118 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, November 1, 1998
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Exiles all, excellent poets too!
So Forth: Poems by Joseph Brodsky. Farrar, Straus & Giraux, New York. Pp. viii+132. $ 12.
On Grief and Reason: Essays by Joseph Brodsky. Farrar, Straus & Giraux, New York Pp. ix+484. $ 24.

Common man as the history maker
Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz by Eric Hobsbawm. Weinfeld and Nicolson, London. £20.

Suspended in time, like the seasons

The Everest Hotel: A Calendar by I. Allan Sealy. IndiaInk, New Delhi. Pp. 330. Rs 395.

Mass media, morals and money power

Mass Media, in Contemporary Society by P.B. Sawant. Capital Foundation Society, Delhi. Pp. 312. Rs 400.

50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence

Four-lane track from old to new
Between Tradition and Modernity — India’s Search for Modernity edited by Fred Dallmayr and G.N. Devy. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pp. 375. Rs. 395.



Exiles all, excellent poets too!

So Forth: Poems by Joseph Brodsky. Farrar, Straus & Giraux, New York. Pp. viii+132. $ 12.

On Grief and Reason: Essays by Joseph Brodsky. Farrar, Straus & Giraux, New York Pp. ix+484. $ 24.

DONALD Hall, poet and anthologist, once told a seminar in Delhi that the most exciting contemporary American poets were Joseph Brodsky, Czeslaw Milosz and Derek Walcott, incidentally, all of them expatriates. What was then a sheer fact of literary history is now being seen as representative of the eclectic nature of American culture, its hospitality to talent from Europe and other places, and its alchemical effect of domesticating the strange in the company of the familiar.

In a 1981 essay, "The Archives of Eden", now included in his latest book "No Passion Spent" (1997), George Steiner marvels at the wide-ranging presence of non-American genius in American cultural life: "Think away the arrival of the Jewish intelligentsia... the genius of Prague-Leningrad-Budapest-Frankfurt in American culture of the last decades, and what have you left? For the very concept of an intelligentsia, of an elite minority infected with the leprosy of abstract thought is radically alien to the essential American circumstance."

Principally, a custodian of the world’s artistic treasures, America welcomes the best of the world’s cultural heritage.

Of the poets mentioned above, Brodsky died in 1996, while the other two are still amazingly productive. All three write poetry of exceptional distinction as evidenced by the fact that all of them are Nobel laureates and have made of their exile a metaphor of the transformation of the contingent into a permanent reconciliation of what William Carlos Williams calls "the people and the stones" ("A Sort of Song"). Also they underline the relative tentativeness of contemporary American poetry, with Frost and Wallace Stevens losing their earlier astringency in balance with figures such as Rilke, Akhmatova, Montale and St John-Perse.

In a close analysis of Robert Frost in the title essay of the collection, "On Grief and Reason" (remember a similar analysis of Auden in an earlier collection, "Less Than One"), Brodsky appears somewhat resistant to the "jocular vehemence" of American poetry — a reaction not uncommon in our reading of the canonic poets of the American tradition, particularly after one comes to them via the Europeans.

The emergence of Milosz, Brodsky and Walcott on the American poetry scene has enriched the latter in a number of ways, and brought into it a vibrancy of a somewhat different canonic primacy that is in keeping with America’s stature as a cultural storehouse of the world and of English as the most prodigal and absorbent language today.

Joseph Brodsky’s migration to America was a happy event both for him personally and for American poetry in general. His exile from "a tyranny to a democracy" (see the essay "The condition we call exile" in the present collection) carried a double responsibility: his St Petersburg classicism with its pan-European reach and his initiation into the English and American heritage which lacks the depth and introspective speculation of the Slavic soul. Though forced to leave Russia to become a naturalised American, he never leaves his imagined poetic home of St Petersburg classicism and the boundaries of its timeless poetic legacy.

The two homes, one left behind and the other adopted, are not antipodes, but two facets of a cultural fate revealing uncommon relationships between creativity and bondage, art and compromise, poetic practice and physical survival. In his case exile becomes both an artistic device and a way of life, a means of self-fashioning and of survival. It also provides an opportunity to rebuild civilisation as a "sum total of different cultures animated by a common spiritual numerator" or as a way of translation of memory.

