The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, June 3, 2001

Not the way to be the best
Review by Ram Varma

Alone and fighting in a man’s world
Review by Priyanka Singh

Man: oppressor as the oppressed
Review by Manju Jaidka

Freedom fighters — 1975-1977
Review by Harbans Singh

Journey from pious devotees to saint-soldiers
Review by Ivninderpal Singh

A record junkie, facing the music
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Time to study society, not science alone
Review by Jai Narain Sharma

All about bin Laden again
Review by Kanwalpreet





Not the way to be the best
Review by Ram Varma

Be the Best by Joginder Singh.
Indian Publishers Distributors, Delhi. Pages 289. Rs 395.

A retired officer is like a loose canon. Having gained his freedom of speech after retirement, he starts shooting his mouth left and right. Offering advice to all and sundry is a post-retirement privilege. He sermonises and pontificates, exhorts and expostulates, especially if he has been as successful in life as Joginder Singh, popularly known as "Tiger", who retired as Director of the CBI. The book under review is his recipe for success. "Success," he says, "is a continuous and constant road. The effort should be to reach new horizons and move constantly into a new future." Rather in the spirit of "Yeh dil mange more".

He confides that this book is a "product of personal experiences, introspection, thinking and some difficult situations" faced by himself, his friends, colleagues, etc., and the words of wisdom of the "great masters" who have influenced him. In all fairness, he should have put the "great masters" (as he calls famous authors) first, as he has quoted from them chapter and verse.

Half the book consists of quotations, some not faithfully reproduced, some not properly acknowledged, just lifted from here, there and everywhere. For instance, Chapter 18, entitled "Every day is a new life" has nine pages. It is entirely taken by five longish quotations, "A prayer on a new dawn", "Just live the day" by Benjamin Stein, and three anonymous compositions, "Do not wait to be happy", "Today is what matters", "Today is the day". The blurb on the jacket invites the reader to test this "pudding"; it is rather a potpourri which is more likely to give indigestion.

But of course there are fleeting glimpses of personal experiences too: how Jamuna Dass, a relation, who "could persuade a snake to shed his scales in his favour or coax meat out of the mouth of a lion" became successful by engaging a servant for touching the customer’s feet and offering a cold drink, or his daughter Harleen whose "room looked like a slum" but she was happy to live in it and achieve success, or his friend Damar, a glib talker, who "could literally snatch food from the mouth of a python" and who made crores during the stock market boom but later landed in jail. I cannot imagine how is it possible for someone to literally snatch food from the mouth of a python?

The author’s ebullience overflows in the book. It even shows itself in the chapter "Your reach". "Be an ideal man rather than an alibi expert", "Always carry the image of victory inside you","Isolate yourself from negative mourners", "When you get blues decimate them", "Tune your positive antennae", "It takes guts to leave the ruts", "Mountain moving faith can accomplish Miracles", "Live to the full", "Be always a liver" (sic) and so on. Now if one may ask how does one always be a liver and not a kidney?

The chapters, paragraphs and words seem to flow in a torrent. The author’s zest for life drips through the book, his enthusiasm oozes out. "Develop a beauty parlour within your own soul. Let the sunshine dance in your log book every day". Syntax and sentence construction sometimes cannot keep pace. And where is the time for niceties such as proof reading? So if the printer’s devil gives a sub-heading as "Communication is The Sky" in the very first chapter, or "Time your teme well" in the 15th, one can only chuckle. In any case the errors are so many that one stops caring.

It appears having decided to convert all quotations he had collected all his life into a book, he lunges ahead in full force without looking back. Here is a sample from his outpourings taken at random from the chapter "Be always a liver". "Remember a winner is always a winner. Always be willing to do things which failures hate to do because either they are too lazy or too contented. Do not be phoney and only try to cash on your charm. Charm cannot replace guts, courage, and knowledge. We encounter impossible people in our families, neighbours, work place (sic) and in our day-to-day contacts. You just cannot erase them from your life. The only way is to cut them out of your life. You cannot change such people, but you can change the way you interact with such people".

There you have the "Tiger’s mantra: If you can’t erase them, cut them out. Simple. Thereupon he proceeds to give a quote from Les Parrot, and then a poem by Walter Malone, "They do me wrong who say I come no more", followed by a quotation from E.M. Cioran and another from St Paul and another from Madame Chiang Kai Shek and Peter Drucker and finally asserts: "The sky is not even the limit for your achievements."

On page 195, under the sub-heading, "Use prime time for prime work" the author quotes Dale Carnegie on human craving for recognition, Emerson on humility, Benjamin Franklin on not speaking ill of anybody, Carlyle on sympathy for the small man and the Buddha on love vanquishing hatred, all in one paragraph, but nothing on prime time for prime work. The next paragraph is taken by the author to expatiate on the virtues of offering compliments, etc. and he goes on to the next sub-heading "Every living human being, has problems" and starts quoting from good old Dale Carnegie again.

The point is I have no quarrel with Les Parrot or E.M. Cioran or Charles Hummel or William E. Channing or Sir Lauren’s Van Der Post or Chamberlain or Michael Maccoby or L.W. Prince or Napoleon Hill or any of the hundreds lined up in the book in such a dazzling display of the author’s brilliance. I do not dispute they were "great masters". But I have nowhere to turn to if I wish to refer to any of them for amplification or corroboration, especially as even quotations have been recklessly mutilated. Sample this nugget: "We cannot convince people with ourselves worth (sic) by looking lethargic, listless, slow moving, as people judge us by appearance. Said Shakespeare, "Appear (sic) oft proclaimeth the man". (from chapter "Ticking for success", page 69).

Or see how he has presented Eisenhower: "I make it practice to avoid hating anyone. If somebody had been gustily (sic) of despicable action, especially towards me, I try to forget him. I used to follow a practice — somewhat contrived, I amid..." (sic) (page 201). I am sick of writing "sic" over and again. Courtesy demands that the author give a proper reference of his sources and take special care in faithfully reproducing the quotes. He is writing like a typical college student, half from memory, and half from soiled notes tucked up his sleeve!

He can be trite and tiresome. But once in a while the message gets across. One is particularly struck by his faith in God, which I suppose he inherited from his simple and devout father, Mahant Kartar Singh.

A few supposedly complimentary cartoons have been included in the book. They are obviously intended to liven up the book and carry home the message to the reader. But they seem to achieve the contrary effect of lampooning.

The book has been produced in haste. There are howlers and spelling mistakes galore. Carelessness on both the author’s and the publisher’s part tells upon its quality.



Alone and fighting in a man’s world
Review by Priyanka Singh

Nadia: captive of hope
by Kay Afaf Kanafani. Penguin India, new Delhi. Pages 338.
Rs 295.

