strategies to work off its tension, stress and
depression and to conceptualise, organise and control its
environment to suit its own needs and urges.
In an effort
to understand the spiritual history of man, his desires,
dreams, drives, fears, phobias and feelings become the most
important source material. Folklore of a community faithfully
represents its existential urges as a voice of the
inarticulate "folk", who anonymously pass through
life without creating significant "events" on the
temporal scale. The job of a folklorist is to collect,
classify and then analyse the folk forms so that a
comprehensive idea of the inner life of the community is
folklorist has only one method — that is, observation
through field work to reach his object of study. Unlike a
scientist he cannot indulge in experiments to test a
hypothesis. That is why for most of the time he uses the
comparative method to arrive at a viable explanation of the
socio-cultural phenomena that he deals with.
communities are very dynamic in their life activity, their
socio-cultural vicissitudes can mislead a researcher. Nahar
Singh being an insider is free from such handicaps.
folklorist tries to collect and study the different
constituents of folklore like folktales, legends, folksongs,
proverbs, ballads, rhymes, riddles, charms, superstitions,
customs, rituals, folk dances, spells, magic, folk
performances, rites, rituals, ceremonies, folk beliefs, myths
and religion he is literally thrown into a strange and
mysterious world which is semantically multilayered and highly
intricate in its conceptualisation.
scientists like Vladimir Propp, Alexander Krappe, Bronislav
Malinowski, James Frazer, Carl Gustav Jung, Sigmund Freud,
Claude Levi-Strauss and so on could do only a bit to unravel
the mystery of the folk mind despite the gigantic effort they
put in. The greatest stumbling block in this enterprise is the
oral nature of the subject matter with an extant parallel
version a few miles away.
difficulty is that of the physical aspect of the ritual which
goes with the oral aspect. Orality and literacy are the two
stages of human development and when orality is supplemented
with kineses, the literate society finds it difficult to
translate it into a graphic form.
In the Malwa
region many songs are associated with festivals and fairs. The
famous fairs at Jagraon and Chhapaa have given birth to many
songs called "bolian". One such song goes like
this:"Aari-aari-aari/vich Jagrawan de/Jithe lagdi Roshni
bhari/mela Chhapaa lagda/jithe uchi sunidi ae maarhi/vailian
da kaatth ho gia/othe botlan manga lian chali/chalian chon ik
bachgi/Jihrhi chukk ke mahil naal maari/Dulla Bhatti Rai Kotia/Jinhe
thanedar de patt te gandasi maari/Thanedar ain digia/Jime
digda barota bhari/Bhajj lai putt Bachnia/Aa gi pulas di laari..."
fair of Roshni is held at Jagraon and another at Chhapaa near
the high Gugga temple. The profligates gathered and had a
drinking bout with 40 bottles of liquor which they consumed
all but one which they broke against the wall as a challenge
to the police. Dulla Bhatti from Rai Kot gave a hard chopper
blow to the thigh of the police officer who fell like a huge
banyan tree. As the police reinforcement arrived the crowd of
particular song signifies the people’s endemic antagonism to
displays a different dimension of the culture of Malwa, in
which the elder brother advises his wife to put up with the
silly jokes of his younger brother. He says "Diur bhabian
lakh lakh hasde/ki goli si maari/Je niane ne karli mashkari/Tu
ki ho gi marhi/Harhi suddhe vandaa lau sauni/Bhoin vandaa lau
saari/Pher vandaa lau tumban nakhro/Ah butha nahin rahina/mai
samjha dunga/Tain ki bol ke laina...."
merrily play with their elder sisters-in-law. He has not fired
at you that you mind it so much. If he has cracked a joke, you
are not going to lose anything and if you mind this, he may
demand his share of crops, farm land and family jewellery. In
that case you will lose a lot. Don’t object to his pranks. I’ll
politely advise him to be gentle.)
particular folksong brings out tensions in property relations
within the family and at the same time throws light on the
structure of the kinship system. Not very long ago many people
in Malwa could not get married due to an acute shortage of
women in the countryside. This led to a strange institution of
forced celibacy. Many of these chronic bachelors (chharha)
were notorious opium-eaters or had some other oddities in
One of the
folksongs brings forth the social predicament caused by this
abnormality. "Aari-aari aari /Chharhian de agg nu gai/Meri
chappni vagha ke maari/Rondi chupp na kare/Ro ro ke raat
gujari/Chharhe da guandh bura/Karde bahut khuari/Mar jo ve
chharheo /Vain pave kartari...."(A village belle goes to
the house of lousy bachelors seeking a burning piece of wood.