Exile helps the "art of estrangement" formerly only a resistance to tyranny, to become a means of bringing the material and the spiritual empires together. As he put it in an early poem from "A part of speech": "Like a despotic sheikh who can be untrue/to his vast seraglio and multiple desires/only with a harem altogether new/varied and numerous, I have switched empires". ("Lullaby in Cape Cod".)

"Empires" carries heavy connotations of possessiveness. In Brodsky’s case such possessiveness is felt in the naturalisation of the aesthetic beliefs of St Petersburg classicism, shared with Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova (his "Room and a Half" from the collection "Less Than One"), and imbibed with the romance of the city of his first exposure. That he retains a core of this classicism, in spite of his physical move into another territory and another language, speaks of his relatively painless initiation into a new linguistic and cultural community.

The "Room and a half", which remains his poetic credo throughout, does not get smothered in the incestuous fecundity of English. If anything, it anchors his new experiences, the challenges of the acquired "empire" in a solid base, and in the process spares him the anguish of writing in a spirit of deprivation and need. It even makes him a conservative, at least in stylistic terms, as well as defensive against "the language of the street". What emerges is a poetic language that speaks between the formalities of an inherited idiom and the novelties of the adopted one.

To his St Petersburg classicism Brodsky adds what he calls in his Frost essay the dimension of contemplation — a quality he finds in American poetry as well as in his mentor, W.H. Auden. Contemplation produces a style which for Brodsky is more than speaking and writing like Auden. It is a catchet, a trademark recognisable from a few lines even if quoted anonymously. Born in humility, a condition Brodsky regards as peculiar to an exile, it avoids straightforward familiarity of tone, but insists on precision in linguistic expression. What he prescribes for the young Michigan graduates (see his essay "Speech at the Stadium"in "On Grief and Reason"), he himself practises in his attempts to "zero in on being precise with your language".

"I would write only in response to the gods," protests Robert Lowell in "Day by Day".Brodsky makes no such protestations and finds people and places more inviting than the originating experience of inspiration. From his early "Elegy to John Donne", through "A Part of Speech" and "To Urania", he reflects the many milieus he inhabits — rural Massachusetts, New York, St Petersburg, the great cities of Europe and the territories of language itself. "So Forth", published after his death, consolidates his position as a world citizen, and rounds off a career in which persons and places make a presence for themselves by constituting a presence for the poet and his reader.

In the poem "porta san pancrazio" imagination lingers over the minutae of burned up bits of life — "families crumbled, scum bared its teeth grown older" — while the narrator seems to address an absent beloved. It is only in the last stanza that she becomes a part of this evocation, but only just:"Life without us is, darling, thinkable. It exists as / honeybees, horsemen, bars, habitués, columns, vistas / and clouds over this battlefield whose every standing statue/triumphs... over a chance to touch you."

Brodsky’s imagination works as if to turn absences into presences, as the intimate address "darling" suggests. It is as if the imagination, dense with the particulars of mundane experience (like old-timers enjoying their "salad/days and the ice-cube" in the above poem), were linked to desire or memory which conjures up images, events and persons so palpably. Of course, these images, events and persons are not brought in for some portentous symbolic effect. They are there, because they are there: it is as simple as that.

In "August rain" the use of domestic verbs successfully marries the external rain-soaked landscape to the reality of a homey image:"How familial is the rustling of rain! how well it darns and stitches/rents in a worn-out landscape, be that a pasture/alleyway, tree-intervals — to foil one’s eyesight, which is, capable of departure/from its range. Rain! Vehicle of nearsightedness... greedy for lenten fare/mottling the loamy parchment with his cuneiform brand of silence/with his smallpox care." Mark the silent inevitableness of a loamy parchment, lenten fare and smallpox care.

I would cite one more instance, from "Constancy" to demonstrate Brodsky’s skills in combining the external with the familial: "Constancy is the evolution of one’s living quarters/into a thought/... a bedside table with little medicine bottles left there standing/like a Kremlin, or better yet Manhattan.../Evolution is not a species’/adjustment to a new environment but one’s memories’/triumph over reality."

Speaking of Brodsky often brings to mind the methods and attitudes of his mentor W.H. Auden. Apparently, he imbibed the elder poet’s penchant for scientific terminology as well as his discreet later aestheticism. There is, however, a difference:Brodsky avoids Auden’s occasional whimsy and wilful colloquialisms, since his own classicism is deeply inscribed. In his essay on Auden’s "September 1, 1939" (in "Less Than One"), he deprecates the use of "dive" in the poem which he thinks doesn’t go well with the sombre mood of the occasion.Top

Auden’s dry wit finds an echo in "homage to Girolamo Marcello". An epigrammatic terseness holds the poem, essentially a reminiscence of a place, together:"When a man is alone,/he is in the future — since it can manage/without the supersonic stuff, streamlined bodies, an executed tyrant/crumbling statues, when a man is unhappy/that’s the future." The only colloquialisms allowed are man’s, he’s.

