Painful experience of
individuals with ‘wrong past’
Review by Randeep Wadehra
by Kiran Bedi. UBSPD, New Delhi. Pages xiv+205.: Rs. 175.
is a rare soul who does not experience pain at some point of
time in life. Rarer still is the person who is sensitive to the
agonies of the less fortunate fellow beings. Kiran Bedi – the
first Indian woman IPS officer among other things – is one
such soul. A winner of gallantry award, she has also won the
Magsaysay Award, the Asian Region Award for Drug Prevention and
Control, and the Morrison-Tom Gitchaff Award in June 2001.
founded two voluntary organisations —. Navjyoti and the India
Vision Foundation. These organisations "reach out to
thousands of poor children daily for primary education, adult
literacy for women; provide vocational training and counselling
services in the slums, rural areas and inside the prison, apart
from treatment for drug addiction"..
under review is a compilation of first-hand, voluntary accounts
of painful experiences by individuals with a "wrong
past". Kiran Bedi avers that these persons – men, women,
adolescents, and even children – had the courage to state what
went wrong in their lives. There is also an attempt to analyse
the factors that marred their lives. Bedi has, at the end of
each narrative, given her views on the situation(s) responsible
for destroying each narrator’s life and what could have
prevented such tragedy. Wherever possible, she has also
suggested corrective actions and remedies.
Afsana was born
in a prosperous Hindu family in a Haryana village. Her father
was working for a premier intelligence organisation in Delhi. He
had little time to share with his children. Afsana’s mother
did try to make up for the father’s absence but in vain.
Afsana started drifting away from her studies when she was
living in a hostel on joining college. The insensitive warden
only made her life worse.
She decided to
meet her father who was not responding to her distress signals.
On the way the auto-rickshaw driver raped her. She then married
her tormentor who was a Muslim. Thus she became Afsana. Her
father reached out to her a bit too late. From living a life of
comfort to be a rickshaw driver’s wife was a shocking
downfall. Life has become a burden for her now.
Then there is
the tale of the 40-plus old Deepak who had a none-too-happy
childhood. Poverty, illiteracy, bad company, neglected
schooling, dishonest and indifferent policing, and corrupt
prison management are the perpetrators and facilitators of
miseries in the lives of people like Deepak.
lack of education forced him into doing labour at the age of 12.
Soon he started smoking and keeping bad company. Drinking was
the next step towards disaster. Gradually he took to drugs.
Marriage did not improve his lot, contrary to his parents’
expectations. He joined a gang of pickpockets. Being in and out
of jail became a routine affair for him. There was no dearth of
drugs in the prison. But he was reformed. How? In Deepak’s own
words, "I was approached by a counsellor from ‘Narcotics
Anonymous’ who took me into one of his meetings where all
former addicts used to interact with others. Slowly, I did not
know how, I got to see myself with them every evening. And with
every day, the desire to become drug-free took me to a treatment
and rehabilitation centre… Now I am drug-free for last two
months and under the care of Navjyoti – an NGO which provides
addicts like myself a new lease of their lives. I am working as
a volunteer with Navjyoti – and look forward to a brighter and
a drug-free future".
One can only
say amen to such optimism.
This book is
certainly more than a collection of interesting and
thought-provoking narratives. It is not just a litany of woes.
No doubt it gives you the sordid side of the social picture, but
it also suggests time-tested remedies that would make the
picture less ignoble if not altogether bright.
Over to our
social scientists and students of social sciences.
* * *
Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 206. Rs. 300.
independence India decided to have a planned economy a la the
Soviet model despite the fact that there was a difference of
opinion among various economists on whether the model made
centralised planning compulsory or there was scope for
planning, as we all know, created lots of regional imbalances.
Thus the mineral rich eastern states like Bihar and Orissa
remained essentially backward because of lack of infrastructure
and planned development. On the other hand, the states
traditionally close to the Centre like Punjab and Haryana
developed despite a lack of natural resources. Today there is a
lot of heartburn because the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is
able to extract more than a fair share of central funds for
various developmental projects in his state. In a decentralised
economy this sort of arbitrariness will be greatly if not
that the concept of decentralised planning can be traced back to
the pre-independence days and the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi
who was an ardent advocate of small village-based communities
that would be more or less self-sufficient. Sanyal also mentions
the Ripon Resolution of 1882 that laid the foundation of modern
self-government institution in India. The author defines
decentralisation as, "an even distribution of power (in any
or all of many forms) among all agents in the social, political
and economic spheres". Decentralised governance, from state
capitals to towns and villages helps facilitate participation in
the country’s development by people from all socio-economic
strata. Perhaps Sanyal could have used a model where the power
flows from the grassroots level to higher echelons, instead of
the one used by him.
top-to-bottom model envisages a situation where the powers
enjoyed by the people lower down the hierarchy are at the
pleasure of the higher-ups. In fact it is the class at the top
of the pyramid that should be beholden to the grassroots level
support for its privileges.
that decentralisation is both vertical and horizontal. The
horizontal decentralisation distributes power among institutions
at the same level, while vertical decentralisation envisages
delegation of power by the higher authority to the lower ones.
According to the author, planning in India has the following
1. The process
operates under a democratic framework with elected governments
at the Centre and the states.
2. The planning
process operates through a system of federation where concurrent
planning is involved.