Her fire pan is thrown away by them. She weeps through the
night and laments that the neighbourhood of such people is a
curse. They always look at a woman with a malicious intent.)
folk song the brother visits his married sister who pleads
with him to take her back to her mother. The song gives voice
to their feelings. "Bharia katora dhud da veera bhar
ghutt/Bhar ghutt amma ve jaya/Veera kharhiyan praye desh ve/Veera
lai chal amma ve jaya/Bhaine rahin tan raatan nehrian/Bhaine
reh ghar, reh ghar amma ni jaiye/Veera rahin lavavan gais ve/Veera
lai chal, lai chal amma ve jaya/Bhaine rahin tan bukkde sher
ni /Bhaine reh ghar reh ghar amma ni jaiye/Veera sheran nu
pavan chuurme/Veera lai chal, lai chal amma ve jaya."("I
offer you a bowl of milk to drink, dear brother! I am
abandoned in an alien land, please take me along to my
mother." "Dear sister, there are dark nights on the
way, better stay in your own house.""I’ll arrange
a lamp to dispel the darkness, my brother, please take me
along." "There are dangerous beasts on the way, dear
sister; better stay at your own house.""I’ll
sumptuously feed the beasts, my brother, please take me back
to my mother."
brings out the sorrow of a married girl who is feeling ill at
ease at her husband’s place. She seeks the help of her
brother to take her out of distress. But the brother
understands the social complications of such a move. He
cautions her of the " and "dangerous beasts" on
this path and rather advises her to stay put at her "own
house" and accept her fate which may eventually change.
A song of
separation gives voice to the hidden feelings of a married
girl whose husband has gone to a distant land. The song
appears as a dialogue between a married girl and a village
fop. It goes like this. The boy says: "The belle standing
under the mango tree, dry mango bloom is falling on you."
She replies, "The succulent mangoes are ripening. The
juice is dripping from them; but the one to taste them is
away."The boy points out, "All the belles are
wearing colourful dresses, why do you sport a faded one?"
She says, "Their men are at home with them and mine has
particular song brings out the pangs of separation when the
spring has arrived and other belles and beaux are busy in
Punjabi folksongs, the ones sung by bridesmaids a few days
before the marriage are called "suhags". These songs
have deep doleful but melodious tune that is right from the
heart. The girls sing: "We are a covey of sparrows, Odear
kinsfolk, destined to take a flight to distant unknown
are the most spicy lampooning folksongs sung by the
bridesmaids to tease the members of the marriage party. The
butt end of these songs is very often the bridegroom himself.
One of the songs goes like this. "The bridegroom’s
sister visited us in a skirt torn by her suitors. Get it
mended, you slut. Who will spin the threads for you and who
will stitch a patch on it? Get your torn skirt mended. Let
Jinda spin your threads and let Minda stitch the patch on it.
Get the skirt torn by your suitors mended, quick." Most
of the "sitthnian" have a suggestive meaning which
usually is a little salacious.
As opposed to
"sitthnian", there are "ghorian" which are
sung by the sisters of the groom in his praise.
Singh has collected thousands of folksongs of Malwa having
different forms and rhythms. In fact these songs have been
devised by the collective psyche to suit every event of life.
This 10-volume collection is a gigantic task indeed.
In his long introduction to
various volumes, Nahar Singh has also tried to analyse the
semiological import of many songs by decoding the symbols and
metaphors occurring in these compositions. Nevertheless, most
of the analytical work is yet to be completed, which may be
done by scholars in the field and it may take years of serious
effort and research. Since no interpretation of such
socio-cultural phenomena is final so it will go on and on.
Review by G.V Gupta
and Partition — The Erosion of Colonial Power in India by
Sucheta Mahajan. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 425. Rs
book is the first volume in the proposed Sage series on modern
Indian history. It does not give any indication of the issues
or the authors of future volumes.
Chandra, who needs no introduction to students of Indian
history, heads the board of editors. The composition of the
board clearly indicates the ideological thrust of the series.
In the preface the editors say, "In the fifty years since
independence from colonial rule, research and writing in
modern Indian history has given rise to intense debates
resulting in the emergence of different schools of thought.
Prominent among them are the Cambridge school and subaltern
school. Some of us at Jawaharlal Nehru University have tried
to promote teaching and research along somewhat different
lines. We have endeavoured to steer clear of colonial
stereotypes, nationalist romanticisation, sectarian radicalism
and a rigid and dogmatic approach. …It (this approach)
focuses on communalism and casteism as major features of
modern Indian development."
The author in
her introduction is more specific about this approach.