Like Auden, Brodsky experimented with available metrical forms and created silent rhymes to discipline any waywardness that even discreet aestheticism can occasionally engender. "Nativity", "Postcard from Lisbon", "New life", "Portrait of tragedy" ("let’s see its creases/let’s hear its rhesus") are some of the poems that use these devices to remarkable effect. The result is a metrical discipline, a welcome leash to hold the balance between Brodsky’s thematic boldness and his stylistic conservatism, between an adventurous foray into places, persons and things and a deliberate recognition of one’s continuity in the general stream of life and poetry. The centaur poem-sequence is unexceptionable in this regard. So is the title poem "So forth".

Perhaps the most Auden-like poem in the book is "A song", patterned on typical Auden songs. Its lightheartedness can be felt everywhere even as Brodsky puts his own patina on it. "I wish you were here, dear, I wish you were hear/I wish I knew no astronomy/when stars appear/when the moon skims the water/that sighs and shifts in its slumber, I wish it were still a quarter to dial your number". Oh yes, it is still a quarter for a local call in New York!

"On Grief and Reason" stakes out Brodsky’s literary and cultural patrimony, ranging from Horace ("Letter to Horace") to Hardy and Rilke. The range of interests is wide and the sympathies are deep. But it is in these last poems that Brodsky’s real achievement can be gauged. Unlike Rilke whose ambition was "to store up honey in the great golden hives of the invisible", Brodsky’s poetry keeps reminding us, as does all authentic art, that it is possible that poetic language and its aesthetics, although they express important and abiding truths, need not look thin and foolish when placed beside the flesh-and-blood preoccupations of everyday life.

— M. L. Raina Top


Common man as the history maker

Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz by Eric Hobsbawm. Weinfeld and Nicolson, London. £20.

A majority of the human race consists of the common people. People about whom, if one were to go by Lord Acton’s dictum ("History is nothing but the biography of great men"), there would be no place in history. Writing such individuals out of the story would leave no significant trace on the broad historical narrative.

Eric Hobsbawm differs with this line of thought. He does not accept the opposite version either, that each one of us is "as big as you and I". He feels that little people may not be "as big as you and I" as individuals but collectively such men and women are major historical actors. Hobsbawm should know. He has spent an entire lifetime studying and writing about the common peoples’ history, starting from primitive rebels in 1959. He is considered to be the greatest living historian, even by sceptics who otherwise feel that he is a brilliant man unfortunately caught in the time wrap of Marxism. About him it can be said that to be as learned as he is, and to write as well, would be enough for most historians, to be as gifted as he is with flashes of brilliance is a rarity even among the greatest of writers.

The present work is a collection of the writer’s essays and reviews written between the 1950s and mid-1990s. The essays are collected under four sections: "The radical tradition", "Country people", "Contemporary history" and "Jazz".

The first section is related to the evolution of the working class and its movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An essay on Tom Paine, the American "moderate" revolutionary, is illuminating. Paine belonged to an era of self- made men at a time when it was difficult to divide people as employers and the employed, the exploiter and the exploited. Despite his moderation even by the standards of his time, his "Age of Reason" was the first book to say in common man’s language that the Bible was not the word of God, a classic statement of working class rationalism.

The Luddite movement has for long been considered to be a frenzied, pointless and ultimately historically doomed movement. Hobsbawm opines that it was a mode of collective bargaining devised by the working people in the initial years of mechanisation. Also, the use of machines was more of a defensive weapon in the early years of capitalism rather than an offensive means of increasing profits.

Another essay probes the different labour traditions in France and Britain. Though the latter was the country, in Marx’s words, of "classic capitalism", it was the working class of France that was much more revolutionary in nature while the British working class remained more susceptible to religion. The reason, Hobsbawm avers, was religion in England displayed streaks of radicalism but in France, Roman Catholicism was demonstratively conservative and hence the working class movement developed fully independently of religion.

