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Sunday, July 5, 1998
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This weekly Books page was published on July 5, 1998
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Water and how to use it wisely
Dying Wisdom — Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Water Harvesting Systems — A Citizens’ Report edited by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain. Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
Science + spirituality = peace 
The Masterplan Paradigm for Human Survival and Excellence: The Science of Life by Sampooran Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur and Paramjit Singh. Faith Publishers, Chandigarh.
A country forever at war with itself
Afghanistan and Asian Stability edited by V.D. Chopra. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.
7 wreckers of ideological super Titanic
The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Empire by Dmitri Volkogonov. The Free Press, New York.
Wanderers in the wide world
Separate Journeys edited by Geeta Dharmarajan. Published by Katha, New Delhi. Pp. 201. Rs 175.
50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence

Water and how to use it wisely
Dying Wisdom — Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Water Harvesting Systems — A Citizens’ Report edited by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain. Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. Pp. 404. Price not stated.
THERE is a school of thought which credits British colonialism with introducing modernisation in India. Many historians and social scientists have argued that the British administration laid the modern infrastructure like railways, post and telegraph, etc. and promoted a sense of equity, rule of law and modern forms of governance in the country. The argument, if stretched to its logical conclusion, would stress that but for the advent of the British, India would have stayed primitive or at least pre-modern, and its inhabitants condemned to lead a semi-barbaric life for all times to come.
Admirers (read apologists) of British colonialism overlook two basic facts in their zeal to defend the Raj. First, whatever was done by the colonial administration was, directly or indirectly, aimed at facilitating the task of plundering India. Second, Indian society, extremely rich in its traditional wisdom, was deprived of its great potential to grow in various fields. As a consequence, it suffered unimaginably at the hands of British colonialism.
To take the example of agriculture, the introduction of the land revenue system in India by the British through permanent settlement, led to the destruction of time-tested traditional water harvesting systems in India which made famine a recurring phenomenon in the countryside. During the nearly 200 years of British rule, two lakhs of people perished every year on an average on account of famine. About 4.5 million perished in the famine of 1896-97, followed by another 2.5 million in 1899-1900. The Bengal famine of 1943 alone claimed about four million lives.
The report under review is a masterly document dealing with traditional water harvesting systems in India which went a long way in empowering local communities, increasing wealth in villages and in promoting integrated village ecosystem management. Water has been harvested in India since times immemorial through tanks, wells, embankments and canals. Kautilya’s Arthashastra written in the fourth century B.C. tells that the people knew about rainfall regimes, soil types and appropriate irrigation techniques in specific micro-ecological contexts.
The report is divided into four parts. The first part deals with the traditional water harvesting systems in India. The second part has 15 sections dealing with 15 ecological regions, delineating in fascinating detail the methods employed in harvesting water resources. The third part is a masterly exposition of the blow dealt by the British colonial rulers to the traditional water harvesting systems of India, which resulted in widespread penury and misery in the countryside and the destruction of traditional arts, craft, cottage industry, rich cultural heritage and wisdom. The final part is a passionate plea to learn the appropriate lessons from the ancient wisdom and mould it to suit the present context.
Space does not permit an elaborate treatment of the water harvesting systems in every nook and corner of the country described in graphic detail in the report. A newspaper review would permit only a few illustrations. In certain areas of Himalayan region, an ingenuous system of bamboo pipelines has been devised to deliver water to plantations in rocky terrain where no channels can be built. It resembles the modern drip system which delivers small quantities of water straight to the roots of the plants. Glaciers, the only source of water in Ladakh, melt slowly through the day and water is available mainly in the evening, too late for irrigation. Water is stored in a tank and used the following day for irrigating plantations.
In southern India tanks played an important role in water harvesting. Temples played a highly valuable role in promoting tank irrigation. A part of wealth generated through money endowments for the famous Tirupati Temple, established in the ninth century, was used for promoting small-scale irrigation in the Vijayanagar empire.
Thar desert of Rajasthan provides a unique example of water harvesting system. Water is the most precious commodity there. Celebration of rain is an important part of Rajashtan’s folklore. A rooftop water harvesting system is widely prevalent in Thar desert. Rain water that falls on the roof is taken through a pipe to an underground tank known as “kundi”: A “kachha” structure known as “kui” is dug next to the tank to collect the seepage. Since water is scarce, every drop must be preserved and used judiciously. At places people bathe on a stone block, from which water drains into an animal water tank. Since washing of glasses used for drinking purposes needs water, a round shaped tumbler known as “lota” is lifted by one hand and water from it is poured straight into the mouth.