"The concluding episodes of the saga of independence and
partition come across as the opening acts of the
post-independence sequel when viewed from the 1990’s…The
assassination acquires sinister overtones as the tiger growls
in Maharashtra and Gandhi is vilified…The politics of
assassination was this contest on the terrain of nationhood
— the contestations have not abated over the years, they are
continuing struggle between secular and communal forces
informs this work on the independence and partition of India
with contemporary evidence." One is tempted to call it
the JNU approach with Nehru as the hero even if Gandhi is the
dominant figure of the narrative.
others is trenchant, even emotional. "Denigrating
nationalism continues to be fashionable. Generously funded
scholarships ensure that ideas emanating from Oxbridge,
Chicago or even lowly Canberra rule the roost…The Cambridge
school has come a long way from (the days of ) its direct
(and) frontal assault on nationalism…(assault is now)
mounted from another battery, positioned in the province and
the locality. All India history ..(is)..dealt with only in
generalities….(it) indirectly suggests the bankruptcy of
all-India politics and national concerns…
studies, whose deep complicity with imperialist scholarship is
fairly well accepted, condemned nationalism for its alienation
from the real issues of subaltern resistance, culture and
gender…All existing histories of (India’s struggle for
freedom) were dismissed as statist, elitist and modernising,
just as the favourite terms of abuse of the orthodox Left were
‘bourgeois’ and ‘compromising’ and that of Oxbridge
were ‘totalitarian’ and ‘majoritarian’."
The Left is
accused of emphasising community at the cost of nation.
termed as a Pakistani scholar, is charged with ignoring facts
when she finds Jinnah not wanting partition and when she
condemns "secular historiography …for marginalising the
problem of cultural differences by denigrating it as
communalism." The frequency of Ayesha Jalal’s
appearance in the narrative gives the impression that one of
the objectives is to specifically disprove her thesis.
takes note of the critics of modernism, who regard secularism
as a product of post-Enlightenment Europe with an emphasis on
the values of science and reason and the primacy of individual
and to the neglect of the cultural aspects of society.
also takes strong objection to those who regard the Congress
brand of secularism as essentially informed by Hindu values,
of which Gandhi’s was a moderate pluralist version while
Savarkar represented the radical variant. She defines
secularism essentially as anti-communalism. For her, the
freedom movement was essentially a nationalist movement whose
dominant character was secularism defined as anti-communalism.
The Congress represented this. It follows that all important
leaders of the Congress were secular in their outlook and this
included Gandhi, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Rajaji and Azad,
among others. Nehru, of course, was always there. Here, as we
shall see, Mahajan is equating state with nation. The
narration also necessarily becomes reductionist, as is the
case with Leftists.
argues that the national movement had succeeded in undermining
imperialist hegemony by the long-term process of its retreat
in the face of nationalist challenge. This came to a head by
the end of World War II with the impending breakdown of the
administrative machine. Four moments embody this: the 1942
collapse of British authority in the countryside; the Labour
Party election victory in Great Britain in 1945; the Royal
Indian Navy revolt in 1946 and the statement of February 26,
1947, fixing June, 1948, as the final date of British
since the 1942 Quit India movement had been fully suppressed
within a short time, the final phase really starts from 1944
when Wavell took a fresh initiative resulting in the Simla
conference. Therefore this narrative starts with the events of
1944. There is nothing much that is new about the facts and
events. The difference essentially lies in their
interpretation. The culminating events were independence —
an achievement — and partition — a failure — both
representing the struggle between secular nationalism and
communalism; the good and the evil.
started with the premise of the freedom struggle being a
secular nationalist movement led by the Congress and assuming
that secularism, that is, anti-communalism, as a necessary
value, the author has to look for secular reasons for the
Congress’s acceptance of partition and also for Gandhi’s
endorsement of it. This is the essential purpose of the book
and the job has been done with considerable skill.
secularism as anti-communalism limits the concept to state
action. Its negative content means that the state shall not do
anything to promote communal or religious interests. Its
positive content can be that the state shall discourage
religious structures and promote religious harmony. It saves
the religious space of an individual in that the state shall
not discriminate against him or her on the basis of religion.