3. The planning
process operates in a market-friendly economy.
than five decades of planning, the problem of poverty remains as
intractable as ever. Centralised planning has benefited mainly
big farmers in the rural areas while the rest of the population
wallows in poverty. Similarly, the urbanites have certainly
usurped more than a fair share of the developmental pie, yet
slums have proliferated like cancer. Sanyal recalls that it was
during the fourth Plan that the issue of this imbalance was
first raised. However, things are not improving at the desired
The author has
made a strong case for decentralised planning. Worth reading.
* * *
by S.K. Ghosh.
A.P.H. Publishing, New Delhi. Pages xiii+215. Rs 400.
Secularism is a
key part of our ethos. Mutual understanding and respect among
various religious, ethnic, linguistic and other groups has
evolved over the ages for the simple reason that peaceful
coexistence is the only possible way of living for the
subcontinent’s multitudes. It is no accident that the Republic
of India, which is the largest country in the region, is the
most convincing argument against two-nation theory and bigotry.
been inscribed in the Preamble to the Constitution. Ghosh points
out, "…socialism, secularism and democracy cannot be
realised unless all sections of the society participate" in
the decision-making progress. Unfortunately, socialism has been
discarded in favour of free market economy. Secularism too has
been coming under immense pressures of late. These pressures are
as much due to minority appeasement stunts of the Congress as
due to competitive bigotry by various elements in the Hindu and
non-Hindu segments of society. To complicate things further,
casteism too is raising its head. So, whither secular democracy?
three, the author has enumerated the various constitutional
provisions that go into making India a sovereign, socialist,
secular, democratic republic. He also provides the text of
various articles like Art. 15, 16, 17, etc that deal with
discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race, sex, place
of birth; equality of opportunity in matters of public
employment; abolition of untouchability; trafficking in human
beings and forced labour, etc.
He then goes on
to give a historical background to religious tolerance in India
in chapter four. In subsequent chapters he deals with the
various issues related to intolerance and secularism. However,
what one would have liked to know was how does one meet the
myriad challenges faced by our secular society today. The groups
that were on the lunatic fringe of our polity till 1970s have
slowly but firmly started taking the centre stage — at least
from the decade of 1980s onwards. Consequently the voice of
reason has become weak..
In order to redeem the secular
ethos would it suffice if only administrative/legislative
measures are taken? Do political parties need to change their
attitude towards vote banks? What should be the role of the
various religious heads in promoting secularism? Last but not
the least — a system prospers only if the common man perceives
it to be beneficial to his interests. Has secularism outlived
its utility at the grassroots level? Does the common man in
India feel inclined towards bigotry today? Ghosh has not even
touched these questions. Perhaps he would like to do so in a
The pain of
Review by Akbar Hussain
edited by Jitendra Mohan. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Pages 362. Rs 695.
book is a compilation of contributions by experts in personality
from all over the world. As a fitting tribute to Professor H.J.
Eysenck, who was probably the most powerful voice in personality
research for almost half a century, the new look in personality
and intelligence research refers to the advent of the paradigm
of a unification of procedures of corelational and experimental
approaches. He proposes a model of personality which presents a
causal one of genetic personality determinants, biological
intermediaries, psychometric trait constellations confirmed by
experimental studies and revealed through social behaviour.
highlights the role of brain, physical chemistry and molecular
genetics in behavioural functions, particularly emotions and their
outcomes.Charles D. Spielberger and Reheiser clearly show the
formidable adverse effects of stress in the workplace on productivity,
absenteeism, worker turnover and stress related medical problems.
These effects have certain gender differences in terms of perception
of stress and coping strategies.
Allan Baddeley et al
locate a link between short-term phonological memory and language
acquisition among normal and neurologically impaired adults and
Michael Eysenck and
Calvo in their processing efficiency theory of anxiety, say that worry
has two main effects — a reduction in storage and processing
capacity of the working system available for a concurrent task and an
increment in on-task efforts and activities designed to improve
Agochia, Mohan and
Kakkar present an appraisal of altruism among youth workers. Altruism,
as action carried out without intent to benefit others and without the
desire to receive benefit in return; is an important feature of the
orientation of youth workers in their pro-social behaviour.
re-evaluates the theory of intelligence of Speaman, bringing out its
relevance and rationality even after a century or so.
Meena Sehgal and
Rajinder Kaur link teacher effectiveness with the personality
characteristics like knowledge, feelings, self-awareness,
interpersonal skills and human relations skills and balance in
temperament. This evaluation is based on a series of studies in this
field of teacher education at school, college and university levels.
B.S. Gupta and Uma
Gupta in a review of Indian studies on drugs in personality research
in relation to perceptual judgement, figural after-effects, short-term
memory, verbal conditioning and cognitive performance conclude that
dose response studies are more revealing than the single dose studies.
B.C. Muthayya, in his research on rural development personnel, find
that structural changes in selection, training and promotion must be
viewed in terms of personal ability and social skills of such people.
In a typically
incisive paper Chris Brand raises the question: what is it to be
high-neuroticism people? Drive, vigilance or personal memory? It gives
the high-neuroticism people a "psychotic" character,
experience their emotions being carried forward and resolved involving
reinforcement responsiveness, reallocation of cognitive resources;
national differences in music and romance (as in Austria, France,
Italy and India) versus the people from British Isles).
V.V. Upmanyu and
Sushma Upmanyu evaluate and reiterate their faith in the word
association test as a diagnostic instrument.