Before the advent of the British rule, India was a rich and highly urbanised country with highly developed arts, crafts and literature. Villages, which functioned as small republics, generated enough surplus not only to support themselves but also the cities and towns. There were 3,200 big cities, towns and urban hamlets in Akbar’s kingdom. People had devised highly efficient methods of water harvesting through their native talent and resources. Sir William Willcocks, a British irrigation expert, was invited by the British authorities in the 1920s to study the Indian irrigation system. He opined that the British would do best to learn from the natives themselves in this respect. John Voelcker, another British expert, observed, “I make bold to say that it is a much easier task to propose improvements in English agriculture than to make really valuable suggestions for that of India.”
The findings of Irfan Habib, an authority on medieval Indian history, reveal that on account of two annual harvests, cereal yields were higher in India than in Europe until the 19th century. The per capita output of ghee was higher during Mughal rule than during the British period or later.
The report under review correctly points out that in order to increase their revenue, the British colonialists destroyed the financial resource base of Indian villages and their internal capacity to manage their natural resources. The village-based water management systems were destroyed by taxing the people too much. As a consequence, there were not enough internal resources to manage the irrigation structures and India became a nation chronically afflicted with famines and destitution. British colonial rulers brought about fundamental changes in the land relations in the country. The state became the “universal landlord” with land revenue as its primary objective. The introduction of private property in land led to the emergence of a strong speculative market in land, ruining many farmers. In the process, the water management systems devised through communitarian efforts of the villagers were destroyed. In the absence of the patronage of the state and the rural gentry, traditional Indian arts, crafts and industry and the rich heritage of traditional wisdom were ruined.
With the plunder of Indian resources the British rulers ushered in the process of industrial revolution and modernisation in their native land. In order to facilitate the task of pillaging the colonies, the colonialists had to provide the minimum infrastructure. This has been interpreted by many in terms of giving credit to the colonisers for bringing modernity to the colonies. The argument underscores a preposterous assumption that the natives were incapable of self-development.
There is an attempt to overlook the fact emphasised by Fanon that not only were “the well-being and the progress of Europe were built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians, and the yellow races, but Europe is literally the creation of the Third World”. Echoing Fanon, Sartre observes that “the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters.”
The report in its final part makes out a cogent case for learning appropriate lessons from traditional wisdom of India in the matter of water harvesting systems as they have passed the test of time and are suited to the specific environments in which they got evolved. The report rightly warns that a mere replication of the past may prove to be counterproductive. The traditional wisdom has to be moulded to suit the exigencies of the modern time. There has to be a creative fusion of tradition and modernity.
— D.R. ChaudhryTop

A country forever at war with itself
Afghanistan and Asian Stability edited by V.D. Chopra. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. 238. Rs 360.
One will never know if the people of Afghanistan will ever see peace during their lifetime. Geo-strategically located across the Amu Darya and the Hindukush mountains, this land-locked Muslim state has seen every type of cultural and military invasion that historians would care to remember. Even its buffer status during the days of Czarist Russia and British colonial India could not save it from civil war, insurgency and all-out conflict.
This is a sad tale of a poor land, where three distinctly separate forces tried to do constructive good as they perceived it, only to end up making a bigger mess of things. Those who must share in the sorrows of Afghanstan today are the ambition-ridden leaders of these simple and hardy people, the country's immediate neighbours and, of course, the super-powers, which felt that their intervention, covert or overt, was beyond any debate or questioning.
V.D. Chopra's compilation, besides his own contribution, has traced the "currents and cross-currents within this landlocked country, the role of the major world powers and the fall-out of the prolonged civil war in Afghanistan on Asian stability," and highlights the fact that only a political solution acceptable to all sections of Afghan society, be they be the Taliban, or the erstwhile Mujahideen now in opposition, can usher in some semblance of durable peace.
A collection of essays and reports compiled from the deliberations of two seminars, one of these held in London by the London School of Economics, form the basis of this book. A wide range of subjects from the geo-political importance of Afghanistan, religious fundamentalism and ethnic conflicts facing the country, the geo-economic and the oil factor in the post-cold war phase, the take-over of Kabul by the Taliban, the spread of weapons and narcotics within the country, the Russian and the Central Asian response to the new power centres, the impact of the Afghan situation on South and South-West Asia and, finally, India's stand on Afghanistan during the past two decades or so.