MORE and more women are writing about themselves, their circumstances and what it is to be living in a repressed, male-dominated society, out to crush the independent spirit when it shows in a rebellious woman. several women from the middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America have written memoirs. "My Feudal Lord" by Tehira Durrani, which has at its centre the ugly, chauvinistic Pak society, made it to the best-seller’s list. "Nadia: captive of hope" by fay afaf kanafani is another such memoir.

a common feature in these autobiographies is the indomitable spirit of these women and the courage they possess to expose society of which they are an inseparable part.

"Nadia" is essentially an autobiography but fay (Nadia in the book) has changed some names to protect the privacy of those mentioned in the book. At present, she is the president of women’s interfaith dialogue in the middle east and a member of the american interreligious council for Peace in the middle east. the proceeds of the book go to a fund to support women who want to write about the rights of women in the middle east.

Nadia was born in 1918 at a time when world war 1 had just ended and the ottoman empire had collapsed, leaving the middle east vulnerable —the UK assumed the mandate over palestine and iraq and france over lebanon and syria. She recounts her childhood with an honesty that is rare. She talks of her abuse by her father when she had just about begun to attend school. she tells her elder sister nora,’’think of drowsy children, of girls who can no longer trust the touch of their father’s hands, that see in his eyes the unutterable.’’

she writes of her disregard for her unsupportive mother ‘’who had been an excellent model of subservience and compliance’’ and domineering brothers; her imposed engagement at the age of 13 and subsequent marriage at 17 to Marwan, a man she scarcely admired; and the birth of her first child when she was still a minor.

she writes with accuracy and passion about the political upheaval in palestine and the creation of the state of israel. she talks of the riots which claimed her husband’s life and left her a widow at 29 with three bewildered children. It would be a while before she could again have the security and comforts of a home.

truthfully, she mentions the love she felt for nadim, a Christian family friend, while still married and the responsibility she feels towards her children that prevents her from accepting his proposal.

Talking about her dilemma and of several others in a similar situation, she writes,’’Such a misfortune was not rare in a community that held on to its tribal habits. It struck women and children every time a husband or any male bread-winner died. Most of the women of our clan were unprepared to take charge of themselves. they were also not trusted to be given custody of their children.’’

she also writes, ‘’my father, who was my legal guardian, could decide what to do with me...enslave me inside his house or that of any of his married sons, or arrange for another husband to take me out of a male-structured society such as ours, a penniless mother of three sons had no chance whatsoever to be given the freedom of choice.’’

As a child, and even later, nadia was recalcitrant. Nora’s warning to her,’’You know what happens to girls who defy the rules’’ is indicative of the pressure on women to surrender their individuality. However, undeterred, Nadia refuses to be cowed down to total submission or conform to a pre-determined role. Even at an age when most women would be bashful and acutely conscious of their social role, she tells her sister-in-law: ‘’I have the right to prevent my husband from violating my body.’’ This when she was entirely dependent on her husband and his family for practically everything.

Her abhorrence for quaint compulsions is evident when she describes her mother as a woman who was 52 and weary of nursing the poor little boy who was the tenth child of her 25-year matrimonial career.

"Girls do not go to school in my village. Girls have to work until they are married,’’ a maid tells nadia. It is true of patriarchal societies where woman’s role is confined to the four walls of the house and is expected to synchronise with the needs of the family.

Nadia writes: ‘’In general, the women in a well-to-do, urbanised clan like ours were well fed, bejeweled, delicate and pampered, like porcelain dolls. In most cases, they were as defenceless as those dolls.’’

Nadia, however, departs from the traditional barely-there role to educate herself in order to get a job and take control of her life. She gets a job in the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts, and marries Fuad Salem, her soulmate, after all her sons settle down.

Tragedy, however, follows Nadia at every step. Fuad suffers injuries during Lebanon civil war and remains in coma for 14 long months. Later he becomes paralysed. In 1981, Nadia suffers a heart attack and another one the following year. She is taken to the USA for treatment. At about the same time, the political situation worsens and Fuad is rushed out of Beirut by his family.

Nadia and he are reunited after she gets back and is able to trace him. Their happiness is,however, short-lived as a few days later he dies, leaving a vacuum in her life. Notwithstanding the loss, she refuses to indulge in self-pity. At 60 she leaves for the USA to begin her life as an artist, writer and peace activist.

Political commentary and analysis run parallel to the emotional narrative in the book. Geraldine Forbes, series editor, says,’’I was struck by the memoir’s value as a 20th century document. Here was a gendered account of 50 years of middle Eastern wars....’’

Nadia’s fight for her rights in the face of oppression and her sheer grit to overcome gender barriers and social devaluation of women will inspire women to stand up for themselves.



Man: oppressor as the oppressed
Review by Manju Jaidka

Blue Angel: A Novel
by Francine Prose. Perennial (an Imprint of Harper Collins).
Pages 314. $14.

THE college campus is agog with the story. Women’s organisations are up in arms. It is a case of sexual harassment that gets magnified to terrifying proportions. What spurred it in the first place was a seemingly innocuous situation: a Professor of art history, showing slides in the classroom, happened to utter an involuntary "Yum" while displaying a classical Greek sculpture of a female nude. This "Yum" blew up in his face, got him suspended without pay, and called for an entire revamping of the institution’s policy for sexual harassment.

It is against this backdrop that Francine Prose presents the story of "Blue Angel", the tale of yet another Professor who, by virtue of his very human failings, allows himself to fall into a trap laid by a sultry, seductive female student driven by unscrupulous ambition. Ted Swenson is a Professor of English who teaches creative writing to a group of adrenalin-charged students with the strangest of stories in their heads.

If one writes about having sex with a dead chicken, another writes of fellating a German shepherd, and yet another vents her erotic fantasies through tales of physical violence. These are assignments in creative writing which are later read and critiqued in the class. Whoever thought creative writing was easy would have to think again — the inexorable scrutiny of theme, imagery, character, action and motive involves not just the writer of the assignment but the whole class that takes the story apart and passes verdict on it.

Among the students is Angela Argo, "a skinny, pale redhead with neon-orange and lime-green streaks in her hair and a delicate, sharp-featured face pierced in a half-dozen places." She wears "a black leather motorcycle jacket and an arsenal of chains, dog collars, and bracelets." This is the girl who, in a very methodical, calculated manner, seduces the teacher, choosing occasions to meet him alone, handing him stories of a clearly erotic content, thus deliberately, even cold-bloodedly, stalking him down, step by step into an inevitable physical relationship.

Flattered at receiving so much attention from someone young enough to be his daughter, Swenson succumbs to her charms, only to be blackmailed later. The girl tries to use him as her academic ladder, later lodges a complaint against him to the authorities, plays the gender card and arouses women’s organisations. There is a formal inquiry which finds him guilty of the ultimate unpardonable offence – physical intimacy with a student. Consequently ostracised from the academic community, disowned by his wife and his daughter, there is not much left for Swenson to look forward to.

