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Sunday, November 29, 1998
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The mind and motivation behind history writing

Off the shelf
by V. N. Datta
HISTORY is an ambiguous word which is susceptible to various interpretations. For one thing, history is a record of events and, for another, it denotes past events.

Dayananda: a scientific miracle man?
Revolutionary Vedic Scientist of the Modern Era — Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati by O.P. Babbar. Vijay Kumar Gobindram Hasanand, Nai Sarak, Delhi. Pp. 200. Rs 100.

What converts really lose
Beyond Belief — Islamic Excursions among the Converted People by V.S. Naipaul. Viking, New Delhi, Pp. 439. Rs 500.

Tiger, tiger vanishing fast, faster
Tiger Book by Arjan Singh. Lotus Collection, Roli Books, New Delhi. Pp. 160. Rs 175.

Made for the media, about media
National Media Directory 1998-99 edited by Baljit Singh Brar. Newsmen International and Via Media Network, Jalandhar. Pp. 296. Rs 300 (ordinary) Rs 500 (deluxe).Top

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

The mind and motivation behind history writing
Off the shelf
by V. N. Datta

HISTORY is an ambiguous word which is susceptible to various interpretations. For one thing, history is a record of events and, for another, it denotes past events. It is also treated as a rational mode of thinking about the past, a sustained enquiry that leads to the reconstruction of the past by enacting it in the mind and creating it in a literary form for the reading public. This form of historical activity or enquiry is treated as historical methodology or methodology in history.

A number of historians have meditated on the experience of writing history, on the theory and practice of history-writing. In "Defence of History" (Granta, p 307, 15.99), Richard J. Evans deals with some of the controversial issues that relate to the purpose, scope and method of writing history.

E.H. Carr’s "What is History?" is perhaps the most popular and singularly influential history textbook for postgraduate students in India and has become a vade mecum. Carr attacked Ranke’s notion of "historical truth" and ridiculed the view that facts speak for themselves. He argued that historical judgements reflect the assumptions of the period that produce them. Behind every explanation there is the historian with his own worldview dictated by his mode of experience.

So it is not the facts but the historian that speaks. Thus what the historian terms as historical judgement or truth is in the final analysis a historian’s point of view which is given on a personality or episode.

Carr’s book has held the prime place in the study of methodology in history, which the Indian students use in their studies on the concept and method of history that forms part of their postgraduate syllabus. Carr, an admiring historian of the Soviet Union, firmly believed that history itself is progressive, which he thought the Soviet experience proved (what would he say now?).

"The Practice of History" by G.R. Elton has served as "the basic introduction of history as taught in the university". In this provocative work, Elton shows his firm faith in the orthodoxy that there are hard historical data which when discovered, settle matters. Elton eloquently defends the virtues of catholicity of method which he calls purity of method, scepticism towards sources, and informed scholarship.

The principle object of Evans is to reassert Ranke’s mode of historical enquiry which professional historians seem to have relegated to the background. Ranke was the founder of the "positive school" of writing history, which depended on the collection, scrutiny and analysis of solid facts assembled in a meaningful way to explain the past in its complexity. Ranke’s solid achievement was to promote a scientific way of recovering the past, though his own works, despite their meticulous scholarship and vast range, fall short of the high and austere standards he had set due to his own presuppositions which influenced his work.

Evans has chosen to be a Ranke fan, an empiricist committed to the view that facts and documents speak for themselves. He wants the rules of historical practice laid down by Ranke to be followed. Ranke had established the discipline of history on a "professional and scientific basis". Evans argues that the history we write cannot be fiercely objective but is "nevertheless true" as we "really can find out" how the past happened although the conclusions arrived at by a painstaking process of scientific method will always be "less than final".

"Such good rules," according to Evans, "transcend scholarly communities and do not depend on their acceptance by them..." Evans emphasises that there is no finality in history as even paltry new evidence or a different mode of enquiry is likely to recast the established conclusions.

The main focus of this study is what is loosely called "post-modernism" which has it that there are no hard facts, no final answers, only a "plurality of decisions", from which it follows that there is no authoritative standard or conclusions from which different perspectives can be adjusted. In other words, what is called history emanates from the subjective present, a view which Carr had put forth in his book. Evans defends the practice of historical realism from the worst corrosions of post-modern theory.