A very broad spectrum of views emerges from these writers. Professor Fred Halliday of the LSE indicates that the broad Soviet view of relations with the West, in a way, determined its policy on Afghanistan. He says, "In 1987-88 Gorbachev traded Afghanistan for an agreement on arms control. Even the US decision to continue sending arms did not halt the Soviet pullout."
Kalim Bahadur writes about the spread of the Taliban doctrine and ideology in neighbouring Muslim countries. He says, "Pakistan has paid a heavy price for the Afghanistan policy of Gen Zia-ul-Haq which the Pakistan establishment has continued since then. The spread of drugs, Kalashnikov culture and sectarian strife have been tearing the country apart. Though the Taliban political culture is yet to have its full impact on Pakistan, political circles in Pakistan are already giving warning signals about the danger of Taliban ideology spreading into Pakistan." How true! It has often happened before that forces released in one direction often have boomeranged onto their own masters.
An interesting perception of the Soviet view of the Afghan crisis needs mentioning here. O.N. Mehrotra writes: "Russia seems to be disinclined to interfere in the Afghan internal affairs or become a competitor in the game plan. But at the same time, it would be vehemently opposed to any foreign interference in Afghanistan that would be inimical to the Russian economic, political and strategic interests". Afghanistan lying in the soft underbelly of Russia and now the C.I.S. is of legitimate concern if not alarm to these countries.
Some of the writers have painted interesting possibilities in the region in the years to come. Two separate Afghanistans, one in the north and one in the south, a Pakhtoonistan carved out of the North-West Frontier Province and areas adjoining the Durand Line, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously no cause of joy for Pakistan, but very much in the minds of the old trusted leaders of the Pakhtoon movement.
One of the concluding chapters on India's stand on the Afghanistan crisis by editor Chopra, comes as somewhat a disappointment. The author says little by way of views or analysis. "The Afghan conflict became a major threat to India's security," says Chopra. "This assumed a new dimension within a period of two years if one recalls the developments” in Punjab." There was little connection between Afghanistan and the "developments' in Punjab, where Indira Gandhi was playing her own game. If anything, the Afghan-Pak border and the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, compelled Pakistan to focus heavily on their own western borders, rather than on Punjab.
Again Chopra says, commenting on the US pumping arms into Pakistan, in the wake of the Soviet military intervention, that "this shows that Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi were clear in their minds about the external ramifications of the Afghanistan crisis". One only wishes that they really were, because there is precious little to show for both of them, for whatever efforts they put in to reduce the fallout in the neighbourhood arising out of the Afghan issue.
Finally Chopra states, "Now that the Taliban seem to have an edge in Afghanistan of the Afghan problem." First, it is pretty much debatable who has an edge in Afghanistan: Kabul or the forces at Mazar-e-Sharief? And second, peace efforts are always (or at least should be) an ongoing process in the diplomatic corridors of any worthwhile Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it would be a sad day if that were not the case in that of our very own
Afghanistan, a monarchy turned communist turned Islamic turned no one knows what, will not die in spite of an invasion or a feudal strife between its people. It is not an Asian problem but an international one, and defence analysts, diplomats and world leaders can only ignore events here at their own peril. India more specifically though not an immediate neighbour, and as a successor to British Indian policy in the region, would do well to invest heavily in all the major chess players in that country today, so as not to be left as the odd man out in any emerging peace process.
All in all, V.D. Chopra's collection provides an insight into the affairs within Afghanistan, and adds up substantially to what little has been written so far on this luckless country which has from times immemorial never accepted any external interference or intervention.
— Himmat Singh Gill

  Science + spirituality = peace 
The Masterplan Paradigm for Human Survival and Excellence: The Science of Life by Sampooran Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur and Paramjit Singh. Faith Publishers, Chandigarh. Pp. XXIV+264. Rs 400.
EINSTEIN once reflected: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we used when we created them.” Does this statement give any insight into the working of our minds and our incapacity to solve problems which demand immediate attention? How far we have been successful in bringing order and stability to our world? What is the cause of our failure? Do human beings lack in physical strength, intellectual power or an advanced technology is needed to transform our societies?