Extending the work of
Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek in India by validating the personality
stress questionnaire; H.J. Eysenck, Jitendra Mohan and Meena Sehgal
present a formidable study of 100 coronary heart disease patients, 100
essential hypertension patients and 200 healthy controls. In addition
to a cross-cultural validation, this work adds to the growing evidence
that psychological factor play an important role in health and
Anuradha Bhandari and
Komila Parthi present a good account of research in empathy and its
development. Pittu Laungani discusses cultural influences on
development of identity in India and England. He emphasises the
paradigm shift in cross-cultural psychology in terms of indigenous
The significant as
well as documented paper of the editor of this volume. Jitendra Mohan
extends the meaning of his review of cross-cultural experience of
collaboration in personality research with Eysenck, Spielberger and
Paul Kline to the analysis of different tests, methodologies and
models of personality spanning more than a quarter of a century. His
hints that personality research may prove both suggestive and
Paul Kline in his
paper on future of personality measurement as well as personality
theory critically evaluates questionnaires, projectivve tests and
objective tests. He re-emphasis his trust in the personality
questionnaires as they are the only one to reach the criterion of
reliability and validity necessary for scientific measurement.
This volume is an
important collection of papers in the field of personality. The
production value adds to the enlargement of the range, orbit and
possibilities of debates on personality research.
Review by M.L. Sharma
Jagannatha’s Rasagangadhara Part-I (The Stream of Bliss)
by Shankaraji Jha. Mithila Prakashan, Chandigarh. Pages 210+xxv.
celebrated Sanskrit poet, literary critic and grammarian,
Jagannatha, with the title of Panditaraja conferred on him by
Emperor Shahjahan and immortalised by his Piyush Lahiri or Ganga
Lahiri, is well known as the author of Rasagangadhara which is
considered as his magnum opus. The author remarks: "Panditaraja
Jagannatha is primarily a poet rather than a critic as is
evident from his numerous verses... His poetic works,
Ganga-Lahiri and Karuna-Lahiri, Bhamini Vilasa, etc. bring out
his extraordinary mastery over the elegant style of Sanskrit
This book, one
of his 15 extant and non-extant creations, is a sublime work on
poetics written in the prose form and is deliberately left
incomplete on the model of Appayya Dikshit’s "Chitramimansa".
Shankaraji Jha, a Sanskrit scholar and an educationist, has
translated "Rasagangadhara" with commentary and
critical appreciation in a racy and not too technical style.
This is preceded by six such commentaries by eminent Sanskrit
and Hindi literary critics. This work disproves the oft-quoted
remark that Sanskrit is a dead language and is far from belying
our hopes about the richness of Sanskrit poetry as well as
Jagannatha, a staunch devotee of Krishna, flourished during the
reign of Shahjahan and was made an outcaste for his love and
marriage to a Muslim of matchless beauty by the name of Lavangi.
He along with his wife was drowned in the Ganga after he
completed the recitation of his poem, Ganga Lahiri in 52 stanzas
at Kashi, where he was staying after the death of his patron,
About this book
of poetics, Jha says: "All the fame of Panditaraja
Jagannatha rests on this work, but is not in full form. Still,
very important observations have been put forth in the available
part of the Rasagangadhara, bestowing on its author an immortal
and supreme position among the cognate critics." In the
first chapter, "Concept of kavya", the
definition, cause and kinds of kavya are discussed.
He defines kavya
(poetry) as the word conveying beatific (ramaniyata) or
blissful meaning. By the word beatific or beatitude (ramaniyata)
he implies "having a knowledge which produces
super-temporal or extraordinary bliss". Again he defines
super-temporal (lokottara) or extraordinariness (chamatkara)
as a special type of genus (jati) which lies in
bliss. Panditaraja holds super-temporal and extraordinariness as
synonyms but a noted commentator, B.N. Jha, has defined
extraordinariness as an attribute of psyche in which the mind (chitta)
is expanded, as in amazement.
chapter, there is an interesting discussion on all aspects of
poetry, especially romantic poetry, how the lover and the
beloved are portrayed in poetry in different situations in a
dramatic manner. There is a categorisation of poetry on the use
of words and their meaning. There is a close examination of all
aspects of bhava (emotions) rati (love), portrayal
of amorous acts, etc. He establishes this with illustrations
that good poetry can exist without gunas (merit) and alankaras
(poetic embellishments). His illustrations establish these
findings. His arguments are as fascinating as the arguments of
Socrates in Plato’s "Symposium". It is this factor
which puts it on a higher pedestal than Aristotle’s
In the second
chapter, "Concept of rasa", there is a discussion
which is explained on Vedantic lines. He expounds 11 tenets of rasa.
"Rasa is the form of the light, bliss and
himself". But this light and bliss are perceived or
experienced when the cover of ignorance is removed by
supra-normal functioning (alukikavyapara).
chapter deals with poetic merits, the fourth with the concept of
suggested emotions (bhava dhvani), fifth with the different
types of dhvani and power of words.
In the sixth
chapter "Alankara" (poetic embellishments) he explains
with illustrations drawn from epics and Sanskrit poetic works
all types of alankaras. In the last chapter the author
has dealt with the refutation of Panditaraja’s views by an
equally remarkable scholar, Nagesa Bhatta. There is also
refutation of the refutation. The ex-communication of
Panditaraja, a court laureate, from the Brahmin community and
the labelling of the word mlechh (impure) by the rival
lobby, coaxed Panditaraja to refute the tenets in poetics of his
W.R. Rishi, a Sanskrit scholar
and editor, has appreciated Jha’s efforts in producing this
elaborate exegetical translation along with critical annotations
of the most abstrusse text into English.
Prince of the
poor, and how he made them poor
Ram Vir writes from Faridabad
the book "Laloo Phenomenon" (The Tribune, July 22)
the reviewer claims that the work is a "great deal
exciting and provocative". Provocative it indeed is!