One can extend this to a political party also. But that does
not create nationalism. There is no commonly accepted
definition of nationalism but it has some emotional and
cultural content which compels people to come together and
persuades them to make sacrifices to acquire a common
identity. This makes the distinction between nation and state.
said that India could not be a Hindu nation and the state
shall protect every minority; he was talking more about the
duty of the state. There is no doubt about the mutual feelings
of Patel (and Prasad), on the one side, and Nehru and Azad on
the other. There is also the fact that Patel had some idea of
treating the Indian Muslims as hostages and also wanting a
declaration of allegiance by them. Therefore, to say that
Patel, Nehru and Gandhi were equally committed to secularism
is true only to the extent that all of them regarded the
safety of minorities as the primary responsibility of the
state. The BJP today rightly claims that that it has
effectively brought down the number of communal riots in the
country. Will Ms Mahajan accept the BJP as a secular party?
the Muslim League was politically wiped out except in some
pockets of UP and Bihar. In 1946, Nehru conceded that it had
emerged as the representative of the Muslims. Still Nehru
mocked at its capacity to mobilise the masses when it called a
direct action programme. It set Bengal on fire. Nehru said he
understood the feelings of the Hindus when they retaliated in
Bihar even when he threatened to shoot the rioters there. The
government of Bihar refused to appoint a commission of inquiry
even when asked to do so by Gandhi. Here statecraft prevailed
separatism was consistent and strong only in UP and Bihar. But
these Muslims had no hope of being themselves part of a
separate Muslim state. Nehru’s mass contact programme had
utterly failed there. Did they think that a Muslim state in
the North-West of India will be able to guarantee their
security or did they think that veto power with the Muslims
over large spheres of state policy would protect them? What
was Jinnah’s sense of responsibility towards them? How did
they perceive it?
goes into these questions to understand Jinnah. Mahajan skips
them. Therefore, Mahajan cannot say that Jinnah was always for
partition and the creation of a sovereign state of Pakistan.
She also points out the dilemma in Jinnah’s desire for an
effective role in a strong centre and the urge of the
provinces for autonomy. The Congress was consistent in its
desire for a strong centre, particularly after its experience
with the Suhrawardy government in Bengal. In this Nehru ,
Patel and Prasad represented the centrist stance while Gandhi,
Rajaji and Azad were willing to grant provincial autonomy.
Nehru’s centralism was inspired, in addition to nationalism,
by democratic centralism of the USSR. Ideologically, he had a
strong affinity with Upanishadic monotheism as is clear in his
"Discovery of India".
fired by the desire for a modern Islamic nation. Azad was
distinct in his eclecticism. Gandhi was a polytheist Sanatani
Hindu following the Sant tradition. Rajaji was the most
intelligent, objective and farsighted leader. Ultimately
Islamic centralism of Jinnah and nationalism of Nehru, Patel
and Prasad succeeded in partitioning India.
have been nothing wrong in it except for the subsequent and
consistent enmity between India and Pakistan. Nationalism has
not been able to take care of it. Nationalism does not allow
Pakistan to come to terms with its linguistic minorities even
after parting with Bangladesh. Indian nationalism has been
consistently forced to come to terms with different ethnic
aspirations and get diluted. Partition was ironic in a modern
world getting together to exploit the economies of scale and a
common universal culture.
minorities does not cover communal or religious minorities
alone. It also mean ethnic, linguistic and cultural
minorities. Secularism has to take care of the interests of
all. Therefore, it has to respect civil society. This also
requires limiting the area of state action. Only local level
compromises between communities respecting their cultural
identities in a decentralised system can ensure harmony. This
is somewhat at variance with nationalism. Thus there is a
conflict between nationalism and secularism. The present
paradigm requires rethinking. In its undertones, Indian
nationalism is bound to have a strong Hindu content.
The book is written in a very
lucid style and has been very well produced. It is also very
reasonably priced and is a good companion to Ayesha Jalal’s
and threats of tourism industry
Review by Ashu Pasricha
& The Environment A Quest for Sustainability by R.N. Batta.
Indus Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 248. Rs 400.
has been interfering with nature since the dawn of
civilisation. The primitive man made use of fire and tools to
bring alterations in environment. After exhausting the
resources from a particular place, he used to move to other
areas in groups. However, his impact on environment was not
felt because the human population was less and his technology
was primitive. With the advent of agriculture and advances in
the industrial sector, population started climbing.
In order to
feed the expanding population, man started exploiting all
available resources without caring for the laws of nature. In
the name of progress, forests were denuded, lakes poisoned
with hazardous chemicals and air was polluted with noxious
gases. Nature has been striving hard to compromise with man
and bear the onslaught. In fact, nature gave warning signals
to man in the form of droughts and floods in many countries.
However, man did not care and continued to deploy modern
technology to fight nature.
does not know how to be a truly modern man. Other species do
not have similar failings. A swallow has learned what it takes
to be a swallow. A tiger knows how to be a tiger. By the use
of natural wisdom, these species are continually readjusting
and retaining their survival qualities, adapting themselves to
the changing environment. Their success is proved by their
very existence. Now they are also in danger because man
continues to move against them. At the dawn of history, he
began to forsake his natural capacity and survive, finding it
expedient to trust his technological capacity to modify
environment. While animals adapt themselves to environment,
man tries to modify environment according to his requirements.