Man has tried many variants of political and legislative systems, social reforms, but we see widespread violence and unrest in the world. This is a cause of much concern and many thinkers have predicted a catastrophic end to this world. Will we prove to be indeed a supreme creation which has in it the seeds of self-annihilation? The authors of this book sincerely share this concern. They perceive an unprecedented global crisis, with the humanity faced with terrorism, corruption and violence on a global scale.
The external conflict is not different and independent from internal conflict, which is comparatively difficult to handle or solve. The thinking mind suggests the way out of this conflict to be suppression or compensation through a pleasure-seeking escape. This has become the activity of the human mind. It does not know how to be itself and is caught in much dissipative activity. The authors see that a radical transformation in the human psyche is the only way to resolve human problems.
Seers through the ages have urged us to concentrate on the individual, on the self, rather than seeking to transform the system. The rationale here is that the system is a construct of the mind that is already conditioned and has little capacity for innovation or even perception of the real problem. So any reform will be a modified continuity of the past. It may appear to solve our problems temporarily, thus giving the illusion of progress, but simultaneously it will create other problems.
The truth that a transformation of the inner has the potential to bring about a transformation of the outer is not new. Different cultures in different periods of history have had their prophets, saints and mystics, who espoused what is primarily called eastern philosophy as contrasted to western philosophy which lays chief emphasis on logic and reason. Logic is seen in eastern philosophy as a mode of dualistic thought. The thought process oscillates between opposing choices, desires and thus generates conflict. It has to choose and decide. The two opposites are always in conflict. The failure of man to tame conflict lies in his inability to reconcile the two opposites or extremes. We always think of choosing one out of the two (to say the least about the number of choices).
Eastern philosophy makes a radical departure in the matter of choice, for it urges man not to choose but be aware of the process of choosing. The apparent conflict between the two extremes is an illusion which gathers energy when we try to suppress or cling to one and escape from the other. Only when there is a choice-free, motiveless observation, a transformation is possible. Transformation implies the understanding borne out of such observation. Awareness or attentiveness is the keyword. J. Krishnamurti reiterated throughout his life, that this is the only way to resolve conflict within oneself, this is the first and the last freedom. Only when inner conflict is understood, can anything be done about the external world.
Although the basic idea of eastern philosophy is about unity and wholeness of all life, different techniques depending upon cultures have been developed (yoga, meditation, Zen, to name a few) to facilitate the realisation of this integrated perception. Also depending on the people being addressed to, various symbols and tools of language have been used from time to time. With time, the old symbols start evoking a conditioned response, which, although giving the illusion of understanding, may cease to generate fresh insights. The educated man of today, with deeper roots in the culture of science will acknowledge something which is vindicated by scientific thought of the day. Science provides us with workable models of the natural phenomena; but it also provides a picture of physical reality. There is a grain of truth in the scientific world view and remarkably enough, there is a close analogy between the scientific interpretation of nature at a deep level and the visions of mystics and men of spirituality.
In recent times, a convergence of different scientific disciplines has been observed. This process is gaining momentum and humanities are also joining hands with sciences. Thereby, a unified world view is emerging even in science. The authors of this book being specialised in different disciplines of science, see a single dynamic flow in the whole scientific enterprise.
The book is divided into five sections and abstracts are given at the beginning of each section. There are 26 chapters. Copious references are given at the end of each chapter. The book quotes many distinguished scientists, political leaders, philosophers, mystics, social activists and other luminaries who have been concerned with the fate of humanity and the disastrous course it has taken.
The authors argue that man’s evolution is not biological but psychosocial. The next great step which man is yet to make is from the psychosocial to spiritual evolution. The working of our mind is described in modern scientific terminology. At our present stage of evolution we live in what is called successive consciousness. It constructs time-space causation matrices in quick succession. This occurs at the immanent quantum energy potential and thus man is ignorant of the transcendent quantum energy potential.
Psychological mutation involves a quantum (discontinuous) jump from the present consciousness to what is called simultaneous consciousness. In the latter state, conflict and sorrow cease and a capacity for holistic perception arises.
The authors’ use of the concept of entropy to understand the psychodynamics is welcome. Entropy represents disorder in the system. It is a useful concept in science. The thought process with its conflict enhances the entropy of mind-brain-body system. In the non-dual frame of mind, there is low entropy and orderliness persists. As an example from daily life, after deep sleep we feel refreshed. Because in deep sleep the ego or I-consciousness is in abeyance and energy is not wasted in a dissipative pursuit of thought. After a dreamful sleep, we do not wake up fresh as the mind had been active even in sleep.