While dealing with persons and places in distant past,
historians may indulge in histrionics, but it is beyond
imagination that a living politician, whose acts of omission
and commission are not hidden from anyone, is portrayed as a
prophet. "The wretched of the earth have become, thanks
to his efforts, honourable citizens" claims the reviewer.
On the other
hand, the stark reality is that in spite of the so-called
social revolution initiated by Laloo Yadav, poor people from
Bihar continue to leave their otherwise rich homeland to get
petty employment as rickshaw-pullers and labourers in the
cities of Punjab, Haryana, UP and, of course,s Delhi and
Kolkata. Come March and all trains leaving Bihar to northern
and western parts of the country will be packed with Bihari
labourers coming for harvesting wheat-fields of Punjab,
Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
How is it
that the fertile land of Bihar needs no harvesters? When will
these social revolutionaries of Bihar realise that the fields
irrigated by the blood shed in caste wars cannot produce a
good harvest? No ruler can claim greatness while his poor
subjects find his kingdom uninhabitable and migrate to far-off
lands in search of food and shelter. Has the reviewer/author
ever cared to consider what connotation the word "Bihari"
has acquired in other parts of the country! Remember, it is
not the first time that a maverick has risen to occupy the
seat of power, attributing greatness to him for this is
fooling the people.
with the CBI, while discussing the fodder scam, reminds one of
the incidence where a person found guilty of some serious
offence begins to cast aspersions on the charactor of the
judge’s mother. Are the flaws of the CBI proof enough of the
scam as a philanthropic act?
anxious Bihar-watcher, I never lose an opportunity to get
first-hand knowledge of the background and living conditions
of the rickshaw-puller I happen to hire. Almost 80 per cent of
them are from Bihar, particularly from Vaishali, Motihari and
Darbhanga districts. When these wretched people hold
themselves honourable citizens merely because of the fact that
their "big brother" is ruling the roost at Patna, it
is a fit case for some sort of psychological research
vis-a-vis a sociological study.
relatives and close friends of Laloo Yadav, how many
"wretched" from Bihar have become actually
honourable? The false feeling of honour is rooted in being
from the same caste to which he belongs. At the time of
election, these false feelings culminate in mass hysteria and
catapult strange characters to positions of power. Shrewd
politicians know this weakness of the people and exploit it to
That is why
the Samajwadi Party chooses Phoolan Devi as a candidate for
the Lok Sabha seat from Mallah-populated constituency and the
Mallahs of Mirzapur feel pampered and send their caste woman
And at last, it is half in
seriousness and half in jest, is it a coincidence that a book
on Yadav by a Yadav gets reviewed by another Yadav. Insiders
know the malady inflicting some departments of some of our
universities where examiners for Ph.D. theses are appointed
keeping in view the certainty of extracting favourable reports
from them. Hope the bug does not travel from higher academics
to the journalistic world.
Was Chekhov an
escapist? I think not
Review by M.L.
the Other Shore: Essays on Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin
by Aileen M. Kelly. Yale University Press, New Haven and
London. Pages ix+260. $ 40.
bound by the necessity of knowing themselves to be free (Herzen)
clothes are always too tight and thus comical (Bakhtin)
improvisation...there are no itineraries. (Chekhov)
"Three Sisters" Irina says at once place: "I
kept waiting for us to move to Moscow: I knew I would meet my
true love there." It took me more than three decades to
discover my own deep involvement with Russian literature and
thought. I have returned to the great novelists and poets of
Russia with increasing frequency and found enough
enlightenment. Of this confession I shall never be ashamed.
I came to
Herzen through his 1847 novel, "Who is to Blame", a
work I should like to place among the best novels of ideas in
the 19th century along with Turganev’s "On the
Eve" and Chernyshevsky’s "What is to be
always fascinated me as a storyteller and Bakhtin is the toast
of the literary academy today, though for the wrong reasons.
In Kelly’s presentation they all come together as
alternatives to the much-abused and misunderstood entity, the
soul is a concept which can be best understood in Russia’s
troubled relationship with the West. Paradoxically, it
provides Russians with the intellectual meaning of
them to define themselves in opposition to and in difference
from the West. It also breeds a superior sense of Russian
destiny, of the feeling that Russia has a unique historical
purpose to fulfil.
Dusha reflects the originality of
and collective possession by the Russian people of something
distinctive, summed up in 1837 by Peter Chaadev as the
"passionate reaction against the ideas of the
prejudice against the West had both political and
philosophical consequences. It bred an extreme kind of
xenophobia about the purity of the Slav soul, aggravated by
Russia’s defeat in the Crimean war and the perfection of a
repressive internal tyranny ridiculed by Gogol in "The
in the writings of Solovyov, Berdiaev and Solzhenitsyn, a
messianic cult of Russophilia culminated in the Bolshevik
takeover of the country in the name of a quintessential
nationalistic belief, even if masked under an internationalist
explains: "Acutely conscious of their humiliating
backwardness with regard to their European neighbours and of
the terrible injustice of serfdom...a nationalist
countereschatolgy — the Russian idea in its undiluted form
— as developed in the 1840s by the Slavophiles".
This idea was
incorporated in n sobronost described as both history’s
goal and the means to attain it. As a goal it visualised a
utopian community of peasants united in a pietistic fusion of
religion, ritual and tradition. As a means it was a weapon in
the making of the New Man.
Chekhov and Bakhtin appears what Kelly calls a new Russian
idea, which, though not openly confrontational, rejects the
unilateral mission of the Slavophiles.
all the manifestations of Slavic messianism while its
adherents continue to "write their own prescriptions for
the attainment of a final state of universal autonomy".