The Club of Rome has termed it the "predicament of
of tourism as a major industry has added fuel to the fire.
This industry has grown from being a marginal aspect of
national economic life to an important socio-economic asset
since the late 1970s. Being the third largest economic
activity in the world, next only to oil and automobiles, it is
one of the fastest growing sectors of economic activity.
Increasing international tourist arrivals in the past few
decades have proved the point. In 1970 there were about 160
million international tourist arrivals. By 1980 the number
increased to about 285 million, and by 1990 to about 439
million. The latest figure says arrivals have grown by 2.4 per
cent in 1998 despite serious concerns about the world economy.
The WTO (1999) has observed: "Tourism is the world’s
largest growth industry with no signs of slowing down in the
21st century. Receipts from international tourism have
increased by an average of 9 per cent annually for the past 16
years to reach $ 423 billion in 1996. During the same period,
international arrivals arose by a yearly average of 4.6 per
cent to reach 594 million in 1996. The WTO forecasts that
international arrivals will top 700 million by the year 2000
and one billion by 2010. Likewise, earnings are predicted to
grow to $ 621 billion by the year 2000 and $ 1,550 billion by
providing a systematic analysis of tourism’s interaction
with the environment and ways to achieve sustainability,
discussions in the book "Tourism & The Environment: A
Quest for Sustainability" by R.N. Batta, a renowned
bureaucrat, under review revolve around three key concepts:
tourism, environment and sustainability. Starting with the
definition of tourism, features of the tourism industry and
the disection of the tourism product, an attempt has been made
to systematically delineate the role of environment in
tourism. Subsequent discussions revolve around the impact of
tourism on the economy and environment. Evaluation of the
actual economic impact of tourism on the economy can be quite
useful for formulating the tourism development policy. The
book focuses on the three important aspects of economic impact
of tourism — its balance of payments effect, income effect
and the employment effect.
the relationship between tourism and environment is the most
important part of the book. Interestingly, the environmental
effects of tourism development are not merely negative.
Instead, it is also a source of gain. The gain accrues because
of the importance of environment for tourism. The industry has
to invest in environmental activities for making the sector
attractive as part of promotion and marketing.
the positive and the negative effects of tourism on
environment is reviewed with illustrations and case studies.
The negative effects are studied in three parts: on natural,
built and cultural environment.
impact formulation of an appropriate development strategy for
achieving environmentally sustainable tourism obviously is the
right choice. Sustainable tourism development, however, is a
complex objective. Concentration of tourist activities in the
urban areas further worsens the situation as the growing
population multiplies with the addition of the floating
population. There is strain on civic amenities and negative
external effects of tourism such as pollution and congestion
The use of
planning as a tool to achieve sustainable tourism development
is therefore advocated. However, owing to the multifaceted
character of the tourism industry, sustainable tourism
planning includes a very diverse set to activities undertaken
by many different groups representing different interests.
While the variants of sustainable tourism like alternative
tourism and ecotourism are examined in detail, the discussions
on sustainable tourism could conclude with "Agenda
21" for the tourism industry.
of the book is on finding ways to manage tourism in a
sustainable way. Discussions on tools for managing sustainable
tourism are therefore included. Three basic tools — namely,
the carrying capacity analysis, environmental impact
assessment, and valuation of environmental resources — are
considered. Finally, the environmental policy instruments like
moral suasion, command and control instruments, economic
instruments like taxes, subsidies and tradable permits,
allocation of property rights and direct government investment
are also discussed.
are discussions on the use of these instruments in policy
making. Similarly, with a view to strengthening the tourism
policy-making, a case study on the analysis of tourism policy
of an important Himalayan destination — Himachal Pradesh —
and guidelines for making tourism units environment-friendly
tourism development, however, is a complex objective.
Especially, concentration of tourist activities in urban areas
further worsens the situation because of the growing
concentration of population. The key players in tourism
development can be divided into three categories — namely,
the business sector, non-profit sector and the government.