Consciousness as a proper scientific discipline has attracted much attention in recent years. It is being realised by men of science that some of nature’s deepest mysteries lie inside the head of man. The authors compare the notions about consciousness held by men of science and men of pure intuition. Various related issues like experience, perception, knowing and understanding are also treated in detail. New visions in the fields of cognitive psychology, transpersonal ecology and deep ecology are also presented. The authors do not offer any final opinions about ultimate understanding of consciousness. What they strongly emphasise is that the present methodology of science should incorporate subjectivity of man also. They feel true science will integrate the objective science of today with deep spirituality.
The authors express grave concern over global terrorism, violence, religious fundamentalism, ethnic conflict, corruption and pollution. According to them, world leaders have taken expedient measures, which means greater control and check in the external field, but they ignore the inner field. The solutions proposed treat the symptoms and do not touch the basic crisis of the polluted and conditioned psyche. This may lead to a postponement of crisis but cannot end it.
A section has been devoted to the teachings and vision of Mahatma Gandhi. The authors specifically appeal to the Indian mind to wake up from slumber and save India as well as humanity from annihilation. This faith has some rationale. The western mind though highly developed in manipulating material things, has weak spiritual roots. The eastern mind has the benefit of ancient spiritual heritage and the world can look up to it for guidance. India has to rediscover its spirituality and emerge as an effective force in moulding the future of humanity.
The authors’ vision is important, because it perceives the threats and challenges in both the external and internal worlds. It emphasises that inner transformation is a must, but work has to be done in the outer world also. Every human being is urged to take part in the psychological mutation process. A significant feature of this book is the inclusion of a modified version of “An action plan for human survival”, first published in psycho-science (USA) in 1995. If implemented with sincerity, it is the strong conviction of the authors that it may be a harbinger to the spiritual age.
The crux of the masterplan is the restructuring of science and education. This involves the integration of spirituality and modern science. A systematic study of consciousness should be initiated at higher centres for learning within the country. This will by nature involve experts from diverse disciplines. The new insights should be integrated in the curriculum of scientific as well as humanities disciplines.
Above all, the authors appeal to all men of learning to initiate a dialogue amongst themselves, realising the urgency to act in the present state of global crisis and try to understand ourselves at a deeper level. Only solutions borne out of these insights about our own nature will have a long-lasting value and the potential to lead mankind towards survival and excellence.
— Ramandeep S. JohalTop
  7 wreckers of ideological super Titanic
The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Empire by Dmitri Volkogonov. The Free Press, New York. Pp. 556. $ 32.95.
BEFORE his death in 1995, Dmitri Volkogonov published three biographies in quick succession, those of Stalin (1988), Trotsky (1991) and Lenin (1994). The present book is the last one to be written by him, and gives an account of all the seven general secretaries of the Soviet regime.
A former Colonel-General in the Soviet Army during the last years of his life, Volkogonov had unequalled access to the archives of the Soviet state in his capacity as Director of the Institute for Military Studies and then as Defence Adviser to President Yeltsin. His works represent an iconoclastic break from the writer’s own previously held positions, indeed each of his books is a break with, if not a contradiction of, the previous one.
While this reflects a growing realisation about the true nature of the Soviet regime as more and more archives are opened, critics have attributed this mental meandering to Volkogonov’s changing loyalties, from Marxism-Leninism to Gorbachev’s liberal socialism (Stalin, 1998), to Yeltsin’s populist democracy (Trotsky, 1991) to Christian Russian nationalism (Lenin, 1994). The present work falls in the last phase of the writer’s changing conviction.
Right-wing historians have acclaimed Volkognov’s works since his numerous references to the Soviet archives support what these historians have been proclaiming all the while. Others, especially on the Left, have pointed not only to the contradictions referred to above, but have also accused him of mutilating facts. Trotskyite writers have termed him a court historian, representing the post-Stalinist school of falsification. Within Russia, however, Volkogonov has emerged as the first historian to write on Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, barring the panegyrics of the Soviet school, or vilification in the case of Trotsky.
Most of the criticism of Volkogonov’s works seems to be justified as one reads the book under review. The flow is disjointed and facts seem to have been collected with the sole purpose of driving home the writer’s “convictions” at the time of writing. This is not surprising since Volkogonov held an exalted position in the Soviet hierarchy, which rewarded those who toed the current party line, appreciated mediocrity and encouraged servility. Volkogonov was the product of such a bureaucratic system.