So much for the fallible, human condition!

Francine Prose is certainly not the first to write a novel peopled by professors and students. Nor is she the first to build a story around the complex sexual politics between the teacher and the taught. In recent years John Coetzee spoke of it in "Disgrace" when he showed the ageing professor of English, driven by loneliness, entering into a relationship with a student only to suffer ignominy thereafter. Coetzee’s novel is a sombre study of a complex human situation, analysing the either/or of a choice, and the consequences that follow. Human beings, because they are human, make choices for which they alone are responsible and must pay the price. Such is the burden of being human.

"Blue Angel" takes up the same theme but from a different perspective: partly funny, partly sad, with a faint, mocking, sardonic humour running through it. Swenson, this ageing, 47-year-old unheroic hero with a sagging belly and decaying teeth, is aware that he cuts a sorry figure. He can direct his amused, self-mocking gaze at himself. He knows the games that are being played and why. And yet, he falls into the trap, becoming a prey to a scheming, conniving student whose overvaulting ambition knows no limits and can steamroller anything and everything that gets in her way.

A campus novel that speaks of contemporary academic mores, "Blue Angel" is about power politics – the struggle for dominance that is ever present between two power blocks. It begins with the authority of the teacher in the classroom trying to help his students develop into mature, thinking individuals, inculcating in them an independent spirit of inquiry – a lesson that boomerangs on him when the taught turn against the teacher, challenging his authority and overthrowing it. It is based on the ferocity that lies smouldering in adolescents, a force that can erupt without warning to have disastrous repercussions. Caught in this viciousness, Swenson flounders, takes a wrong step, and then suffers a free fall into infamy. There is no going back, he must pay the price.

Swenson’s story sets us pondering on the exploitation of social power, in particular the gender prerogative. Under the camouflage of sexual harassment a male teacher may be charged of assault or indecent behaviour, but what are the safeguards to ensure that the charges are genuine? That the complaints are not motivated by vested interests? If man is reportedly the oppressor, what is being done to ensure that the so-called oppressor does not become the oppressed?

Viewed tangentially, the young girl’s relationship with an older man brings to mind the controversial tale of Vladimir Nabokov’s "Lolita". The nympholept Humbert Humbert’s affair with a twelve-year old made Nabokov notorious. Banned by censorious readers –but hailed by some critics – on both sides of the Atlantic, "Lolita", with its scandal-tainted history, became a landmark text in the literary world. The Lolita syndrome is almost a household term today, referring to sexual partners separated by a vast age difference.

And why, one may wonder, do a number of men on the wrong side of the hill find themselves younger partners? Psychologists would come up with varied explanations for such liaisons. They would elaborate on how, during the middle-age crisis, a man tends to change either his job or his spouse. Is it, then, a boredom with the spouse of many years? Or a sense of insecurity? Or the desire for some kind of reaffirmation of their physical attractiveness? A reassurance of their libido? Perhaps one of these reasons. Or all of them together. Whatever the reason, sexual relationships of this nature are not uncommon. Francine Prose has simply given us another take on this theme.

When all is said and done, the impression "Blue Angel" leaves in the mind is the image of an errant, lonely Professor, guilty of lapsing into a human error, much wronged and maligned, trudging off into the sunset of his career, hounded by indictment. It isn’t fair, we protest, he alone was not to blame. But such unfairness is part of life, take it or leave it. The vulnerability of the individual against forces of viciousness is hammered home effectively – join the gang or else perish. What can one lonely, cornered voice do against the tide of violence and disgrace? It can only raise a feeble whimper in protest.

A whimper that goes unheard amid the cacophony of a callous, material world.



Freedom fighters — 1975-1977
Review by Harbans Singh

Freedom Under Assault
by Chitra Kanungo. APH Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pages 314. Rs 700

CHITRA KANUNGO'S "Freedom Under Assault" would be of little merit if it were to be read only as a comparative study of the response of two of the leading national dailies during the period of emergency. There is little gainsaying that while one of them "crawled when it was only asked to bend," the other stood as upright as it was possible in the circumstances. At the end of the day even the architect of that dark period, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had accepted the folly of having clamped censors on a press that had been in the vanguard of the freedom struggle.

It is true that not all newspapers stood up for their freedom, but then not all newspapers had stood for the freedom of the country, either.

The Statesman and The Indian Express, at the national level, and many more at the regional centres fought with all their might for their fundamental rights. The real value of the book is in the number of uncomfortable questions that assail the mind while reading it. The answer to those questions is beyond the scope of the book, but they do lead to a meaningful intellectual exercise.

Divided into six chapters, it is a scholarly study of journalism, its aims, objectives and constraints. Also, the author has in great detail delved into the relationship of the Press with the government and policies of the latter in normal times as well as in the emergency. Since the period under study is the emergency of 1975-77, the author has tried to put in a proper perspective the relationship of the main protagonist Indira Gandhi and the press. In this Chitra Kanungo has often quoted Indira Gandhi’s father Jawaharlal Nehru, who remained a champion of the freedom of press till his dying days as also her own quotation from the year 1966 when she wondered how much freedom the press required in a country which was best with the enormous task of restructuring socio-economic lives.

A number of times the author has also alluded to the fact that relations of Indira Gandhi started deteriorating from the year 1969 when she found herself pitched against the syndicate led by Morarji Desai. The year 1969 would remain an important landmark in the history of the country, for it unfolded events like the nationalisation of banks and the break-up of the Congress in the Left and the Right.

In this battle unto finish, much of the established press stood in opposition of Indira Gandhi’s Congress, who responded by encouraging small and regional papers through patronage and quotas. She found followers who were only too eager to fill the vacancies left by the rightist stalwarts in the party.

Thus with rising numbers, she blindly pursued a path which her better sense told would be self destructive.

The discontent that had started brewing in the sixties had only been partially contained by the steps taken by Indira Gandhi in 1969; the eclipse of the syndicate and the grand alliance in 1971 was but a temporary setback to the forces symbolised by them. Riding the wave of discontent born out of rising but failed expectations, they were soon ready to confront Indira Gandhi. The subsequent railway strike in 1974 and it ruthless suppression should be ranked as a major turning point in the development of Indira Gandhi’s personality and manner of politics. From then on she was only a High Court judgement away from launching herself on the road of dictatorship.