These three developers of tourism encompass a number of
individuals and institutions and are responsible for decisions
on their specific role. Any lack of coordination of efforts
and policies between the sectors can jeopardise the future
development of the tourism sector. An effective tourism
policy, therefore, has an important role to play in guiding
the activities in private and non-profit sector.
on the other hand, represents a nature-based tourism which is
developed in an environmentally sound manner, encourages
recognition of the intrinsic value of the resources, promotes
understanding and partnership among many players, and involves
education of all. It is a responsible travel to natural areas,
which conserves environment and sustains the well-being of the
local people. Ecotourism can offer one form of sustainable
tourism. The aim is to incorporate all goods — economic,
social, and environmental — in a balanced way.
planning for tourism, however, is very important. Not only
that, the planning process has to be undertaken at all stages
— national, regional and local levels — a coordination
mechanism has to be developed. The importance of national and
regional tourism planning as a conservation and sustainable
tourism development technique was expressed at the WTO and
UNEP workshop in 1983.
It emphasised that regional
planning provides the best opportunity for achieving
environmental protection goals through the use of zoning
strategies. Zoning strategies and regulations can be used to
encourage the concentration of tourist activity in some areas
and/or dispersal in others so that extreme pressures are
restricted to resilient environments while fragile
environments can be given the most rigid protection measures.
The goals of sustainability can be achieved by following the
suitable management approaches. These are: undertaking a
carrying capacity analysis, implementation of procedures of
environmental impact assessment and valuation of environmental
resources. These three approaches are not mutually exclusive
and can be used in combination.
use: old is gold
by Randeep Wadehra
Resources in the Himalayas by Piyoosh Rautele. Concept
Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 123. Rs 200.
high as 97.5 per cent of the total water available on earth is
salty, and a further 1.76 per cent is locked in permanent ice
caps. The supply of fresh water is limited and fixed. It is
almost impossible to increase the quantity. Worse, pollution
is making a substantial volume of fresh water unfit for human
use. Various water-borne diseases kill roughly four million
children annually around the globe.
passing day the per capita availability of water is rapidly
declining. This is nowhere more evident than in our country.
Sadly we have not learnt much from the persistent calamities
like floods and droughts. If only there was a national network
for harvesting excess rainfall, floods would become less
frequent and the damage to life and property can be avoided.
What is more, droughts would not cause the sort of harm to
cattle, farm produce and human life that is so normal at
points out that ancient texts, inscriptions, local traditions
and archeological findings give ample proof of the existence
of water harvesting traditions in India. The Rig Veda alludes
profusely to the benefits as well as ways of judicious use of
water from wells, tanks, ponds and canals. The Ramayana
allegorically refers to dykes releasing rainwater. Chakrapani’s
"Visva Vallaha" describes the methods for estimating
the depth of subsurface water reserves: "While digging if
the stone like hard surface is reached and when struck it
sounds like a thin slab of stone, then there is sure to be
plenty of water beneath."
has given details of site selection, building of reservoirs
and the various benefits which could be derived from them.
Samhita goes to the extent of prescribing laws regarding the
orientation of ponds to store and conserve water efficiently
and the protection of such water reservoirs from possible
damages. That water conservation was not an academic exercise
(unlike today) but a serious undertaking in the past is proved
by the discovery of an extraordinary example of hydraulic
engineering dating back to the first century BC near Allabahad
by archeologists. While other contemporary or near
contemporary tanks merely collected rainwater, this particular
tank — the biggest find so far — was fed by Ganga waters.
river swelled during the monsoon, the excess water was
diverted with the help of a canal. The water in the canal
first entered a silting chamber, and then the relatively clean
water filled a tank made of bricks. Only clean water was
allowed into the second tank while the third tank was circular
and had elaborate staircase. On its edge shrines were built.
Thus giving the place a holy outlook, it thus ensured that the
users did not pollute the water.
points out that Kalhana’s "Rajatarangini" gives
exhaustive information on canals, irrigation channels,
embankments, aqueducts, circular dykes, barrages, wells and
water wheels. The Guddasetu — a huge embankment built by
King Damodara-II — the network of canals that control
Mahapadma (Wular) lake’s water, diversion of waters of the
Vitasta and construction of a series of water wheels for
distribution of water in different villages of Maktapids
(725-760 AD) are analysed in detail. The most important
evidence of sophisticated waterworks is regarding the
irrigation works carried out during the reign of Avantivarman
of the Utpala dynasty (855-883 AD) by Suyya. He drained the
water of the Vitasta and constructed a stone dam by clearing
the riverbed. Suyya also displaced the confluence of the
rivers Sindhu and Vitasta and constructed stone embankments
for seven yojanas and dammed the Mahapadma lake. This
ensured fair share of water to all users.