Yet, for all its lies, Soviet propaganda did carry a few grains of truth, the present book too brings out some revealing facts. It is a catalogue of the leaders’ misdeeds. Only for Khrushchev the writer has genuine praise and for Gorbachev, who too earns a few hesitant good words.
Lenin emerges as an unscrupulous power hungry politician, Stalin as the devil incarnate, Khrushchev as the one who tried to undo the wrongs of the Leninist-Stalinist system, Brezhnev as a lazy, slothful mediocrity who was happy to let events take their own course, Andropov was the most intelligent of all the seven leaders but unable to break out of the system’s mould, Chernenko the least worthy of all — “a head clerk promoted to the topmost post” and Gorbachev as the last communist who brought about the fall of communism
About Lenin, he says, “he did not appeal to the higher instincts, to patriotism and civic mindedness, but rather to hatred, fatigue and unfulfilled expectations... thanks to Lenin, mankind has learnt that Communism is a road to nowhere”. He quotes Lenin justifying terror: “The dictatorship — and take this into account once and for all — means unrestricted power based on force, not on law.”
Volkogonov’s account of Stalin does not add anything new on Stalin, except the quotations from numerous archival material. One new fact that he does reveal, though, is the phobia Stalin had of flying. In his entire life, he made just one air trip!
There is one reference, a rather unflattering one, to the Indian communists.
He writes: “A conversation between Comrade Stalin and comrades Rao, Dange, Ghosh and Punnaya, in fact it was a long monologue by Stalin. Sitting at the long table and turning their heads in unison as Stalin padded around the huge room, pipe in hand, the Indians absorbed his words of wisdom: Individual terror achieves nothing,.... Partisan warfare can be started wherever the people want it. Don’t try to be too clever, just take the land from the landlords and if you take away too much, you can always sort out things later... you can make a fine regime in you country. The important thing is to renounce your personal interests”.
There are numerous accounts of large amounts of money being sent to other communist parties, notably those of Italy and Spain. As more facts come out, it may not be too long before the Indian communists too are in the dock. They may have much to answer for.
Khrushchev was a typical leader to emerge from the Stalinist system, uneducated (“two winters of schooling”), energetic, expeditious, never doubting the correctness of party instruction. He was quick to understand that to survive, he had first to distance himself from, and finally discredit, his predecessor. The problems accumulated during Stalin’s years could not be tackled without drastically reforming the structures of Soviet power. This, however, was not carried to its logical end, indeed it would have been precarious for him to do so as the opposition even to his rather mild reforms within the Central Committee remained strong.
On his part, Khrushchev was not exactly above board for his role in the Stalinist terror. He, too, had played his part in whipping up hysteria, suggesting in 1936 that: “We have to shoot not only this scum (the son of a purged party leader), but Trotsky should also be shot!”. He was voluble and a rather unpredictable character, famous for his quotes as: “My job is chairman of the council of ministers, so I can manage without any brains”. His anti-American rhetoric came to be parodied as: “The USA is standing on the edge of an abyss. We are going to overtake the USA.”
He was not only unceremoniously dismissed by his own prodigy, the rather unassuming Brezhnev, making him the sole general secretary not to die in the saddle, his death too, was dismissed in a brief and inconspicuous report in Pravada.
Meanwhile, as the party organisation continued to sink in bureaucratic marshland, the power of the KGB to guide events inside as well as outside the USSR continued to grow. Andropov, then the head of the KGB, prepared the following document: The KGB residency in India has the opportunity (after the explosion in a Jerusalem mosque in 1969), to organise a protest demonstration of up to 20,000 Muslims in front of the US embassy in India. The cost of a the demonstration will be 5,000 rupees and would be covered in the 1969-71 budget allocated by the Central Committee for special tasks in India”. Brezhnev wrote on the document: Agreed.
The chapter on Gorbachev is a little out of place in a book on the “leaders who built the Soviet regime”, for Gorbachev was the man who brought an end to this dinosaur like monolith.
— Bhupinder SinghTop
  Wanderers in the wide world
Separate Journeys edited by Geeta Dharmarajan. Published by Katha, New Delhi. Pp. 201. Rs 175.
TRANSLATION of fiction from regional languages by various publishing houses has opened up new literary vistas, underscoring that human emotions and reactions are universal, transcending religion, region and culture. The range of emotions and reflections are strikingly similar but there is still freshness and give the reader a peep into the cultural mores, social patterns and trends.