But this is not the subject of Chitra Kanungo’s study. These details are incidental to her comparing and contrasting the response of The Statesman and The Hindustan Times. Both the papers began in contrasting styles, with The Statesman a little bit timid in its approach and The Hindustan Times taking a bold stand to the imposition of emergency. Things, however, soon changed when S. Nihal Singh and Hiranmoy Karlekar replaced N.J. Nanporia and B.G. Verghese as editor of the The Statesman and Hindustan Times respectively. The Calcutta daily had S. Sahay, as an equally bold and innovative resident editor in Delhi. This team was well supported by Cushrow Irani, the paper’s managing director.

Thus began the saga of the Calcutta paper’s consistent opposition to the regime of Indira Gandhi, where the courts and ingenuity proved to be the most reliable friends. In this , it must be added, not a little help was rendered unintentionally, by those officials who by virtue of their positions had been cast in the unlikely role of censors. Relentlessly and obstinately The Statesman waged a battle to become the voice of dissent. It ignored Indira Gandhi and painstakingly inserted news that would otherwise have failed to pass through the censors.

The Hindustan Times, meanwhile, became a paper which was a bulletin board of the activities of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, V.C. Shukla and their camp followers. Of course financial gains in the form of government advertisements accrued to them, which The Statesman, The Indian Express and The Tribune were denied, but at the end of it all, it was extremely short on credibility, the one major asset of any paper.

However, a discerning reader will find disconcerting questions arousing his curiosity. How and who judges the credibility of a paper? If the reader is the final arbiter, the critical faculty has to answer a lot. For, the Hindustan Times had become an extension of the government’s press information service, and, yet it did not take long to regain its old position when Indira Gandhi was voted out. Its loyalty, it must be pointed out, was always divided between the two factions of the Congress, which perhaps explains the bold stand against the imposition of emergency in the initial months, but then should one also concede that the paper might have been representing the views of a large number of its readers? This is also corroborated by the fact that a large number of states which had been spared the forcible family planning drive voted for Indira Gandhi in 1977, and the rest too responded likewise in 1979.

In contrast, The Statesman and The Indian Express have been in terminal decline after having peaked during those heady years. So, do the readers feel that the proprietors of the newspapers had their personal scores and grudges to settle, and that the freedom of the press was but an instrument for fighting their personal battles? Could there be a better example of an editor being totally out of touch with reality than when he expresses his scepticism about the free and fair polls for 1977? Could this not be a shade of the "invisible ink" explanation offered by the grand alliance after the 1971 defeat?

Moreover, the author herself has in the last chapter conceded to the dictatorial attitude of Cushrow Irani, who soon after accomplishing the mission assumed the additional title of editor-in-chief. And, ironically, today he is a member of the committee constituted by the present government to review the working of The Indian Constitution, something which was so passionately but rightly opposed by him and his team during the emergency.

The author would have done a great service if she had examined in greater detail the politics of the times. She has alluded a number of times that the dark period was the culmination of the confrontation that had started between Indira Gandhi and her adversaries in 1969. She has admitted in the introduction and the concluding chapter that journalism and editorial freedom is not the same today. This must not have happened suddenly. It is a pity, indeed, that some of the knights in shining armour were not treated with the respect that was due to them. And, it is cruel to say, but one suspects that freedom of the press and its soldiers were but weapons for those whose battles were fought for more earthy and less lofty reasons.

There would always be a debate about the role of the press. It is conditioned by the changing times and men who control it and society. Looking at some of the papers today, one might think that the main purpose of the press is to entertain and titillate. But one question will forever dog it at all times: How much freedom? On one hand, a wise ruler is he who has the courage of his own convictions, and pursues the goal irrespective of the criticism from the press. It is when you are assailed by self doubts, and the efficacy of your policies, from which undoubtedly Indira Gandhi suffered after her massive victory in 1971, that one becomes irritable and intolerant of criticism. If this happens, and there are editors ready to stand up for whatever motives, there can only be one winner. No dispute about that. Indira Gandhi had realised that in her life time.



Journey from pious devotees to saint-soldiers
Review by Ivninderpal Singh

The Khalsa: Substratum, Substance and Significance
edited by Satish K. Kapoor. Centre of Historical Studies, Lyallpur Khalsa College, Jalandhar. Pages xvi+217. Rs 400.

A UNIQUE event of great historical significance occurred at Anandpur Sahib in 1699 AD when the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, created the order of the Khalsa through the sacrament of baptismal "amrit." The guru thereby institutionlised the universal and humanistic teachings of Guru Nanak, who in the medieval age had envisioned a new social order characterised by a new value system which stressed on equality, justice and brotherhood of mankind.

The teachings of Guru Nanak played a revolutionary role at the sociological level in restructuring society on an egalitarian basis by rejecting the concept of pollution and purity and by accepting an equal status for women. Thus the hierarchy based on birth (ascribed status), the main cause of inequality in society, was denounced by the first guru.

The sociological significance of the baptismal ceremony of amrit lies in its being a revolutionary alternative to sanskritisation as it provided new normative principle, process and channel to the lower classes for vertical mobility. The principle of equality was the main theme of baptism, as the "Panj Piaras", the five beloved ones, who were given amrit, the "sacred water of immortality", belonged to different castes — Daya Ram, a Khatri, Dharam Das, a Jat; Himmat Rai, a cook, Mohkam Chand, a washerman, and Sahib Chand, a barber.

Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, transformed Sikhism from a brotherhood of pious devotees into an organisation of "soldier saints". And the reason for this change in Sikh principles was the martyrdom of his father as he realised that he must make certain adjustments in character and organisation to protect the infant Sikh church. Thus Guru Hargobind tried to play a twofold role — the role of helping his disciples to work for their salvation by worshipping the true lord on the lines suggested by the first five gurus and also preparing and training them to bear arms to defend their lives and honour. And after the martyrdom of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, his son decided to infuse a new spirit among the followers of Guru Nanak’s house to fight against political and religious tyranny. And consequently, in 1699, he convened an assembly of his followers at Anandpur Sahib and created the Khalsa.

The book under review is a collection of essays and provides multiple perspectives on the Khalsa and its social, historical, religious, philosophical and ethical dimensions. Apart from the editor’s own essay — "Imprimis: interpreting the creation of the Khalsa", he has broadly divided the remaining 14 essays into four parts — historical perspective, substratum and substance, significance of the Khalsa and its literary dimensions.

Essays in the first part of the book discuss the historical perspectives of the Khalsa. "Guru Tegh Bahadur: Prophet of harmony," written by Satish K. Kapoor, describes his accession to guru-gaddi despite opposition from Ram Rai, the elder brother of Guru Harkishan, and Dhir Mal, grandson of Guru Hargobind. Guru Tegh Bahadur was against the religious policy of Aurangzeb and disapproved the theocratic character of his regime much to the chagrin of the Mughal emperor. And finally for the cause of Kashmiri Brahmins, whom Aurangzeb wanted to convert to Islam, he laid down his life.