Their targets are the teleological reasonings about history
and society and they advocate openness.
"From the Other Shore" and his memoirs furnish Kelly
with enough evidence to suggest that he was among the
westernisers without abandoning the Russian heritage and
history. Like Chekov and Bakhtin, Herzen went through periods
of exile and this resulted in his repudiation of the
close-mindedness of the unilateralists.
chapters on Herzen that form the bulk of the book, Kelly
juxtaposes Herzen’s statements along with those of Bacon,
Schiller, Mill and Proudhon to bring out their mutual
method avoids too much critical engagement with the subjects
and their opinions, it allows far greater freedom to readers
to draw their own conclusions. Herzen’s admiration for Bacon
stems from a natural affinity between the two as far as their
empiricism is concerned.
Herzen derived the sense of nature as an evolving entity whose
limits can never be fixed.
Much of his
political journalism is given over to converting his readers
to the Baconian vision of a genuinely scientific approach to
the dimension of time in historical processes and rejects a
quasi-divine prophetic interpretation of history.
It was in
this spirit that he looked to the West, particularly France,
for his release from the burdens of the Orthodox Russian
Christianity. His final exile in France proved salutary in
shaping his vision by bringing him closer to socialist
As he says in
his memoirs: "My restless spirit sought an arena and
independence; I wished to try my strength in freedom."
involved both the acceptance of a philosophical naturalism
derived as much from Schiller as from Bacon, and the need for
a political consciousness that faced up to the tyranny of the
Czarist forces in Russia itself.
he gets the idea of the organic wholeness of man conceived
sensuously or aesthetically. There is nothing aestheticist
either in Schiller or in Herzen.
subscribe to the broad concept of the aesthetic as a quality
of moral freedom and both seek to heal the rifts in human
nature created by the dualities of the general and the
abstract, on the one hand, and the individual and the
particular, on the other. Like Turgenev, he agrees with
Schiller’s notion of art as play — by the latter he always
meant the spontaneous liberation of human instinct for life.
The fact that
Herzen prized liberty the way Mill did (Kelly’s comparisons
are quite apt), enables him to see the constrictions imposed
by the ideas of revolution.
dignity of man, he wrote in his memoirs, "is measured by
his ...significance purely as a citizen in the ancient sense.
The revolution demanded self-sacrifice to the one and the
indivisible republic." Here he declares in clearest terms
how he looked upon mankind as poised between the two.
thought had nothing activist about it. Nor was he exiled for
political reasons: he chose to go to Yalta to recoup his
health. Nevertheless, he is close to Herzen and Bakhtin in
that his credo is "my holy of holies-human nature and its
need for freedom".
His ideal, if
it can be called that, is "man himself and that
intangible natural world in which he happens to live".
This is an earth-bound ideal and directs our thoughts to the
multifariousness of human engagement with everyday experience.
Chekhov had his own quarrel with Tolstoy who represented to
him the image of the Slavophile, he agreed with his
predecessor that a balance of spiritual and physical realms is
necessary for the survival and growth of humankind. In
contrast with Dostoevsky, who is passionate about the
supremacy of the spiritual-religious over the material,
Chekhov strove to emphasise the wholeness of nature and
character says in his story, "Three Years" may be
regarded as the author’s own credo: "I am worn out with
ideas and images — I have absolutely no desire to become
anything special, to create something great. I simply want to
live, to dream, to keep pace with everything."
This is his
a-political stance that has irritated many but found favour
with liberals like Kelly. His overarching desire has been
"to be idle and love a plump girl". Hardly a
recommendation with the proponents of the Great Idea.
an escapist? Kelly thinks not and I agree. Like Tolstoy
Chekhov evokes the Russian countryside with a lyric feeling
for nature. But unlike the older writer, he seeks comfort in
the minutest particular, a quality he shares with Herzen of
the memoirs. Though he claims that he is the "least
serious, the most frivolous", he does not shy away from
stressing a moral earnestness as a guide to action.
Chekhov maintained that true morality was not faithfulness to
a fixed set of principles, but what Herzen calls
"aesthetics of behaviour attained through the cultivation
of imaginative empathy with particular individuals and
situations". Kelly accepts Chekhov’s valuation of
himself as a writer first and last, though fully aware of life’s
intangible opportunities for goodness.
As far as I
know, Aileen Kelly is the first critic-historian to place
Mikhail Bakhtin in the tradition of Herzen and Chekhov.
Bakhtin has been compared with Lukacs and placed in the
dissenting Marxist tradition.
He has been
shown to share Nietzsche’s distrust of grand schemes and
principles. But Kelly’s is the first serious attempt to
trace his Russian antecedents. This, in my opinion, is a major
achievement of this slim but deeply felt book.
Here we do
not meet the Bakhtin of the much worked over theories of
carnival, dialogism, heteroglossia. Kelly’s concentration is
on Bakhtin’s early volume "Towards A Philosophy of the
Act" in which Bakhtin is still close to the Marburg
school of Kantianism which he studied in his early phase.
diverged from traditional and Saussurian linguistics in
approaching language not as a formal system, but as utterances
involving the speaker and the listener at one and the same
time. His idea of the dialogical embraces the past as well as
the present. "Nothing definitive has yet taken place in
the world," says Bakhtin, "...the world is open and
"Towards a Philosophy of the Act", which is mostly
ignored by his aficionados, he turned his attention to the
nature and goals of moral philosophy. This latter is concerned
with how an act, a deed is "oriented in the world".