A multi-religious, multi-racial mosaic of a land that India is, there is rich literature written since ages, and which can be read across the nation, thanks to the efforts of translators and publishers. Here is a collection of stories, "Separate Journeys" or milestones by eminent women writers in various regional languages. As Geeta Dharmarajan says in her preface, "Each separate journey takes us to places we have been in our own unexplored ways," and further, "A realisation of the self is what journeys are or should be all about."
Each story has its own undercurrents of reaction to dogmas, prejudices, gender bias and stereotyping. Mahashweta Devi in her story "The Bayen" brings out the pathetic plight of a socially ostracised woman in a community given to strict observance of customs, her heroic death and at the end of it all, her son coming forward to receive a medal in her honour. "Izzat" by Ashapurna Devi focusses on the hypocrisies of the middle class towards woman. The translation in both cases is smooth, deftly retaining the feel of the atmosphere and the pitch of the dialogue. The characters are full-blooded.
In "I am Complete" by Varsha Das nature is a key element of an allegory. "Today, when the judge, sitting on a high chair and wearing a black robe, announces that I am free, I feel as if two wings are growing on my shoulders... I feel like flying...Or like somersaulting in the open sky... Or, why don't I go and sit on the topmost branches of the innumerable trees around here?... Where should I build my nest? On a gulmohar tree? Or on a mango tree? A neem would be cooler, but isn't a banyan tree more dependable?... Or....why don't I enjoy each one for a while? Then I will be able to experience the comforts and security each has to offer..."
"But then, wouldn't I exhaust my entire life collecting experiences with no time left to build a nest anywhere?... Is it necessary to build a nest? I have not taken any vow to build my own nest with straws collected by me alone. So many birds have invited me to share their nests with them. And not just crows and kites. One is peacock and the other a pigeon. There is an eagle, and a parrot too... The choice is mind...At this moment, I am sitting on the tender branch of a drumstick tree. The whole tree is adorned with white flowers. It looks happy, almost as if it is drunk with the feeling. I, too, am infected by its intoxication... But here comes a cool and bitter-smelling breeze from the neem tree. Its light slap drives away my drunkenness...."
"My wings become smaller and smaller and smaller. They disappear."
The thematic content of women writers of all times tend to be the plight of women trapped in their custom-ordained cages, be it a repressive marriage or some social stigma. However, there are two stories which talk of the women's point of view on single men. In "Madhusudan Babu" by Mrinal Pande, a woman enters the life of an old bachelor and brings about a change. Mrinal Pande has portrayed his emotions crisply, implying that only a woman can bring alive the finer feelings in a man, so essential to realise his personality. "His heart, which was once closed tight like a narrow and dingy room, now seemed lit up and caressed by a gentle breeze. When he asked his barber to shape his sideburns carefully one morning, the poor man gaped at him. Madhusudan Babu wondered for a moment if he should pay him a quarter of a rupee more, but later dismissed the thought. That really would have been spoiling him. After years he got two new shirts tailored and also bought a pair of new slippers."
Unfortunately he is unable to express his love for her but when she is about to leave for a job elsewhere, he writes as anonymous letter casting aspersions on her character, the most vulnerable point of a woman. That is the depth of intense jealousy; he loves her and yet is ready to destroy her if he cannot possess her.
"It was a vile, vulgar letter. It alleged that Damayanti had been behaving like a harlot. It accused her of having an affair with one Madhusudan Babu. It described their intimacies in vulgar detail. The letter ended with a polite request that such a one who slept around with a man old enough to be her father should not be taken back into an honoured institution like theirs. It was signed 'A Well Wisher'."
"The Decision" by T. Janaki Rani, which is translated from Telugu, is the tale of a widower Ramakrishnaih, a virtual recluse, and how a mother-daughter duo takes advantage of his hospitality to stay for a while by posing as travellers but actually to let the daughter deliver an illegitimate baby and leaves him holding the baby! The widower grows fond of the child, raises her and does not want to part with her, when her mother comes 10 years later to take her back.
The author underlines the intense loneliness of a man without a family and his satisfaction in a child entering his life.
The editor has strung together well-written accounts of journeys. Among the writers are prominent names like Anita Desai, Kamala Das, Quarratulain Hyder, and Mahashweta Devi. The best thing about Katha publications is that they are affordable.
— Cookie MainiTop
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