"Paonta Sahib: an introduction," by Dr Bhajan Singh Giani; and "Anandpur Sahib: birthplace of the Khalsa" by Major Gurmukh Singh (retd) deal with the historical significance of the gurdwaras in and around these two holy places of the Sikhs.

In "Creation of the Khalsa: journey from Sikh to Singh" Jasbir Kaur Ahuja discusses the happenings on the first day of the month of Baisakh, March 30, 1699, and the metamorphosis of pious devotees into soldier-saints.

The second part of the book has essays on the substratum and substance of the Khalsa. In "The meaning and dimensions of the Khalsa" Dr Satish K. Kapoor opines that the Khalsa proclaimed sovereignty at four levels and thus had individual, social, religious and political connotations. As an individual a Sikh had to make his mind pure by keeping himself away from immoral acts and greed. At the social level, the formation of the Khalsa was an attempt to create a classless society by opposing stratification in terms of caste, creed, power or status. As far as its political connotations are concerned, it asked its followers to oppose political oppression.

Dr Nirbhai Singh in "The Khalsa ideology: philosophical exploration" opines that the personality of the Guru transformed from spiritual to temporal in the times of Guru Arjan Dev. And the sixth Guru, Hargobind, concretised the idea of revolutionary Sikh polity by erecting Akal Takht adjacent to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. After the ninth Guru became a martyr for the sake of human freedom and truth, tenth Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa.

Dr Wazir Singh stresses on the tenth Guru’s views on democratic values as he denounced the "divine right of kings theory" and stood for welfare, humanism and equality before the Guru and the congregation. Dr Birender Kaur explains the significance of the 5K’s — kangha (comb), kachha (drawers), kara (steel bangle), kirpan (sword) and kesh (hair). Dr Madanjeet Kaur highlights the importance of "Panj Piaras" on Sikh ceremonial occasions and functions of religious as well as of political importance.

The third part of the book has essays about the significance of the Khalsa. According to Dr Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, "The founding of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh was an epitome of the mission of Guru Nanak." Guru Gobind Singh created the order of the Khalsa with a universal mission to provide a role model for mankind, he adds.

Dr S.S. Bhatti gives the biographical sketch of Guru Gobind Singh and elaborately explain the Khalsa tenets and its unique features. Dr Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia discusses the significance of the order of the Khalsa in world history and civilisation.

The last section of this book deals with the analysis of "Vaar Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki" and the issue of authenticity of Dasam Granth.

Overall, it is a good book which discusses various dimensions of the Khalsa — its formation, its contents and finally its significance. Moreover, it is written in a very simple and lucid language. Facts regarding Sikh history are also given in a chronological order and even a non-Sikh will be able to understand the ideology of Sikhism. Any person who is interested in religious studies should not miss this book.



A record junkie, facing the music
Review by Deepika Gurdev

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
Riverhead Books. New York. Pages 323. $12.95.

 THIS book had developed a pop-culture following when it was first released in 1995 and the following continues. If one were to draw more contemporary publishing parallels, this is clearly the Bridget Jones of the male world. The story of Rob Gordon, owner of a semi-failing record store in London, where he sells music the old-fashioned way — on vinyl — unfolds like a diary of sorts. Rob is a self-professed music junkie who spends his days at Championship Vinyl with his two employees, Dick and Barry.

Although they have an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop music and are consumed by the music scene, it is of no help to Rob, whose needle skips the love groove when his long-time girlfriend, Laura, walks out on him. As he examines his failed attempts at romance and happiness, the process finds him being dragged, kicking and screaming, into adulthood.

"High Fidelity" is essentially a story about the overwhelming power of pop culture — not just the way it can illuminate every element of our existence but also the way it can cloud our judgement. Pop music can be like a prism hanging in the window, a gorgeous little thing through which everything in life is filtered. But it can also be an excuse for never leaving the couch to actually live, and Hornby, is acutely aware of that.

Rob is one of those guys who knows that he needs to get off the couch sometimes. Thus begins his marginal experiment with the record store, located rather conveniently on a London side street that does not get much foot traffic. For Rob music means everything and with that emerges an element of snobbery. That snobbery rubs off his employees as well who continue tormenting customers with their "I know better than Thou" attitude.

Their lives read like a veritable tangle of lists, there is the top-five movies list, top-five records about death list and top-five opening album tracks list. Rob even has a list of top-five breakups. That’s almost how the story unfolds. Rob revels in his arrested adolescence. He gorges on music trivia, lives in a dumpy apartment devoted to his vast record collection and surrounds himself with friends who share his geeky pop culture obsessions. It is only when his longtime girlfriend Laura tires of his aimlessness and dumps him for the yuppie who lives upstairs that Rob gets inspired enough to recount his all-time top five most memorable breakups — as well as take stock of the meandering course his life has taken.

The day Laura finally walks out, Rob sits mourning the breakup by trying to figure out why he can never seem to keep a relationship together. He starts by tracking down every girlfriend who ever spurned him. With that dawns the even more painful process of self-realisation. As Rob tries to call or even meet. Some of his former loves, he realises that in several of the cases he was to blame for the spurning. Lost in love and in love with the music. The process seems to move in tandem, so Rob resorts to playing records — lots of them.

If you are looking for a real novel with structure, sub-structure, developing story line, forget it. "High Fidelity" just moves with ease in the unravelling of a snapshot of the hazy, miserable time that marks the demise of a relationship that may have been taken rather seriously. The writing flows, there are plenty of wiseacre jokes, loads of fun characters, chief among them being Rob himself who has the rare ability to make fun of himself and highlight all his failures in the name and game of love.

What is even more appealing in the novel is Laura’s supremely likable persona. She comes across as a matter-of-fact and fairly grounded person. You can just about visualise then why things don’t work out between dreamy, idealistic Rob and earthy, real Laura. It is almost perfectly understandable why she is close to being exasperated half the time she is with a guy like Rob. By the time she walks out of the relationship her patience and calm have been truly tested.

Despite all of Rob’s moaning about how badly he has been treated, its hard to live with his lost-boy syndrome. His stories of romantic engagements and disengagements just flow through as does his lack of perspective on relationships. He has this picture of an ideal woman in front of him. And what is miraculous is that he even finds his picture perfect woman but he never can find a way of keeping this perfect woman perfectly happy. So it is that he goes through a string of lousy starts, great middles and tragic endings. His romantic cluelessness, though, makes for great reading.

Whether this is the kind of book that ends with the happily ever after ending is something I’m going to save for you to find out in the book. All I’ll say is that it is a great weekend read, not too taxing, words fusing into each other, funny kind of book that doesn’t look too bad on the shelves either.