In Kelly’s discussion I did not read this statement, but I
think Kelly is aware of the significance of what Bakhtin calls
"utterance" which is directed towards a deed, that
of communication. This deed involves more than one person and
calls forth all the resources of spoken and written language.
Kelly is not
interested in this fragment in itself, but in the way it
relates to Herzen. He thinks it is "centrally concerned
with the ...way in which teleological systems and doctrines of
progress distort the reality of human participation in the
as for Herzen, there are no moral norms that are valid in
themselves, but there is a moral subjectivity answerable to
puts it in the fragment, "I am actual and irreplaceable,
and therefore must actualise my uniqueness".
words, Bakhtin relies more on the potential than on the
Kelly Bakhtin, Chekhov and Herzen are united by the fact that
all of them are outsiders to the prevailing tradition, see the
world as constantly unfixed, and challenge the status quo.
forth what Kelly calls a "humanistic
counter-tradition". But it is their relevance to
present-day Russia that Kelly finds important — a Russia in
which religious fanaticism combines with Communist
authoritarianism in the name of a quintessential "Russianhood".
There is also
a lesson for us in India. With the emergence of the sinister Hindutva
brigade out to homogenise our plural life styles along with
the mythical sub-nationalisms, there is a need for dissident
voices such as those of Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin.
I do not see
these voices emerging just yet. I have still to hear our own
Andrei Rublev telling Boriska (after revolting against
religious and political repression in Tarkovky’s epic film):
"You cast bells, I shall paint icons."
We need bellwethers as well
generations of changing Indians
Review by Ram Varma
by Bem Le Hunte, Penguin Books, Delhi. Pages 433. Rs 295.
this age of scepticism and doubt, hustle-bustle and hurry, this
novel strikes a note of civilisational beliefs and faith, of
space and stillness. It is a fascinating story of five
generations of an Indian family told in hushed, reverential
tones with an intimate autobiographical touch. The author Bem Le
Hunte has a mixed parentage. Born of an Indian mother and a
British father, she has both East and West in her blood. The
twain have met in her, and she has weaved a tale of
cross-cultural life experiences.
For a debut the
novel is truly remarkable. It has been conceived on an ambitious
scale — spanning five generations. The novel has five parts,
each part expatiating on one generation. It is a story of the
eternal yearning for silence in the Indian mind and the ingress
of the West into this pristine world.
It starts in
the early years of last century when the British colonials ruled
India. The protagonist of the first part, Aakash, a young man,
who is "self-contained, poised, silently watching the world
from the intensity of his own space", has made his home in
a sprawling farm in the Himalayas from where he can see layers
of mountains on all sides "aspiring to greater and greater
heights until they reached the snows". He grows medicinal
plants at the farm in a spirit of social service. He keeps an
elephant appropriately named Ganesh. The villagers hold him in
awe. This otherworldly man is married to a worldly-wise girl
Jyoti who bears him a son, Ram, and a daughter, Tulsi. Life is
idyllic; "the air purer, the mind clearer".
intrudes in the form of Lily, an Englishwoman, who comes as a
governess to tutor Tulsi. Later Tulsi’s life was to change
radically after her loss of innocence at a convent in Lahore.
Ram too leaves his home in search of a guru and has a taste of
the English "untouchability" when he boards a coach
not meant for Indians in the train.
He meets some sadhus
and in their company sets out to explore the primeval
forests of Central India, "thick with life left to its own
devices". They come upon a sanctuary of nature, which
"yielded the seekers every luxury available in the natural
world. Isolated waterfalls, caves as big as castles and solitude
so perfect they could have been the first humans to cut through
the undergrowth. Quietly, curiously, they are being watched from
the shadows of trees and vines by forest spirits trying to smell
their purpose in the footprints they left behind them."
There in the
forest, Ram meets his master and his years slip by in
generation is heralded when Tulsi gives birth to Jiwan and
Rohini, one born in sin and the other in wedlock accepted in a
spirit of resignation. The character of Rohini has been etched
with empathy. She grows up in Delhi in free India, studying
medicine. She yearns for love. She meets an English boy, Gordon,
who has left his studies to go on a wild journey. He has slept
in temples, in stables, on beaches, on roofs, in boats, in
whorehouses. She envies Gordon his freedom and his
fluidity". She opens her heart to him and they become
lovers. Inevitably, she conceives and her father makes her marry
Gordon, and they take a bus to London.
Gordon is a
genuine romantic. When they reach the English soil after an
adventurous and arduous journey, he takes her to Stonehenge
where they make love in starlight. "She looked up at him
and saw the stones circle his head, like a crown offering him
its geomantic powers."
generation Saakshi is born in England and grows into a flower
child, living in a house wahich has been turned into a
"gypsy caravan" and where her parents go on LSD trips.
"People would walk inside their house and immediately feel
free to put on some music, light a joint, take off their clothes
or go off into a bedroom with a lover." Rohini takes a
guitarist as lover and Gordon starts living with another woman,
and they part ways.
layer of reality is revealed to Rohini when she meets a woman
who acts as a medium at the spiritualist church, who had "travelled
often over the water that separated the living from the
dead". Wonder of wonders, her own grandfather Aakash’s
spirit enters this woman and assures her that he will help her
find her lost brother Jiwan.. In the days to come Aakash’s
spirit delivers spiritual discourses through this medium to a
spellbound audience. Rohini meets her grandfather in spirit
though she had never met him in flesh and blood.
Saakshi had been hobnobbing with Hare Krishna devotees who sing
and dance and go into a trance, but she soon gets disillusioned.