Post-modernism insists on the historian’s subjectivity, his imprisonment in his own time and the ambiguity and incompleteness of the record.All this Evans concedes, but he argues that a sound historical work is sceptical, scrupulous and self-critical. Despite these problems which the historian has to face, Evans is convinced that a historian well equipped in the technique of historical analysis and is fair-minded is capable of giving a proper perspective to the understanding of the past.

Evans does not repudiate post-modernism entirely but extols some of its virtues. Post-modernism makes us cautious about the nature of evidence, suggests new areas of research like the silenced voices of suppressed minds, brings individuals back to the historical field, and alerts the historian to his own limitations and responsibilities. Evans takes up some other problems such as whether history is an art or science, the nature of historical source-material, the place of cause or chance in historical explanation, the ideological assumptions and uses of history, the concept of truth and objectivity, etc.

Evans highlights some of the controversies raised with amazing ferocity by historians. He mentions the recent case of David Abrahams, a young American historian, who has been attacked for sloppy handling or fabrications of his sources. Another case which Evans cites is that of Arthur Marwick whom he assails for his self-righteousness, arrogance, thoughtlessness and for using meaningless metaphors in his text. The point to emphasise is that history-writing is a serious business, and that the historian has a great moral responsibility to be fair, candid and scrupulously honest in discharging his professional responsibilities.

Evans is not oblivious of the criticism made against the empiricist’s approach to the writing of history, which boils down to a complete subservience to the authority of documents. The question that the critics ask is: can we reach some measure of truth inhering in the documents without reference to the inquiry?

One might say that obsession with documents ignores the activity of the historian who has a mindset to probe into the mysteries of the past. The historian is curious to know the how and why of things, and it is his probing questions, his unceasing dialogue with the past, which aims to deliver an intelligent message to his contemporaries as the fruit of his curiosity.

Evans tells us that the structure of his "Death in Hamburg" (1968) was governed by aesthetic rather than conceptual imperatives. Historical material has to be structured to tell a story; otherwise there accrues the inevitable results of exaggerated empiricism leading to a vacuum which sucks in a number of alien imports.

Evans does not deny that serious historical thought is conceptual though his preference is for sophisticated empirical approach to the writing of history. The primary thing is an intelligent structuring of material — that is what the historian ought to be concerned with and aspires to do. Therefore the tracing, assembling and technical criticism of sources is a necessary prerequisite, though to a Marxist historian like Carr it seems a secondary consideration.

There are, however, quite some spheres of historical knowledge which Evans seems to overlook such as history of ideas, the rise of the study of historiography and what has been called "the linguistic turn" in historical method, the shift not towards languages but towards literature and culture.

The point which Evans has missed is that history is no longer a study primarily focused on politics such as was considered in the 19th century but is now concerned with the investigation of the entire past in all its areas and by all imaginable means. So the idea of concept is of vital importance in the study of history, which is quite evident particularly in the history of ideas, historiography and literature. The "linguistic turn" has a fertilising effect on real historical practice.

In his eagerness to dismiss post-modernism, Evans has not spared intellectual historians. He writes: "The intellectual historians use sources in a different way from most historians: as interpretative vehicles for ideas, not as clues to an exterior reality. Moreover, they work within a very limited number of classic texts, written by a handful of authors, or in other words, in a field whose new documentary discoveries have inevitably become extremely rare. Reinterpretation is therefore almost the only option available to them."

This scholarly work written with magisterial authority is a valuable addition to the textbook literature concerned with the theory and practice of history.

Top

 

Dayananda: a scientific miracle man?

Revolutionary Vedic Scientist of the Modern Era — Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati by O.P. Babbar. Vijay Kumar Gobindram Hasanand, Nai Sarak, Delhi. Pp. 200. Rs 100.