I enjoyed it enough to go in search of "High Fidelity" the movie that stars John Cusack as Rob and Iben Hjejle as Laura. The cast also includes Lili Taylor and Catherine Zeta-Jones as two of Rob’s ex-girlfriends; Lisa Bonet as a singer who wins his heart (for a while); Joan Cusack as Laura’s best friend; Tim Robbins as Laura’s eccentric new squeeze; and Todd Louiso and Jack Black as Rob’s two record store employees, who are even more fanatical about music than he is. Now, the movie, that’s quite another story.

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How to Become CEO: The Rules for Rising to the Top of Any Organisation by Jeffrey F. Fox. Vermillion, London. Pages 162. £ 7.99

I ended up reading this book by sheer accident. My bus ride to work takes about an hour and not having something to read is almost a killer for me. So it was just one of those mad Monday mornings where you wake up feeling you just do not want to head for work and in that semi-dazed state realise you do not have a book on hand to redeem you for the rest of the journey. Then hurriedly look for the keys and grab the first thing in sight. Which in this instance happened to be a management book and management books and me are like worlds apart.

I must admit that I was disappointed but rather than fret, frown and moan about the fact that I’d picked up a book that may not interest me, decided to make the most of the present by just reading it. Barely past the contents and I was already enjoying this little dynamite of 75 ideas that broadly encompass "How To Become CEO – The Rules for Rising to the Top of any Organisation." As I went along I realised why it was no surprise that this little wonder had emerged on the top of the US bestseller lists and is even now among’s top 10 business books.

In this insightful book Jeffrey J. Fox — founder of a marketing consulting firm and an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School — offers solid, practical advice and recommendations on how to fulfill your ambition to better yourself, to be a contributor, to make a difference, to grow professionally and to be more successful. .

For instance, Chapter X of the book goes:

"Don’t have a drink with the ‘gang’ after work. It is a waste of time and money. Have a drink with your spouse or your friend. Don’t drink at lunch. Whether you are on the road at a sales meeting or a seminar or a management meeting, don’t go to the cocktail party before dinner. Go running or swimming instead. Have a sauna, shower, and dress for dinner. Never get tipsy with anyone connected with your company. It is a sign of weakness. It shows you are out of control."

The argument may seem radical but it is sage advice and holds as it is indeed often the same sea of faces at work who congregate on Friday nights or other nights, more often than not to speculate and keep the rumour mills grinding.

Other issues that ring loud and clear are:

*Don’t mix business with pleasure.

* Don’t stay at the office until 10 every night. You are sending a signal that you can’t keep up or that your personal life is poor. Leave 15 minutes late instead. In those 15 minutes organise your next day and clean your desk. You will be leaving after 95 per cent of the employees, so your reputation as a hard worker stays intact.....Give more time to your family.

*And this is what Jeffrey Fox says about not finishing your work on time: "You are a) not managing your time properly b) boring c) wasting non-precious work hours d) all of the above"

*Always take a vacation as "it is an occasion to observe other ways of life, new fashions and trends, different ways business is done and literally to broaden your horizons".

*"To force your spouse or children into second place is a mistake. When your spouse or children speak to you put down the newspaper or book or mute the TV, and turn and look at them when they are speaking. You will strengthen that relationship and practise your listening skills at the same time. It is also a very polite thing to do. Respond to your family as you do to your job, or to that big, important client."

Most books about career advancement are either weighty examinations about success in the workplace or flippant, humorous takes on surviving the countless inanities of modern work life, Jeffrey Fox’s book fits in snugly somewhere in between by being neither.

Instead, Fox presents 75 commonsense rules about successfully conducting your career. Each tip that he offers in the arduous climb to the top is accompanied by a page or two of succinct and thought-provoking explanations. For example, for rule 27, "Don’t hide an elephant," Fox writes, "Big problems always surface. If they have been hidden, even unintentionally, the negative fallout is always worse. The ‘hiders’ always get burned, regardless of complicity. The ‘discoverers’ always are safe, regardless of complicity."

The brevity of the book is what makes it enormously appealing. It’s like a 101 ways sort of guide, with many sharp, short yet concise chapters. The tips offered do not just relate to management; rather they can be applied to almost anything in life. And for those wittingly or unwittingly caught in the corporate growth race, some of the insights in this book, if applied practically, can also help the popularity charts soar both on the professional and personal fronts.

Fox heads his own marketing consulting company and the experience shows as Fox clearly demonstrates how to package an idea. While there is nothing especially original about a list of rules for getting ahead, this guide is fresh and enticingly packaged. The author highlights some basics of life that our current work intense environment has made us forget.

Though be forewarned, a couple of key points may sound extremely shocking but they need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Ideas like the "skip all office parties" rule and the "eat in your hotel room" to "don’t work late hours" and "don’t take work home with you".

While the book does make some excellent points, it sometimes confuses the practical with the cynical. And the must read reading list for CEO’s in the making does sound rather spaced out. The "Complete Works of Shakespeare" meets Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War," the Bible meets Machiavelli’s "The Prince", Hemingway’s "The Sun Also Rises" meets Clausewitz’s "On War" in a rather unlikely meeting of sorts. To dub the list eclectic would be a definite understatement, it just seems like a collection of the author’s favourite books over the years, so if the title for this section were "Study my favourite books" rather than "Study these books", it would have somehow redeemed itself.



Time to study society, not science alone
Review by Jai Narain Sharma

Global Human Growth Model by M.N.Rudrabasaraj.
Himalaya Publishing, Bombay. Pages 716. Rs 1200

IT has become trite to say that the most significant development in the new century will take place not in natural science but in social sciences, that industry — the economic organisation of society has the basic knowhow to utilise physical sciences and technology for the material benefit of mankind, and we must now learn how to utilise the social sciences to make our human organisations truly effective..

Many people agree in principle with such statements; but so far they represent a pious hope, and little else.

In last century the basic understanding of the nature of matter and energy had changed profoundly from what they had been since Newton’s time. The physical scientists were persuaded that under proper conditions new and hitherto unimagined source of energy could be made available to mankind. We know what happened since then. First came the bomb and then many other attempts to exploit these scientific discoveries — some successful some not. The application of theory in this field is slow and costly. We expect it always to be thus.

It is pretentious to seek any direct correlation between developments in physical science leading to the harnessing of atomic energy and human resource development. But in a tentative fashion we are in a position in social sciences today what we were in physical sciences with respect to atomic energy in last century. We know that past concept of the nature of man is inadequate and in many ways incorrect, and what is more we have abundance of it

If this hope of developing human resources is to become a reality instead of remaining a pious hope, we will have to view the process much as we view the process of realising the energy of atom for constructive human use — as a slow, costly and sometimes discouraging approach toward the goal. The ingenuity of industrial management in the pursuit of economic ends has changed many scientific and technological dreams into commonplace realities. It is now becoming clear that the application of the same talents to human side of enterprise can not only enhance substantially these materialist achievements but can also bring us one step closer to good society..