She freaks out in night clubs and all-night joints and takes
lovers. She then meets Jason, her ultimate man, who lives in
Australia. Jason gets a job in India and brings Saakshi to
India, where she delivers a baby boy, ushering in the fifth
generation. Rohini, her exulting mother, who joins her from
London, tells her it is her great-great grandfather, Aakash, who
has taken a new avatar. Saakshi is aghast and exclaims;
"This is my baby, not some kind of a recycled person."
The tale is
crafted with love. It has a grand design, and a fitting finale.
The only problem is most of the characters, especially those
belonging to the first and the second generations, appear to be
enveloped in a haze, and have been drawn in either black or
white. In reality, the early parts of the novel read like an
essay. The sex life of Aakash and Jyoti is summed up in half a
sentence: "...Aakash dutifully spent a few nights with
Jyoti Ma to supply a son". They mate once again on karva
chauth and Tulsi materialises.
the names seem to be symbolic. Tulsi is a sacred plant of the
aromatic basil family; its leaves are used in charanamrit,
the holy water offered to devotees in temples. The plant
signifies utter submission. Appropriately, Tulsi sacrifices her
life by surrendering to her teacher’s lust and her mother’s
dictates. These characters appear to be prototypes rather than
real persons. They seem to be bathed in puranic colours.
But the third
generation Rohini and Gordon really come alive. They are both
seems to have some quaint beliefs like an unflinching faith in
the potency of ayurvedic medicines and faith healing (Col Chopra
regaining his potency), one sex act sufficing for conception (Tulsi’s
deflowering being reminiscent of Tess’s), reincarnation and
seances, occult and aghoris, and so on. I have no quarrel
with her on that score. However in a novel they stretch the
On the whole, the novel is a
rewarding experience. Penguin India has done an good job in
bringing it out.
twinkle faded star
Review by R.P.
the Silver Screen — Poems by
Indian Publishers Distributors, Delhi. Pages 58. Rs 60.
SOM P. Ranchan
is a significant signature in Indian English poetry. He has
published over 20 volumes of verse. Ranchan, the
professor-philosopher-poet, found his poetic moorings in the
60s of the 20th century when he published his first book of
poems, "The Splintered Mirror", at the age of 28.
impulse of the first book consciously gave way to a period of
roughly 25 years when he was preoccupied with long poetical
effusions of his spiritual encounters with the self and an
energetic communion with some of the great souls. All these
monologues and dialogues appeared from 1960 to 1985 —
"Me and Columbia," "Christ and i",
"Mother Sharda and i", "To Krishna with
Love", and "To Vivek Then I Came". In spite of
all these intellectual exercises the lyrical streak was
forever present in Ranchan.
In 1985 he
published "Loose Ends" which is based on emotions,
experiences and observations.
nothing, he has been called a "poet of many voices".
A look at the title of this book reveals it all. More about
the book will form the later part of this review article. The
book in brief captures in lucid and evocative language the
personality and art of a host of actresses, according to the
blurb on the dust jacket of the book.
"Loose Ends" he published "In the Labyrinth of
the Self" which contains a variety of poems on diverse
subjects — "Bar eclogues", "The pain",
"The passion", "The opiate", etc. All
these poems celebrate the Dionysian spirit induced by Bacchus
and reveal the epicurian idea of drinking, forgetting and
marry-making with sensuous undertones in the use of language.
In 1992, he
published "Anteros — Opus Alchymicum on
Friendship", falling back again on his innate love of
Greek mythology. The appeal for Ranchan lies in the
Dionysianess of Anteros, one of the three boys of the Greek
goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite. This opus tells us in no
uncertain terms that there is no full stop in friendship which
just happens and "went from increase to increase so
collection of love poems appeared in 1998. The book revealed
his hitherto unexplored aspect of life, the soft and mellow
side, and he admitted it all in a poem called
upon a time /I dreamt of being a love poet / The inspiratrice
was missing/not any more though."
shows another facet of his multi-faceted personality which
takes in all sincerity and seriousness the stars of the Hindi
screen, especially the female of the species. The stars which
rub shoulders with each other in this collection (they might
not have done that in real life or reel life) are Nutan, Meena,
Mumtaz, Rakhi, Rekha, Sri Devi, Dimple et al. Personal likes
have paved the way for omission of artistes of the calibre of
Madhubala (she appears at the centre of the cover), Nargis,
Vyjantimala and Sharmila Tagore — the 50s and 60s stars of
Ranchan’s youth and, of course, of the reviewer’s.
Nostalgia is a powerful drug and Ranchan revels in it and
expects us to revel in it.
pen-pictures of the stars are a mental reconstrucion from
memories, movies and magazines with the addition of candid
observations and deft comments. I do not think that Ranchan
ever bothered to meet the stars who throng the hill station
Shimla for location shooting year after year. A few samplers
from the format of the book tell us the range and mood of the
poems that follow.
poet & the actress/Two of a kind they be/Theirs an outer
personality/Part own and part by fans given/
Mediumistic/Interpreters of moods, profiles, portraits/hollow
reeds/Chanting to fickle winds....The two seldom get togeter."
But in this
collection, for once, they do get together and stay together
for quite a while.
grace/When you move on the celluloid/ The screen sizzles in
slow burn" (about Waheeda Rehman).
eyes whisper annular annunciations/To poets and lovers./ You’re
a queen of romance/ You can play Helen, Cassandra... All
rolled into one." (Rekha)
advice to Madhuri Dikshit, not even a muffled one.