THE title of the book proclaims Swami Dayananda as the "revolutionary scientist of the modern era". Also the word "scientific" is freely splashed over the text; yet one wonders how much of the modern or scientific spirit the writer himself displays in his work! To take a few examples:

  • "The proud Vedic heritage influenced the way of life and thinking of the inhabitants of the planet, particularly of Bharat, for the last 120 million years."
    It means that the Vedas influenced the life of the people of this world for the past 12 crore years. The Vedas are more ancient than where our imagination can travel. (The Vedas are certainly the earliest books extant of the human race.)
  • "These findings do confirm that the world-wide civilisation (of the Vedas) kept human society as a well-knit society, existing up to 15,000 to 14,000 years back."
  • "Manu Smriti was completed in the first 10,000 years of the Sat Yug age."
  • According to the table of the yugas given on page 70, this means very much more than 25 lakh years ago. But according to our author, this book was compiled 120.53 million years ago. "This book has 12 chapters, 2884 verses" (correct), but its compilation took over a million years.
  • "The cosmic period evolved the human civilisation of Arya Vrat (Arya Vart) 120.53 million years ago."
  • "The greatest contribution of this (Vedic) civilisation was that it could maintain a compact human society of one brotherhood on this planet."
  • According to our author, Swami Dayananda said (did he?) that the foundation of this first civilisation (Vedic?) on this planet was laid 19.61 billion years ago.
  • Their communication system travelled much faster than light. And he says, "These currents of energy, the nads travel at a speed a billion times that of light." (He quotes Atharva Veda (?) in support of the nad theory.

There are many more such astounding statements that cry out for mention, but for the constraint of space. These revolutionary "Vedic scientific" findings deserve to be classed as super-discoveries of the space age. Everything is in a grand hyperbolic style on a colossal scale.

As for his command on English idiom, his spellings and proof reading, it could not be worse. There are blemishes on every page. To take very few examples: Atharva Veda is spelt Atherv Ved; Sankhya (of Kapil Rishi) is Sankh, putra (son) is putter, nyaya (of Gautam) is naiy, vaishashik (of Kannad) is visheshak; yoga shastra becomes yog shaster; Katha Upanishad becomes Kathu Upanishad, Taittreya Upanishad is Taittery, shabdas are always shabids, renowned is recknowned; Adi Veda (whatever it may mean) becomes Adhi Ved (adi is spelt adhi many times); Srishti Samvat (over 196 crore old) is always Sariti; ...Bhashya (commentary) is Bhash, Muslim converts are skin (akin) to Hindu families; Ishwara is Eshvar.

Such errors are countless. He has a cosmic mindset and talks in the framework of millions and billions of years; he cannot bend to the trivialities of spellings and idioms as practised by common masses.

Even the Bibliography smacks of mediocrity.

His boundless devotion to Vedic civilisation and its (according to him) chief advocate Swami Dayananda is never in doubt (the present reviewer too is on the same wave length). Swamiji’s magnificent name is the alchemy that converts base metals into gold. It is the grandeur of Swami Dayananda’s name that can catapult this local work to the status of being worthy of notice in these exalted columns.

He has already done two books on Swami Dayananda, one in co-authorship with his wife (God bless her, whatever her credentials).

Another plus point of the author is his monumental hard work in tracing out hundreds of quotations from the Vedas (in each case, he quotes chapter and verse) and other scriptures, of course teeming with the usual incorrect terms and mis-spelling.

Some of his other extraordinary "scientific" innovations or "revolutionary" theories deserve to be quoted.

"(The) Buddha flourished under (the) Vedic umbrella." (He actually disbelieved in the Vedas.)

"The letters written by the Christian missionaries (as edited by Prof Wise of Germany) showed that most European missionaries and scholars regarded Dayananda as their prophet". (The missionaries with their one-point programme of conversion and Dayananda, the bulwark against the intended wholesale conversion, were poles apart.)

"Swami Dayananda adopted Hindi for his sermons." (His mother tongue was Gujarati. He learned Hindi late in his life. He delivered his first public lecture in Hindi at Benaras in June, 1874, a mere nine years before his death. Of course he was a very staunch supporter of Hindi, the language of the majority, as the lingua franca of India.)

Our author devotes full three chapters to Swamiji’s death, how he was poisoned. The commonly held view is that he was given arsenic or powdered glass in his milk, which he used to take before going to bed, in September, 1883, as a result of which he died a month later (so gigantic was his physique and stamina) on Diwali Day in 1883.