The Labour Party in England emerged as a distinct party of working people only after 1918. An essay on Harold Laski marks him out as a person who, despite being "neither an original thinker nor a natural writer" (none of his 25 works have survived), was the Left’s "megaphone" for a long time, leading to the most radical labour government ever in Britain in 1945 under Attlee. Incidentally, Laski, like so many leaders of the Left in Europe and Russia, was a Jew (Hobsbawm is of Jewish parentage too).

"May 1968", a study of the leadership of the student movement in that memorable year of student radicalism, rightly traces the origin of the movement in the alienation of the young people in the developed world. It expressed only the social and cultural discontent and did not have political aims itself, though it used political phraseology.

He also points to the persistent affinity between revolution and puritanism, though the founders of Marxism were quite unpuritanical, and in the case of Engels, quite anti-puritanical. Among the rebellious young, those who are, or were, closest to the traditional leftwing politics tended to be most hostile to any form of personal dissidence.

The seven essays related to jazz reflect the passion the writer has for the strand of music owing its roots to Black music as an early form of Black protest in this century.

The concluding essay on the contribution of America to the Old World is perhaps one of the finest. This Hobsbawm locates not in the contribution of the elite urban culture of which the USA is the centre of the world, but in the contribution of the common and especially native people of the rest of the world. It was the discovery of America that precipitated the idea of Utopia in the minds of radical Europeans. Its discovery stimulated the researches of Darwin and Wallace culminating in the formulation of the evolution theory. It was also the first European trans-Atlantic country that made a more complete break with the institutions of the Old World. Four of the seven most important agricultural crops in the world today are of American origin — potatoes, maize, manioc and sweet potatoes (the other three being wheat, barley and rice).

For these and many other insights one feels pleased to have read this book. Even though most of the essays have themselves passed into classics, the flashes of brilliance are as fresh as ever. Sample the following: "Latin America is the last bastion of the Left in the world. For this reason its literature has so far escaped the worst consequences of the privatisation of the imagination. But for how long?"

Indeed, it is a cynical world today. No longer the world that produced such outstanding social historians as Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams. For that reason alone, one wishes that Hobsbawm’s writings never end.

Bhupinder SinghTop


Four-lane track from old to new

Between Tradition and Modernity — India’s Search for Modernity edited by Fred Dallmayr and G.N. Devy. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pp. 375. Rs. 395.

MODERNISATION has been an essential part of colonisation as the hegemonist induction of western political, social, economic and religious ideas and also, science and technology. Being worldwide, this can be equated with globalisation. On the one hand it provided a new impetus and unleashed the energies of colonised civilisations, and on the other, it induced in them a feeling of backwardness and irrelevance: "a dialectics of modernisation".

The responses of the colonised ranged from absolute rejection of modernisation to its full adoption by rejecting tradition altogether. Admitting the absence of clear boundaries, Bhikhu Parekh has put them in four categories — traditionalism, modernism, critical traditionalism and critical modernism. The first two are extremes; "critical traditionalism" is a defence of tradition cleansed of its ills and the last is modernism willing to admit some useful elements from the old. These responses have both cultural and economic-political dimensions.

The Indian response has been the most complex because the oldest and most sophisticated memories have survived here. Interaction has also been the deepest here because, as Naipaul notes, of more than two centuries of close relations. Leading thinkers who shaped the Indian response — the editors call them Renaissance thinkers — had been flexible, differentiating and open-ended in their conception of Indian identity, the nation they imagined. The editors also think that the response was largely free from chauvinistic arrogance and self-indulgence.

Within the above framework of selecting articles, the editors have refrained from their own narration of this "travel" from tradition to modernity. They have let the thinkers speak for themselves. They also have not taken a clear position on the definition of tradition. There is also no selection on the definition of tradition except for Romila Thapar arguing about the ever-changing meanings of myths and symbols.

The editors’ preference for Vedanta is, however, apparent in the choice of thinkers. Traditionalists included here are Commaraswamy for whom Vedanta celebrates a beatitude independent of any external source of pleasure; Jaddu Krishnamurti, for whom swaraj meant an inner spiritual self-renewal and individual self-liberation; and Savarkar for whom Hindu was a term known to ancients aware of Sapta-Sindhu.

Critical traditionalists here include Vivekananda, Tagore and Aurobindo, all in the mainstream of Vedanta even though Tagore was not for nationalism.