Sybil, Chitralekha/Rather than crinkling the screen for
An out and
out praise for Sri Devi’s art of dancing.
Hema Malini’s dancing is an art/Yours an instinct."
thorough knowledge of Greek mythology, a deep study of English
and American literature, Indian ethos of bhava, sahridya,
karma, tapasaya-and a bit of star-names popular in the 50s
of Hollywood movies come handy when he wants to draw
unnecessary parallels of the present-day stars, sometimes with
legendary heroines and sometimes the flesh and blood silver
large, black eyes/that dim, dilate and flash/Sculpt an
iconography/that eluded D.H. Lawrence/What a feat!" (Smita
In one go he
takes note of his subject’s persons in full measure —
personality, eyes, voice, acting, appeal and what have you.
voice/The cares of rose-petals/The moan of Madonna/The
stricken flutter of a wounded wing/Vibrates like an acolyte’s
prayer." (Meena Kumari)
acting a hieroglyphy of deep emotions/gave wings to the
sublime’Lent grace to the subtle."
newness of the subjects of Ranchan’s poems peters out and
wears off in comes repetition of phrases and metaphors, and
the poet’s language projects staid images. Words like
sizzle, puela, cypress, conchshell, velvetten, gestalt, grace
and aplomb weaken the tenor of the poems.
This type of
book, perhaps the first of its kind in Indo-English poetry, is
bound to get imitators. But, of course, it is a sort of
come-down from the heights Ranchan has achieved over the years
in the field of poetry of the intellect, self, soul and the
I think the take-off point
was the persona of Meena Kumari, whom he gives the title
"The most vibrant shadows on the silver screen."
A simple story
Review by Deepika Gurdev
by Spencer Johnson. Vermillion, London. Pages 94. Singapore
you be willing to spend close to Rs 375 for a mere 94 pages on
a book about cheese? Does sound a bit cheesy, does not it,
especially when one is talking about cheese in the
metaphorical sense of the term. Now, this one has nothing to
do with food, calcium, smile (as in say cheese) or even the
famous French cheese. It comes at a fraction of the cost of
the designer cheeses, it promises not to get old and moldy and
even offers desep lessons about adaptability, perspectives and
helps develop an attitude, in a positive sense, towards life
as a whole.
is essentially a book for all those who have absolutely no
time to stand and stare — that is, the busy executives —
it can be read and enjoyed by readers of all ages. This simple
parable that unravels profound truths is quite simply the
story of Hem, Haw, Sniff and Scurry. All four of them live in
a maze. In this maze, Hem and Haw are "little
people" who are analytical and judgmental. Sniff and
Scurry are survivors who believe in cutting to the chase. They
tend to see things as they are, not through prism-like
perspectives. What they want in their life in the maze is very
simple - they just want the cheese and are willing to do
whatever it takes to get it. Cheese for them is sustenance and
the search for it is not something they view as an image
In the story,
the characters are faced with an unexpected change.
Eventually, one of them deals with change successfully and
writes what he has learned from his experience within the maze
is a metaphor for what we as individuals want to have in life
— for some it may be a good job, for others bright kids, for
still others a healthy relationship or something more material
like more money, a better house or even a better car. And the
maze is where you look for what you want — the organisation
you work in or the family or community where you live.
is that they want or aspire for in this life, the book drives
home the point that we need to be alert to changes in the
cheese, and be prepared to go running off in search of new
sources of cheese when the cheese we possess runs out. The
message hidden in the cheese is quite simply: anticipate
change, adapt quickly, enjoy the change and be ready for more,
so that as you move in life you suffer less stress and enjoy
happens when the cheese runs out or is moved? That is when
change occurs. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on
individual perspective. It can be a blessing, if people
understand the nature of cheese and the role it plays in their
lives and a curse, if people want things to remain the same
and want very little upheaval or adjustments in their life.
The fact of
the matter, whether one likes it or not, is that things
change. They always have changed and always will change. While
there is no one way or correct way of dealing with change, the
consequence of pretending change will not happen and always
the same, some day, sooner rather than later the cheese runs
Spencer Johnson drives home is that rather than being a
sitting duck or a victim of that, one needs to not just
anticipate change but should be willing to embrace it as well.
Seen in this
light "Who Moved My Cheese?" offers messages with
universal appeal. And that quite simply is: change is
inevitable so you need to adapt and move on when it happens.
In today’s environment when change is occurring at an
accelerated pace, this message has a significant impact and
meaning. It calls for a major attitude adjustment. Acceptance
or denial of it is what makes a big difference between people
who will end up adapting well compared to those whowould not.
are willing to anticipate and embrace change at a personal as
well as professional level are the ones who are more likely to
find contentment and happiness, compared to those who expect
a strong case for his book by offering insightful, bite-size
advice summarised in "The handwriting on the wall":
moving the cheese.
Get ready for
the cheese to move.
cheese often so you know when it is getting old.
you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.
Move with the
adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese.
Be ready to
enjoy change quickly, and enjoy it again.
moving the cheese.
best advice the book offers is "to laugh at your own
folly — then you let go and quickly move on."
simplistic truths that hold true in a world of rapidly
changing business environment, downsizing, mergers,
acquisitions and what have you, it is little wonder that the
book has stayed on the business bestsellers list since June,
1999. It is also being sold in 11 languages globally: Korean,
Spanish, Turkish, English, Israeli, Japanese, Italian,
Tawainese, Dutch, Portugese, French, German and Greek.
So this slim book is pretty
obviously more than just another cheesy bestseller. Miss it at
your own peril.