Western scholars repudiate this poisoning theory, perhaps to deny him martyrdom. Our author prints a picture of Swami Dayananda (on page 150) taken in 1882 with his face showing signs typical of chronic arsenic poisoning. Our author’s research says that poison was first given a year earlier and repeated several times later. Research means putting forward a new theory.

The author claims to present Swami Dayananda as a revolutionary Vedic scientist of the modern age. Yet much of what our author writes militates against what we regard as the scientific temper and facts believed in this age. By attributing all these incredible, impossible-sounding things to Dayananda, I wonder if he is enhancing the prestige of the Swami in the eyes of today’s scientifically inclined world.

Swami Dayananda was the father of an epoch-making theory (in which more and more scholars and common people are coming to believe) — namely, that the Aryans were the sons of the soil and did not come from any foreign land. Our author dismisses this in a few sentences in passing, in the Preface. Perhaps it did not fit in with his thesis of scientific contribution of Dayananda. We read at school that the Aryans migrated from central Asia in unending waves and conquered this land by crushing the original residents, the Adivasis, Dravids and the rest.

Our author’s last advice is that there should be a Dayananda university for doing research on truth about Vedic civilisation and Dayananda. Evidently, he has not heard of MDU (Maharshi Dayanand University), Rohtak, or of the Dayananda chairs for research at some other universities.

— P. D. ShastriTop

 

What converts really lose

Beyond Belief — Islamic Excursions among the Converted People by V.S. Naipaul. Viking, New Delhi, Pp. 439. Rs 500.

ANGER is giving way to compassion, arrogance to understanding, teaching to learning. The value of pain is understood. The spirit is generous. Integrity is redefined. It is a long journey from "An Area of Darkness" to an area of "believers" and "beyond". The search is for contextual understanding, for history and myths — "and legends which are more important than history" — which people believe to be their own to come to terms with their own environment, physical, social and intellectual. A sharp eye easily locates the symbols in streets and bazaars, in living rooms and offices. No physical detail escapes. Hardly a word can be substituted. The focus is sharp on things in harmony with the explorations of the moment. We know he is rated as one of the greatest living authors of English.

This travelogue is of a repeat visit to four countries, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, all four lands of non-Arab converts. A convert is a non-Arab, distinct from an Arab, the originator. The problem of the Islamic excursion in these countries is, therefore, civilisational. It is an Arab excursion. The Islamic imperial Arab was the law-giver. The history of the converts, the excursion implies, has to be part of the history of Arabs. "To the convert his land is of no religious or historical importance; its relics are of no account; only the sands of Arabia are sacred." His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. He has to invent Arab ancestors. Culture is lost with history and that leads to intellectual decay. "There is no free will in Islam... Islam meant submission, obedience."

Iqbal wanted Pakistan because Islam had worked better in India as a "people building force". He wanted to rid Indian Islam of the "stamp which Arab imperialism was forced to give it". But on partition the religious image remained that of the Arabs coming to India to plunder and to convert. The state became God with the right to absolute loyalty, abandoning people-building institutions and enforcing the Hadood laws. Iqbal’s thesis of Islam and nation being irreconcilable was defeated by Bangladesh. The Baluchis became refugees and the Sindhis, as the only people who loved their land, always an object of suspicion. The muhajirs had already lost their land and history. Pakistan became a criminal enterprise.

But it is in Bahawalpur "where time beyond people’s memory is unmeasured" in the town of Uch, in a structure that looks like a Hindu temple, women, wanting children, come to worship a pillar which has a depression at the top. For these women it is the footmark of Ali on a stone brought from Baghdad. This is what the saint whose "mazhjar" is here, had told them. They are not concerned that it is actually a "Shivlingam". It is this difficult-to-reach isolated spot that has challenged the law of imperial Arab. Iqbal’s dream is here. Vidiadhar (Naipaul’s first name) in his own Awadhi could have echoed Reshma’s "Char chiragh terey balan hamesha". He is, however, miserly with Sufis who really challenged the Islamic imperial straight-jacket.