Historian Sudhir Chandra and philosopher Ram Chandra Gandhi though avoiding labels and emphasising continuum, are still not far away from Vedanta. Their emphasis is on "atman". Even Nehru, a modernist, found it easy to reconcile Vedanta with marxism in his "Discovery of India".

These traditionalists of both varieties are steeped in western culture and adept at western idiom. Their understanding and commitment to Vedanta is also inspired in good measure by their contact with the West. The extent of effectiveness of their challenge to westernisation or colonisation would be a matter of debate. The traditionalist here is not a person indifferent to the West, but is one who sought self-renewal in Vedanta in the idiom developed in the West.Top

Nirmal Verma’s lucid essay on this point is notable. Contact with the West has made modern Indian intellectuals "homeless", says Verma. They go to the West to look at something called "Indian". It also creates problems for the editors when they try to evaluate Gandhi and select from his works.

M.N. Roy, Ambedkar and Nehru are representatives of modernists. They come in various hues of Marxism, socialism and liberalism, as Parekh puts it. Common to them is the belief that "the state and society represent the opposite of light and darkness respectively. The state stood for modernity, society for tradition." The Indian village is a cesspool of dirt, disease, poverty, ignorance, inequality and superstition and the only remedy was strong state intervention. No social resources were sought.

Nehru cannot be accused of ideological consistency in cultural terms. This is clear from his writings included in this volume. It is left to Thomas Pantham to bring out the essence of Nehruvian policy. Post-Enlightenment humanism and scientific spirit, subject to Marxist-Leninist critique of capitalism and its highest form, imperialism, made up his view of India’s future. India as an independent, non-aligned, democratic state has a greater relative autonomy from imperialist capital than it would have been the case had a non-democratic, non-socialistic, aligned, satellite-type or neo-colonial state comes up, argues Pantham.

This theme is challenged by Rajni Kothari in masterly western idiom. In the Nehruvian "project of building a state".... (it) "promising an all-encompassing presence in a plural society" and of "development as a project of the state (this was central to Nehruvian vision).... development became a project of ..... the bureaucratic administration which, as it was by its nature colonial and remote, led to an increasingly exclusivist structure of power. In the process, state too got reduced into a mere government from one centre..... a colonial and colonising center."

Ranjit Guha putting forth the agenda of subaltern studies emphasises the critical but neglected role of subaltern studies in Indian challenge to colonisation. M.N. Roy emphasises the failure of Indian bourgeoisie to fight feudalism.

Where do the editors locate Gandhi? They do not find it possible to put him in a slot and herein is the inadequacy of the paradigm followed by them. Selections are largely from Hind Swaraj whose economic ideas simply exasperated Nehru who decided to wait for the implementation of his own ideas when independence came. Partha Chatterjee calls Gandhi as the supreme penultimate leader of India’s passive capitalist revolution in which the bourgeoisie appropriated the results of the struggles of the peasantry. Nehru completed this appropriation by a specifically nationalist marriage between the ideas of progress and social justice. Implicit in it is a tribute to Gandhi for the peasant struggles and a criticism of Gandhi on the issue of equality.

The severest indictment of Gandhi comes from Ambedkar on the issues of caste, equality and village republics. Unfortunately Gandhi’s reply to Ambedkar is not included. Gandhi was not inclined to enter into a debate on the interpretation of the scriptures. Intellectual debate hardly excited him. For him religion and morality was a living experience. He based his arguments on the lives of sants Kabir, Raidas or Paramahamsa. This was his tradition — "sanatan", the eternal. This was ever present in the life of even the lowliest, the "bhangi" whom he wanted every one to become. His dependence was on social resources. His emphasis on means turned him away from a bureaucratic state.

And this total neglect of "sanatan" is the basic weakness of this otherwise commendable selection. Top

G. V. Gupta


Suspended in time, like the seasons

The Everest Hotel: A Calendar by I. Allan Sealy. IndiaInk, New Delhi. Pp. 330. Rs 395.

They say he is listed for this year’s Booker. Or the Commonwealth Prize. His latest book is making waves in India even though the common man does not seem to be aware of it. "The Everest Hotel: A Calendar," brought out by the same publishers as "The God of Small Things", is the talked about book of the day. The author is Allan Sealy, the one who earlier gave us "Trotter-nama" and "Hero".

The dust jacket presents a pair of bare feet crossed at the ankles, next to it is a walking stick slung over a parapet. The shades are dull brown, the colour of autumn. Of old age. Of a world where the sun has ceased to shine. What is the book about?