The book "Global Human Growth Model" by M. N. Rudrabasavaraj, president and executive director of MNR Associates, Singapore, is an attempt to transform this hope into realty. The volume is divided into 11 chapters, starting from the contemporary human conditions to the global human growth vision and future

The humanity is at cross-roads in the 21st century. The people of the world and their leaders face daunting challenges in improving human condition by providing the three fundamental Es — education for all, employment for all and energising all men, women and children to realise their real and ultimate potential..

For the first time in human history we need a new way of looking at people and their potential. Scientifically and systematically we need to analyse and identify the potential of every individual in every nation and help him or her to grow and optimise his or her potential to achieve full individual development but also contribute to the development of human family, society, nations and the world. In the development of the individual lies the development of organisations, nations and the world.

But it is a sad commentary on human resource that it is considered a liability and efforts are directed towards the containment of human power rather than enhancing it. Downsizing of manpower has become an end in itself in every organisation, public or private. Many consultants and policy makers are advocating this option.

In order to save the human beings from this fait accompli, the author emphases the need for a new concept, a new theory, a new practice, a new practice of growth and a new model of growth, not just economic growth and development, where the emphasis is on production of goods and services and economic wealth. The greatest challenge facing mankind is human growth, not just economic growth: how to put people at the core of growth and development, by providing the fundamental 3Es to realise their ultimate potential. We must bring the people and the leaders of the world together to think, to cooperate and to share their ideas on how to convert the masses into an asset and to utilise the global cooperative advantage of nations to create a world unmatched hitherto in human prosperity, peace and happiness and compassion. We need a global approach, leadership and cooperation to evolve and to put into practice the global human growth model.

The ultimate test of managerial effectiveness is its return on investment in human resources. The time is now when employees insist on meaningful participation in company affairs. Employees at all levels should have options that determine a company’s success or failure, and they will exercise these options in accordance with what the company does for them.

Human management today involves totally new leadership, demands, and risks. Human-oriented decisions must now be made with an eye to the potential consequences involving legal compliance and investigations, employee relations, customer response, productivity, human costs, outside group pressure, and economic impact. Too often, a solution in one of these areas can create numerous new problems in others.

The moral issues inherent in hiring, compensation payment , working conditions, leadership, promotions, and discharges require the highest form of value judgment on the part of management. People-related action demands careful overall planning and cautious but firm leadership.

This book addresses itself to a comprehensive, total approach to people’s problems through achieving a return on investment in human resources, human time being the largest single operating cost for most enterprises. The book confronts the most complex and challenging demand made on management — that of managing people. In today’s humanised era, every manager from the chief executive of the largest corporation down to the first-line supervisor in the smallest unit needs to understand and respond to the impact that return on investment in human resources has on both daily operating activity and economic results..

Maximising return on investment in people does not mean exploiting, manipulating or taking advantage of employees. Rather, it means providing the highest form of benefit a company can offer its employees — a systematic, organised approach to guaranteed opportunities for the full use of talent and potential. Such an approach offers the individual an opportunity to achieve an appropriate return on his or her own investment of time and effort through greater economic and personal rewards. The company in turn benefits as its production, sales and profit goals are achieved..

This book also provides the framework for realistic human resource planning and management. It contains numerous guides, lists, charts, illustrations, examples, and specific steps and recommendations based on years of firing-line experience. It attempts to put all the pieces together in a logical, practical and sequential process to help the manager take appropriate action regarding all areas related to people. As a planning guide the book should result in more effective, profitable human activity and should provide a realistic operating system for individual managers. The overall goals of the organisation, its leaders, and its individual employees can best be advanced and achieved through the implementation of the human resource concepts advocated.

The concepts and guides in this book should be of special interest to top executives who are responsible for the return on investment in human resources and overall employee relations, to middle managers who must achieve quantitative results and teamwork within their units, and to individual employees who will insist on a personal rate of return on investment as it might affect their careers, pay, growth, job satisfaction, and that portion of their time sold to the company. Educators should be interested because the book reveals the type of education that will best qualify individuals to become effective contributors in tomorrow’s world.



All about bin Laden again
Review by Kanwalpreet

A story of ISI, bin Laden & Kargil
by Rajeev Sharma. Kaveri Books, New Delhi. Pages 223. Rs 295.

WHAT does the USA do with a man who has openly declared war against Christians? How does it deal with a man who has bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (in 1998), whose men have attacked US soldiers in Yemen and Somalia during peace-keeping operations (in 1993)? The man, Osama bin Laden, has since then become a menace for the USA. Declaring that the USA is the biggest enemy, he has also acknowledged that the International Islamic Front (IIF) which he himself formed in February, 1998, is responsible for the "jihad" world over.

Rajeev Sharma has discussed the man, his movement which is taking the world to the brink of disaster, the role of the ISI and Pakistan in assisting him and the victim, India, besides the world, which had to face the Kargil intervention. Into journalism since 1982, Rajeev Sharma in this work has gone into depth to show how grave the danger can be when one man vitiates the religious sacrosanct. No religion, the author says, teaches us to hate, to indulge in mayhem and brutality, but a group of people are bent on destroying the world order. The proxy war which Pakistan has unleashed in Kashmir has to be dealt firmly by India, for while India was talking in terms of Lahore bus yatra, it is shocking to learn that Pervej Musharraf was conniving against the Indian state.

If we have to fear Osama bin Laden, who says that "one day in Afghanistan is like a thousand days of praying in an ordinary mosque", Pervez Musharraf, one of his "lieutenants" in his jihad, is as ruthless. The general’s personality which led him to win a place in General Zia’s heart and to gradually rise to the present position, is one of the well written chapters in the book. A Mohajjir from Azamgarh and Karachi origin, an ardent follower of Jammat-e-Islami, he detests Mohajjirs and prefers to project himself as a Punjabi. It is details like these which give us an insight into the man who planned the Kargil intrusion right from the day he took office.

He went about the project with an eagle’s eyes, never losing sight, busy fulfilling his other obligations of terrorising Sharif’s political opponent Benazir Bhutto, setting up special military courts to conduct trials of the arrested MQM cadres, etc.

Rajeev Sharma has even included a verbatim record of the conversation between Lieut-Gen Mohd. Aziz, Chief of General Staff and Gen Pervez Musharraf, Chief of Army Staff. Along with this he has given details of the diary of a Pakistan soldier which gives this work a humane touch. The Pakistan soldier is a lonely one who while taking orders from his superiors unknowingly is part of a reckless battle which will do no one any good.