Salman thought there was nothing greater than Jihad. His grandmother was murdered in Jalandhar the night two nations became independent. Born after the event in Pakistan he was still a "muhajir". Persecuted in Lahore he shifted to Karachi to come face to face with all-pervading hatred and insecurity. He became a wanderer, his muse silent. "He carried the old torment with him...the empty courtyard house in Jalandhar with blood on the walls". Now he wants to make a journey to India to live through it, to purge himself of that hatred; to start from Solan on August 11, the date on which his grandmother started to reach Jalandhar, if he could get an Indian visa, "to mark the beginning of this thing".

Imperial Iran could retain its history to link with Cyrus, the history of a thousand years before Islam. For Islam, however, history has to start with the Arabs only. This has given Iran a split personality. An ancient civilisation entered the 20th century without any contact with Western science and philosophy. The Shah of Iran’s wealth and westernisation widened the schism between traditional, rural, poor Iran and the rich modern one, a fertile field for Khomeini’s revivalism. "Bring here the first rich man you see. Confiscate his wealth and distribute it."

Ali, a rich contractor, arrested and forgotten for the time being, realised that this revolution cannot last long, became friendly with jailers and young revolutionaries. The passage of time had made the things easy and it was not difficult for him to oblige the authorities and start on the path of earning wealth again. Revolutionaries and jailers could not live on slogans only. The law of survival is the last law coming raw or well packaged. Iran has them both — the Shah’s people and Khomeini’s — and they meet at a convenient point envisaged by neither.

The Parsees, followers of Zoroaster, banished from Iran by Islam and the Arabs centuries ago, still retain their history. You can meet them at Persepolis, where they come in groups from India, bend before the palace pillar bearing the inscription, "I am Cyrus, son of Cambyses, and this is my palace", wail for a while to remember their great past and move forward. This is the memory that keeps this diminishing race together and creative.

Project Revivalism in Indonesia has a modern name, human resource development. "Islam is for science and belief in Islam will make technological growth fast." Habibie, now President, is the model.

It does not matter if it is only screwdriver technology, Islamic scientists are having it real good. Their real fight is against old school organisation, still effective and alive in rural areas, which kept the rudiments of Islam alive during colonial occupation; a syncretic Islam, never directly linked to the Arabs, adopting the ancient Hindu and Buddhist cult figures and myths.

For Dewi, a bright young bureaucrat, daughter of parents teaching in western universities, even if her mother’s skirts are a bit too short, covering the head seemed to be alright, the traditional greeting was idolatrous "worship the God" and a hot spring in a volcanic dip was the place where her tribal ancestors had come out of earth. "This ancient land, long subject to ploughing, had the eternal form of a created world." The taboos specific to her tribe were, for her, necessary for environmental protection but she was deeply sentimental about her childhood illness which the wise divined to be caused by the unholy use of a log of a dismantled kitchen to erect a latrine. She got cured as soon as that affront to purity was rectified.

Linus, a Christian convert, was still blessed by a message directly written by invisible Buddha on the palm of a friend, which could be deciphered only by another friend. Siddhartha was to them a prophet, a line that ended with Mohammed. Gomateshwar is part of another legend. Non-Arabic Islam is not able to obliterate the history of Indonesians. Many of the converts still use Hindu names.

Malaysia is also the land of the Chinese and Indians. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians all have a recognised presence. It is a cauldron of cultures. Its peoples history does not start with Islam. Here is a prosperous lawyer Rashid, a recent convert son of a Chinese "bomoh", a divine healer who was born poor, faced hardship and earned his living by faith-healing to raise a large family. He worked hard and had his children well educated. Says Rashid of his father: "When I was having fantasies of power...he was exercising real power...Compared to him, I was, year to year, infantile...What he did we saw with our own eyes... He did not have to make a proclamation of power." The "bomoh" did not want his faith or calling to be followed. He just wanted his children to go through the rituals. Rashid is not able to do this having become a Muslim. "But it pleased Rashid that his mother did the rituals and that when she died other members of the family would be carrying on her worship of her Malay datuk spirit in her kitchen and doing the rituals on the family alter." Any excursion here is simply painful.

A travelogue is necessarily impressionistic, subjective and limited in inquiry. A look by a cultured soul makes it multi-dimensional. Naipaul in his earlier journey was looking for Islam. This time he is looking at the people, living and vibrant, ever richer by layer over layer of their history and myths and that makes it humane.