The novel begins with a young nun, Sister Ritu, arriving at a home for destitutes in Drummondganj to take on a new assignment. Everest Hotel, which has seen better days, is now a dilapidated building run by nuns. The owner, Mr Jed, lives on the top floor, alone and quite unhinged. He lolls about in one of the great bathtubs lined up on the terrace of the hotel, sad relics of former glory. Is it senility or dementia that makes him what he is? That makes him shout and scream, tear off all his clothes, soil his bed repeatedly? In his quieter moments he busies himself writing the "Drummondganj Book of the Dead", an ambitious but uncanny chronicle that seeks to compile a list of all those who have lived and died in Drummondganj.

There are other inmates of the building: an aged woman who insists that she is pregnant, a retired army officer always inebriated, a pair of twins in a "vegetable" condition callously abandoned by a materialistic world, a "goongi" who can only communicate through unintelligible guttural sounds. The list is long.

Sister Ritu is assigned the task of attending on Jed. She stoically takes the experience as a "humbling lesson", bathing him, rinsing his sheets, putting up with his tantrums. The only visitor that Jed welcomes is Brij, a political activist involved in a separatist movement. Brij, using Jed’s terrace as an unwinding ground, meets the beautiful twenty-five-year-old nun and is irresistibly drawn to her. And yet circumstances must intervene and place in his path a red-headed German woman who spends her days chiselling a tombstone for a dead but not forgotten relative, her nights learning yoga and tantric rites from the young rebel. A woman with whom he would grow intimate. Who would one day be found dead in mysterious circumstances.

There is something eerie about the whole scenario: the decaying human wreck on the terrace, the ongoing chronicle of the dead, the crumbling building, the adjacent graveyard, the tantric rituals, the furtive separatist activities. All this and much more enveloped in a brooding cloud of silence. Silence unruffled by Jed’s periodic shrieks or the goongi’s unintelligible howls. Silence like the calm before a storm, hanging oppressively in the still, humid air, or momentarily confused by the renewed whirring of fans after an extended power-cut. In short, a silence that is ominous.

To sum it up briefly, "Everest Hotel" records the events that take place from one summer to the next in the life of a young woman. During this year she renounces one world for another, makes an honest attempt to live a life devoted to the care of the sick and the destitute, but ultimately goes back to the world left behind, this time with an adopted child. The pull of affectionate human ties seems much too strong. And yet this one year of her life is not simply wasted: it stands out as a landmark she was destined to reach in order to make further choices. Drummondganj becomes a crossroad of sorts, a chronotopic point which has to be traversed no matter what the direction.Top

If Ritu’s story is that of renunciation followed by acceptance, it is one that takes place in a world that seems suspended in time. "Everest Hotel" creates a sleepy hill-town with its peculiar sights and smells, a world rooted in reality, inhabited by ordinary human beings who are a prey to ordinary human emotions like love, hate and jealousy. It is a world torn by political and environmental issues, the likes of which we hear everyday.

And yet this recognisable world is defamiliarised by the many strange events that take place in it. While at its simplest it is a terrain peopled by hapless creatures in need of love and care, it is simultaneously one that extends beyond clear-cut boundaries, into the grey areas of the unfamiliar and the unknown, hanging somewhere in between sanity and insanity. A limbo best represented by the raving Jed who belongs neither to the living nor to the dead. Or by the long power-cuts symbolising the ebb and flow of life.

In keeping with this in-between theme, "Everest Hotel" is written entirely in the present tense:

"Deep blue skies, their depths unnerving. Naphthalene moons stare at the risen sun. Sharp mornings, smoky dusks. Heavy dews on the crabgrass, blossom on the peach. One day, on their way back from the leper colony, Neha and Ritu detour into a pea field and pick a few pods. Green sugar in the smallest peas! Perpetua intercepts one and pops it in the goongi’s mouth. The goongi smiles her first smile since Lohri."

The narrative is thus suspended in time, precipitously hanging in a here-and-now, with neither before nor after. At times the chronology seems to get confused: with the story flowing in an interminable present, with no shifts back and forth, the comparative perspective is thus missing and it is not possible for the reader to assess the order and importance of events. However, a second look reveals that this is part of the narrational strategy, part of the design, of the cyclic motion controlling the entire narration.