Tughlaq (1351-1388 AD) was known for building five irrigation
canals, several dams across rivers, reservoirs for irrigation
and repairs to earlier works. He brought waters of the Yamuna
and the Sutlej to Hissar by constructing a stream from each
river. Both these streams were conducted through Karnal and
after wending through a length of 80 kos discharged the water
by one channel into the town.
also built embankment for storage of water in the close
vicinity of his hunting lodges — namely, the Malcha Mahal,
Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal and Kusk Mahal. Among other notable
water conservation works of his reign is the repair of the
Surajkund that was constructed in the 10th century by Surajpal
of the Tomar dynasty. Nearby is the Anangpur dam built by
Anangpal of the same dynasty. This dam with sluice opening is
still in use.
generated in the rural areas of ancient and medieval India
made it one of the world’s richest and most urbanised
countries. The land around each village had been transformed
over the centuries into a complex ecosystem of croplands,
grazing lands, forests, all of which constituted an
interactive and multi-component biological system that
responded to the region’s sharp seasonal rhythms and also
reduced risk by keeping the social and economic impact of
rainfall variations to the minimum possible levels. The
seasonal nature of rains resulted in the development of
various water harvesting practices.
observes: "The locally developed technologies was
supported by an elaborate system of property rights and
religious practices. Not only the cow, but also the grazing
lands had a religious significance. Certain forest land was
set aside as sacred groves. The rivers, springs and tanks
themselves and their catchments acquired religious importance
and would not be polluted."
points out that before the British colonial rule the Indian
economy prospered mainly because of its agriculture-oriented
institutional infrastructure. This infrastructure wilted under
The new breed
of westernised Indians scoffed at the traditional way of life
and threw the baby out with the bathwater. Consequently today
our earth, water and air are among the most polluted in the
volume the author analyses the Himalayan regions such as the
Uttarkhand, Changar in the Kangra district of Himachal
Pradesh, Chamba, the Doon Valley, etc. He strongly feels that
the age-old traditions of harvesting and conserving water
resources should be revived. But one fears that the author’s
is a cry in the wilderness and is not going to be heard in the
right quarters given the establishment’s penchant for
gargantuan multipurpose hydel projects.
are least bothered even if their quest for water causes
This book needs to be
prescribed at the undergraduate level in order to inculcate a
sense of respect among students — our future citizens,
technocrats and bureaucrats — for our water and other
the prince of
Review by Shelly Walia
Williams by Fred Inglis. Routledge, London. Pages 333. £ 25
my recent visit to Wales, I was determined to visit Clodick
Church in Raymond Williams’ beloved Black Mountains where he
was buried on January 26, 1988. From Monmouth to Y Fenny and
then to Hay on Wye, passing through Abergavenny and reaching
Pandy, his home village, I made the journey not only because I
wanted to see the mountains he had walked so often, but feel
the place and the air that had sustained this socialist. And
as I stood beside his grave, I thought of the years he had
spent at Cambridge, some happy, others agitated, but overall
so productive that his place now in the world of cultural
thought cannot be overlooked.
In most of
the university departments around the world, meetings are
usually, in the words of Frank Kermode, "scenes of
ignoble strife", almost endlessly prolonged. Given the
motivations of a powerful sense of real work to be done
towards tangible improvement in the working conditions and
academic sphere, it sometimes becomes a torture to preside
over tedious and vainglorious brawling which is aimed at
either killing all initiative or for self-aggrandisement of
Much as you
may try to be conciliatory and patient or have the calm good-humoured
determination of Raymond Williams to talk past the point of
conflict to some further intersection of human encounter at
which comradeship would be possible, it all amounts to your
efforts being regarded thanklessly as either connived at or
insincere, a kind of generalised animus or nastiness at a
"flyblown level". The university would not be the
place it unfortunately turns out to be if it did not have
people to peddle lies about their critics, show malice toward
people better than they are, hatred and rage about those who
disagree or disobey the silent canons of unfair play.
On that sunny
morning what came to my mind was this culture that Raymond
Williams stood against all his life. Though running the
department was important to him, he was always deeply involved
in the understanding of society and culture, a project
intended to vindicate "culture as ordinary". He
tried to grasp the whole process of the working of society, of
the forms of its writings or the changes in response to
as Raymond Williams and Edward Thompson were still there,
still speaking and writing in the splendid rhythms and
time-honored litanies of the labour movement, of common hopes
and purposes, of the visible and monstrous injustices and
indifference, the cruelty and wrong so apparent in all that
mere power and ruling class did, then we could keep up a good
heart." This is how Fred Inglis eulogises these two
Marxist scholars in his book on Raymond Williams whose passing
away has left a significant vacuum in the already dismayingly
quiet political radicalism around the world. As long as they
were there, there was idealism, political energy and hope
which could have done a lot to boost the "scrappy and
impoverished" organisations in the face of a radiant and
arrogant conservatism which was markedly Thatcherite.
stood for the ideas of internationalism and socialism, those
"excellently civic virtues" so heartlessly trampled
upon by the rising European and American politics overrun by
the anonymity of metropolitan-style consumerism and violence
and the draconian structural adjustment programmers devised by
the IMF. Williams died at a time when it had almost become
difficult to formulate one’s own political and ethical
vision, especially after the defeat of the trade union
movement in Britain and the rise of conservative politics.