It is false to locate a justification for Hindutva when Nepal calls Pakistan "a criminal enterprise".

— G. V. GuppyTop

 

Tiger, tiger vanishing fast, faster

Tiger Book by Arjan Singh. Lotus Collection, Roli Books, New Delhi. Pp. 160. Rs 175.

"THE Tiger is god." So said the banners of Tip Sultan of Measure in Canned, and the emperor himself believed that "it was better to live two days as a tiger than two hundred as a sheep".

Nicholas Courtney, writer, broadcaster and documentary film-maker, with Vlasic Trapper, Jim Cornet, Fiona and Melee Sunkist and, of course, hunter-turned-conservationist Arjan Singh, the editor of this anthology on the tiger in India, has resurrected for a centre-stage review, the life and times of this magnificent and powerful beast now on the verge of extinction.

It is a sad commentary on man’s greed and his lack of understanding of the ecology and conservation of the few forests that remain and where still roam the largest of cats in complete freedom and majesty.

Arjan Singh, who was awarded the World Wildlife Fund Gold Medal in 1976 and who has successfully returned to the wild a tigress and two leopards, suggests that,"wildlife is essentially an international subject and natural species have no passports, nor do they need visas. They belong to everyone." He rightly points out that forests (and their conservation) should be a central and not a state responsibility, for only then can wildlife be best conserved without any interference by "the locally elected politicians".

He also speaks about the practice of fudging the head count of these wild beasts (the tiger) by field directors at the annual census to overplay their accomplishment. He recommends that these field officers should be switched around during the census time.

To drive home his point Arjan Singh says of the tiger, "The Cornet Park figure, supposedly at saturation density of 44 in 1972, was escalated to reach a figure of 112 by 1985-89. The Dudhwa National Park publicised an adhoc number of 51 based on pugmark tracings of tigers, some with five toes. Compared with the Sevengeti national park in Africa with a 5.5 per cent increase for the social lion, an overall increase of 25 per cent was presented for the solitary tiger." Arjan sees troubled days ahead for the tiger when, "The stark reality of the situation is that state governments cannot and will not resist the pressure of their voting public to destroy a potential danger to their lives and livelihood."

Valmik Thapar writing about a tigress named Padmini and her five cubs says, "Food and water, in fact, are a tigress’s two nagging preoccupations while rearing her cubs." The male who has fathered the litter leaves as soon as the tigress is pregnant and shuns the male, and the tigress is left all by herself to hunt, protect and provide for her cubs, with the latter’s safety always endangered by other predators moving about. "A tigress and her brood must normally stick to their own range and never enter another tigress area, or intrude on its movement patterns."

Fiona and Mel Sunquist, tiger experts in their own right, speak of many a myth or fact, depending on how one values the information, associated with this powerful beast. Tiger fat is prized as an aphrodisiac and the beast’s whiskers "can either kill a man or make him potent depending on whether he lives in Malaysia or Indonesia".

Talking of tiger maulings, they write that "in general, however, attacks by tigers are rare. A hundred times more people are killed each year in India by snakebite than by tigers. Tigers prefer to avoid people and usually give them a wide berth."

Jim Corbett says the same thing when he writes, "Tigers, except when wounded or when man-eaters, are on the whole very good-tempered."

The Sunquists conclude that the tigers are not the only animals that prey on humans. "The fact that tigers do occasionally include humans in their diet must be the major contributor to their larger-than-life image."

This is a beautifully written book about the tiger by experts in the field. Many of them have now given up the gun for the camera or the pen, and seek to save this endangered animal from the "master predator" of them all, the human being. The authors deserve our compliments for opening the eyes of those who still wish to see the harm being done to our wildlife and the jungle in the name of "civilisation" and agriculture.

This slim volume, with colour plates of the tiger that speak for themselves, should form compulsory reading for every school, college and university student in the country.

And insofar as the errant actors and others who go around shooting endangered species are concerned, it is my view that at least half of their earnings every year should go towards the India chapter of the World Wildlife Fund which is doing a tremendous job in arresting environmental destruction. Every Indian must help people like Arjan Singh and Bittu Sehgal of "The Sanctuary" in any and every manner so that the tiger and the forests in which it roams survive and do not sink into oblivion.