While systematically tracing the roots of the Kargil affair the writer sympathises with the India force which showed must restraint even under heavy pressure. For example he informs the reader that Air Marshal Vinod Patney, AOC-in-C of the Western Air Command has gone on record saying that the IAF did not use any laser guided bombs during the Kargil conflict because of the huge costs of these weapons. An interesting detail this. For instances he has collected the fact that General Musharraf alongwith the air force and navy chiefs were not there to receive Vajpayee when the latter crossed into Wagah. Musharraf called on Vajpayee in the Governor’s House at Lahore, and he shook hands with the leader of the enemy country for he had declared so in a meeting of Pakistan’s Cabinet Committee of Defence held a few days before the visit.

Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s "Operation Topac" is written about to put Pakistan once again as on anti India entity. It simply dealt with the issue of Kashmir and how to wrest it from India’s hand. He was the one who exploited the shrewdness and intelligence of the Kashmiris in a negative way combining it with political intrigue. We come to know all this from General Zia’s speech in which he outlined the operation and has been quoted in direct words.

An insight into the Taliban, its working and how it manages to trick the common people and then use them for its purpose is well described. Being the rightful interpreters of the divine law, they feel it gives them the authority to acquire power with the help of the gun and then impose their thinking on others. The increasing role of the Madrasas is something to worry about, the writer feels.

Besides all these, the author has linked issues with the strategic interests of other states in the region and on the wider plane with that of China and the USA. It also provides us with vital information on some Pakistan-backed militant outfits, Pakistanrole in terrorism in Kashmir and terrorist organisations active in Jammu and Kashmir. What is most interesting are the figures of the conventional military forces of Pakistan and India which decides the Indo-Pak military balance.

A book comprising rich facts is a must-read for it traces the roots of the problem without recommending solutions. The forward by Air Chief Marshal (retd.) N.C. Suri rightly says the reading of the book by the intelligentsia "would be prudent as it gives food for thought which could help us come to grips with the reality of the demon of terrorism".



A humble, too humble, servant of the abandoned
Review by Himmat Singh Gill

Garland Around My Neck
by Patwant Singh & Harinder Kaur Sekhon. UBSPD, New Delhi. Pages 173. Rs 495.

THIS is the story of a humble, unassuming and gutsy Sikh destitute of united Punjab, who single-handedly built an oasis of hope and rest for the sick, the disabled and the poorest of the poor in the Pingalwara at Amritsar, and left behind a stirring saga of selfless sacrifice and truth so unparalleled in the history of modern India that very few individuals or institutions will ever be able to match in the coming decades.

This biography of Puran Singh of the destitute home of "pingalwara", where the mentally challenged and those hopelessly afflicted by disease are cared for until their cure or death, is no less an edifying example of hope and succour than the yeoman service being rendered by the Mother Teresa homes, and deserves to be talked about from every street corner in this country. Though many, including Khushwant Singh and this reviewer, have earlier written about Puran Singh and his humanitarian deeds, this is the first time that Patwant Singh and Harinder Kaur Sekhon have written a definitive and well-researched account of a man who has become a living legend in both life and death, (1904-92), leaving behind a heartwarming legacy, the path on which few mortals will ever be able to tread.

Written with compassion and the dire need to highlight the heroic deeds of a few who dare to dream and also make these come true, the authors have amply highlighted the ostrich-like attitude of the governments of India and Punjab, which have been unable to recognise a messiah in their own courtyard and country.

Through great men and women do not look for awards and decorations while carrying on their work, it must be recognised that the churlish attitude of the Union Home Ministry of the day in downgrading the Padma Vibhushan to a mere Padma Shri in the award list in 1979 to Puran Singh, did not do it any good, and has only fuelled the feeling that often the awards are rigged and can be discriminatory and parochial in nature. It is to be hoped that the Padma Shri that Puran Singh returned in 1984 after the army’s assault on the Golden Temple will be replaced now by the nation’s highest civilian award, and the blemish of the past removed in recognising the true merit and rock-like grit of a man who had few equals.

Puran Singh believed in himself and in his own way of doing things. He once said that what the common man needs "is not another... hospital, but greater boarding facilities, as he can always avail of the outdoor treatment provided by existing hospitals". To him it was important to provide a very sick man clean sheets and a bed so that he could die in "peace and comfort", and he could not care less whether he put his wards under the tree or in abandoned buildings when he could feed and cloth his flock, the responsibility of which no other "sanstha" or organisation was prepared to take at the time.

He did not want the overawing shadow or control of any kind to affect the simplistic running of his Pingalwara. He lamented that "people in India are not aware that orphanages in the country refuse to admit or give shelter to deformed children who cannot look after themselves". I hope our Ministers concerned will go into this aspect.

He attributes the success of the setting up of the Pingalwara literally from the sidewalks to his "implicit faith in the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar" and the "sangat" and "sewadars" of Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Lahore, for their support to him in his formative years.

His earthy wisdom comes to the fore when he says, "It is not good to lead an idle life. A person can remain healthy only if he is physically active. All human beings must walk, at least eight miles every day..."

His hand-printed wall papers on pollution, environment, economy and "sewa" or personal service, of course, became a byword of his signature and campaigns on behalf of the masses, and are to be found even today in most parts of northern India.

This is an unusual book of an unusual man and laced with some excellent photographs by Jan Habersalt of Zurich and Amritsar’s own Sewa Studio, it definitely is a collector’s item, which is a treat to possess.

As regards the Pingalwara which one has visited a number of times, it is to be hoped that the present keepers of this human edifice will continue to tread the path so nobly charted by Puran Singh for the benefit of all sections of society. Since the Punjab Government, the SGPC, the NRIs and others are contributing their mite in addition to the "golaks" or which collect offerings for the needy (these "golaks" have been placed outside most gurdwaras), the management and the transparency in the running of the Pingalwara should continue to be of a high order. Any let up on this will be a blot on Puran Singh’s memory.

Incidentally, during one of my visits to the Pingalwara I was happy to learn that the family of the writer Khushwant Singh had contributed handsomely to have a building block constructed for the Pingalwara. So here is another fact of the man, who is so often accused of writing sensational, sexy stuff, or long-winded tales of whom he has met on a long plane ride or some stuffy seminar.

Puran Singh was a poor man who helped the poor, without a godfather or patron, with no money or an organisation, to help him on his way. His will power, tenacity and never-say-die attitude was able to overcome the ridicule that many heaped on him as he paddled the dusty lanes leading to the Golden Temple, carrying with him "the garland around (his) neck", Piara, on his back, and later when he grew up in a cycle-rickshaw, to his "place of work" just outside the pavements of Harmandir Sahib. Even a belated recognition of the man now, (thank God Patwant Singh has not anointed him as a "Bhagat" or with some other title), will bring national and international recognition to the humane edifice that he has left behind for all mankind.

One hopes that this simply written tale of the saviour of the poor will awaken the governments of the day from their slumber and spur them on to doing things humanitarian, so different from politics.