If Ritu is the name given to the main protagonist, it is one that is deliberately chosen. Ritu, or season, is what keeps the story hanging together, whether it is Jeth or Asadh, Push or Phalgun. "Everest Hotel" is a finely crafted book that tries to link the world of nature with that of human aspirations. The rhythmic cycle of seasons keeps moving, and with the fluctuating seasons, the fortunes of individuals change for better or worse. Emphasising the inevitability of change, the narrator underscores the need for acceptance, no matter what the given circumstances.

There is something introspective about the book. As it weaves in and out through summer, winter, autumn and spring, it draws our attention to little noticed, minute events of the natural world. It makes us pause for a while and look at life again. At the many landmarks and crossroads that come our way. At choices we are required to make. And at the need to simply move on.

Like the seasons.

— Manju JaidkaTop


Mass media, morals and money power

Mass Media, in Contemporary Society by P.B. Sawant. Capital Foundation Society, Delhi. Pp. 312. Rs 400.

We in India enjoy certain freedoms like the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of profession and the freedom of faith (religion) which are the four pillars of democracy. According to Theodore Peterson, “Freedom carries concomitant obligations; and the press, which enjoys a privileged position under the Constitution, is obliged to be responsible to society for carrying out certain essential functions of mass communication in contemporary society. To the extent that the press does not assume its responsibilities, some other agency must see that the essential functions of mass communication are carried out.”

To ensure this, we have the Press Council of India which is headed by Justice P.B. Sawant, the author of the book under review. From the pre-independent era to the present the press has gone through critical periods and trials and tribulations in various forms. In this book Justice Sawant does a commendable job of bringing out the true state of the press in the country.

The Indian Press has been striving for the past 50 years to exercise its freedom in upholding professional ethics and delivering unbiased news to the public. There is no ambiguity about the press freedom which is the soul of the freedom of expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, without interference and to seek, to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The same principle is reflected in Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

We have, however, seen that with the passage of time undiluted freedom tends to get contaminated with the hegemonic attitude of the state. Examples are there when despotic-minded rulers have strangled freedom of expression as during the Emergency when Indira Gandhi muzzled the press, setting a bad precedent.

In his address to the first African regional conference at Abuja, Nigeria, in October, 1996, Justice Sawant presented a paper on freedom of press, legal restrictions and national interest, which reflects his deep study. The social responsibility of the press is enormous to create a healthy ambience for democratic principles to thrive. However, in some cases the press flouts ethics and overreaches its limits, which is plain yellow journalism, and that too exists in India.

The author bemoans the deteriorating state of the press and how it is drifting towards consumerism rather than serving society in a responsible manner. According to him, “The entry of commercial interests in the media has taken a toll of sobriety, the maturity, the sense of duty and responsibility, the idealism, and the missionary spirit and the zeal which were its mainstay and which had earned it credibility and respectability and a weighty and powerful voice in the affairs of society in the past.

The scope for coverage of the print and electronic media has widened much and every aspect of life is a fit subject matter for media attention. For example, environment, economic development, human interest reporting, drug control and a number of other contemporary issues have come within the ambit of the media. With the phenomenal advancement in information technology, there is no time gap between an event and news dissemination. To ensure prompt news delivery media groups tap satellite communication, and pre-poll surveys and electoral forecasts are part of the game. Justice Sawant’s attempt at incorporating a large number of issues relating to media development in recent times is undeniably a giant step in focusing on the democratisation of the press. However, in some cases he has shown a reluctance to discuss the problems faced by the media today.

This volume is a compilation of speeches delivered by Justice Sawant at different conferences and symposia. On the whole the book gives an in-depth coverage in a realistic manner. However, as the mass media in India is still at the developing stage, there is need for more such books so that young journalists may know the achievements of the past and grasp the emerging methodology of the future. At a time when the print and electronic media are financed and controlled by multinationals, there is danger of commercial considerations edging out social obligations. The way consumerist culture is growing and developing, we may find society turning away from human values. We find commercial breaks jostling for primacy during serials on television. But the advertiser who has spent a huge sum in the production of a costly serial, justifies his commercial approach since he has to have fair return on the money he has put in.

— J. N. PuriTop



A small error has inadvertently crept into my review of "The Great Divide:Britain, India, Pakistan" by H.V. Hodson (The Tribune, October 18). It relates to the third line (from the top), para 3, column 3 which should read:"a year, from June, 1948, to August, 1947..." and not June, 1947 to August, 1948.



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