The very existence of the tiger is at stake, and one could do no better than quote in the end this telling passage from this gripping account:"The origin of the tiger was at first credited to the Chigar caves of Northern Siberia, but now supported by scientific opinion it is believed that they may have had their genesis in Southern China. From there driven by the Ice Ages, population expansion and search for new prey, they moved south and southwest towards Indo-China, Sumatra, Bali, Java, India, Burma and the Caspian mainland. Now in another fluctuation, from an estimated population of one hundred thousand, their numbers have fallen to perhaps five thousand, declining all the time in direct competition with humankind."

— Himmat Singh GillTop

 

Made for the media, about media

National Media Directory 1998-99 edited by Baljit Singh Brar. Newsmen International and Via Media Network, Jalandhar. Pp. 296. Rs 300 (ordinary)Rs 500 (deluxe).

DO you know the name of the international airport at London? Which country other than India celebrates independence day on August 15? Where do you find the addresses of the Indian embassies across the world and that of film, radio and TV personalities or Indian and foreign journalists? Which are the world’s important newspapers? Searching, locating or surveying literature is really a tough task but a routine one for mediamen and hence the need for a good and handy reference book or directory which can provide all the answers.

The directory under review begins with the information which normally falls in the general category such as emergency phone numbers at Delhi, postal tariff, weights and measures and a list of major airports in the world. Then comes sketchy accounts of about two dozen countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Iran, the U.K and the USA. Also listed are the principal languages of the world and the national days of some countries.

Under the heading national information, one gets to know about the states and union territories and such details as the language spoken, the best season of the year, geographical area in square kilometers and the name of the capital. The book highlights the religious groups, languages and festivals of Asians. Also discusses at length media empires like Malayala Manorama, the Hind Samachar group and the publishing giant, Penguin Books.

Media personalities like Bal Thackeray, Nalini Singh, Barjinder Singh Hamdard and the Bofors scam buster, Chitra Subramaniam, the late NRIjournalist Tara Singh Hayer get a prominent place in this directory. It also brings the reader up to date with the views of seasoned journalists and media experts on hotly discussed subjects like yellow journalism, code of ethics, blacksheep in journalism, status of women journalists, social control of the media, importance of modern technology and the future of journalism, particularly in these days of "cyber journalism"

Also deals with the techniques of handling news items, writing a good news story, describing lucidly objects and events, writing a caption to news photo, essence of interviewing and, above all, the qualities of a good journalist. Students of media-related professions have a mine of information in the list of milestones in India between 1947 and 1998.

In addition to the addresses of Press organisations in India, foreign organisations of newspapers, international Press organisations, printing technology institutes and media training institutions, the chapter on "helping hand" also contains a glossary and list of helpful books. The chapter on market survey techniques deserves notice but the most wanted or sought after part of this directory is the address of film, radio and TV personalities as well as Indian and foreign journalists.

On the whole, it appears to be a directory of thanks, messages, good wishes and warm congratulations. It needs overhauling. It lacks a professional touch, it is full of glaring printing errors. Even the titles of books are erroneously mentioned. The five-line message of Sonia Gandhi could not be printed without a spelling error.

Information collated here needs updating like the circulation figures and number of newspapers in India. Moreover, the list of milestones has to be exhaustive. The Rajiv-Longowal Accord has escaped the attention of the compilers. There is a gap between 1992 and 1995. Does it mean there was no significant achievement during these four years? One wonders what criterion has been adopted for providing information of only 25 countries. Even that is neither detailed nor up to the mark.

The compilers should understand the political character of the erstwhile USSR. After the collapse of the USSR in December, 1991, Russia became one of the founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and adopted the name Russian Federation. That is why listing the USSR under "international details" raises one’s hackles.

Keeping in view the fact that this edition is an experiment, it is a good attempt. Of course, its usefulness to journalists and mediapersons cannot be overlooked and thus deserves a word of appreciation. However serious efforts should be made to make it a skilfully designed directory with a professional outlook.

Kuldip KaliaTop

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