He had tried
to defend ideas, ideals, structure, family and society in the
face of environmental abuse, ecological disasters and the
exploitation of the masses. And his belief in "domestic
settlement and a quiet, unglamorous local courtesy" along
with all that he wrote with leftwing dissent, were all
responsible for the wide esteem and love that his countrymen
and intellectuals bestowed on him till the end.
Heath wrote in an obituary: "To be suddenly and
unexpectedly without Williams is for any serious socialist
today and in Britain like losing a father. I mean this, I
realise, at once vehemently and with unbelieving anguish. In
what Williams himself noted as the cold rudeness and sheer
bloodymindedness of British academic life, it is rare to find
generous (or even any) acknowledgement of intellectual
indebtedness in the community of scholars. But in William’s
case, the tributes are paid only in comradeship but also, it
seems, in honest attempts to stand solid with his inspiring
sense of the common endeavour and human mutuality which
in 1988, as at the turn of the century was "enough to
break your heart". And Williams’s death had diluted the
intellectual opposition in the "wastelands of British
academic life". This is obvious in the nastiness and
indecency of the brief memoir written by Frank Kermode and
George Watson without whom "the British state could not
continue to be the master that it is without enough people at
the elite universities which bring the next government to
life had been a subtle and scathing defiance of all that
Watson and his kind stand for. His work transformed the
contemporary understanding of society and culture. As a
socialist thinker Williams was fully engaged with the project
aimed at vindicating "culture as ordinary" so as to
stand out against "minority culture", a Levisite
position that he had once supported and then totally went
against. It is now important for any student of sociology or
culture studies to see how Williams grasped the "whole
process of the stories of a society, of the forms of its
writing as they change in response to history".
In this he
had a deep sense of sustained purpose of writing about truth
and lies in the way people describe rural and city life, of
writing on the role of the television, of the acute problem of
ecology and nuclear disasters. His intellectual effort worked
on human experience and its oddities so as to face facts of
life and not hesitate to counter "the toadies and
cowards, the vicious snobs and the traitors who throng the
roads leading to all places of learning".
looked at the language of drama and poetry, at the language of
the ordinary people always conscious of the unfinished and
transient relationship on the stage and the structure of
feelings running through the strong and heartening working
class life that he was so familiar with. This obsessed him, as
it had done other thinkers, an obsession with a search for the
ungraspable interplay of language and feeling and to be turned
into some kind of theory of the narrative of culture
"told through glimpses of whatever caught his eye and
ear". Faith in emancipation of the common people and the
Foucauldian forging of all political strategies for domination
into a discursive was never to be abandoned. After the 1968
revolutionary uprising in the western academic world, he moved
away from the intense variety of story telling of everyday
life to a position of defining his own grand theory throught
the genre of drama which he regarded as a metaphor for
"that untidy, unfinished, sprawling inclusive
conversation of culture".
became the forerunner of Richard Rorty and Derrida who would
later pay their complete attention to the philosophy and
theory of conversation as the "only measure of good sense
and workable politics".
Williams’s purpose was more political and embedded in the
notion of studying the sources of daily life through cultural
materialism. Fred Inglis sees Williams more as a
hermeneutician than a Marxist heretic who would go beyond the
orthodox idea of the proletarian revolutionary victory to a
kind of modernist Marxist thinking that would reclaim
materialism in order to see the interrelationship between
thought and life, between the academic privileged class and
the exploited and much ignored problems of the working class.
the old Marxist concepts needed to be overhauled and the much
needed vocabulary such as "meanings",
"values" and "tradition" had to be
introduced into the lexicon that would keep the enemy alert.
He therefore went on to dissolve the two distinct categorisers
of base and superstructure into one another. He refused to
give up his commitment to understand culture as the place
where life is really lived. For him it could never be a
simplistic superstructuralist effect of the material base.
And as Inglis argues,
"he took from Gramci the idea of ‘egemonia’ or the
power of culture to saturate consciousness with its forms and
values", insisting in the high, dry abstractions of the
day that hegemony and culture are coterminous. Books, taste,
entertainment all are sites of political struggle, and every
inch material and materially produced.