118 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, October 11, 1998
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Science as agent of social change
Science in Society: Some Perspectives edited by Yash Pal, Ashok Jain and Subodh Mahanti. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. xvii+405. Rs 400.

Meet the dam man and his tough hero
My Tryst with Projects Bhakra & Beas by Jagman Singh. Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. 372. Rs 575.

A pleasure girl’s life of pain
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Vintage, London. Pp. 434. £ 6.99.
Verses : good, bad and indifferent

The Professional Woman’s Dreams by Sagari Chhabra. Pp. 51 Rs 80.

Scribblings by Pooja Khanna. Pp. 68. Rs 80.
Forty Poems Old & New by Pritam Singh. Pp. 48. Rs 80.
Reflections by Rita Malhotra. Pp. 80. Rs 100.

Coffee Spoons by Aseem Kaul. Pp. 65. Rs 80.
All by Writer’s Workshop Publication, Calcutta.
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50 years on indian independence

Science as agent of social change

Science in Society: Some Perspectives edited by Yash Pal, Ashok Jain and Subodh Mahanti. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. xvii+405. Rs 400.

SCIENCE has changed the face of the world. One cannot but be overwhelmed by the contribution of science and technology in the areas of food, health, new materials, industrial growth, communications and so on. There are, however, certain resultant worries which have not been attended to or not properly attended to. Among them, are social inequalities, erosion of cultural values, and environmental degradation, popularly clubbed together as social issues. This situation has arisen because of obvious reasons. The time has come to realise that any development that neglects the human being is no development at all.

"Science in Society" is a departure from the well-known paradigm "science and society". The latter has been developed out of concern for peace, impact of industrialisation, sustainable development vis-a-vis distributive aspects, and visualises an interaction between scientists and social scientists. It, however, presumes that the interacting categories would remain loyal to their domain. This approach squarely fails to initiate a serious and meaningful dialogue irrespective of its willingness to do so. Obviously it also fails to challenge the exclusivity of science in true sense.

The expression "science in society" helps us visualise science, technology and society in a holistic manner. Now we can safely answer the question whether a technologically ambitious project is also a socially acceptable one. Ethics, social benefit, social and cultural interaction, all of which were hitherto ignored, now come to the fore. We have to talk of development not just in terms of science and technology, but also relate it to society.

The "science in society" approach attempts to break down the barrier between different specialisations, link modern science and technology with traditional skills and knowledge, understand material reality in its totality, and locate society firmly within nature. In this way it attempts to create "holistic knowledge".

"Science in Society: Some Perspectives", the book under review, is an edited work. It contains 23 articles under six broad subject areas.

Taking an overview in his lengthy Introduction, Prof Yash Pal has characteristically done some plain-speaking. He wishes science to be made part of our culture, integral to our living and thinking and connected with our dreams, concepts of ethics, beauty and spirituality. He has specifically detailed what he likes to call cultural and spiritual aspects of science which may lend perspective to our present-day problems and free us from inherited prejudices.

Population explosion, deforestation, pollution and biotechnology are the issues that he is worried about.

In "The physics-astronomy connection at the most fundamental level", B.V. Sreekantan states that these two fields have now come together in an unexpected way. He illustrates this with reference to Glashow’s snake. The high temperature, high density scenario of the early universe has proved to be of great value in explaining some intriguing aspects of the universe like the dominance of radiation over matter and matter over anti-matter which defied explanation, Sreekantan points out.

"Symmetry, asymmetry, beauty and science" is a masterpiece by Pushpa M. Bhargava and Chandana Chakarbarti who set out three objectives: to resurrect the original meaning of symmetry, to establish the relationship between symmetry and beauty and to show that beauty and science are closely related. Asymmetry is the antonym of symmetry only in the exact likeness in size, shape and form etc. between opposite sides of something; but an asymmetrical object could still be harmonious and beautiful, the authors argue.

Therefore, from the point of view of beauty it should not be a question of symmetry versus asymmetry. Nature generates order and beauty arises in nature out of the simple, universal laws of science, just as the laws of science arise out of beauty in nature.

K. Babu Joseph has expanded this view in "The symphony of symmetries". According to him, symmetries are important in art, music, religion, literature, science and philosophy. He deals in detail with symmetries in physics. Discussing symmetry in human endeavour, the author maintains that it ensures some kind of stability as a balanced economy or a peaceful polity of a nation.

The legendary Jayant Vishnu Narlikar has highlighted the vital contribution which astronomy can make as a regular part of our educational curriculum and also towards the enlightenment of the masses. It is twofold: first, through a proper application of astronomy, one begins to understand something that may have appeared mysterious, awe-inspiring and even frightening to start with and many superstitions are thus blown away. Second, the scientist himself gains a better understanding of science itself.

V.G. Bhide deals with the concept and setting up of inter-university centres, common facilities as autonomous bodies and undergraduate science education. He rightly states that science has two aspects which are the product of science and the process of science — the content and the method. He traces the shifting of science from universities to research laboratories and the consequent decline in standards of education and research. Bhide concludes the exhaustive article with an apt suggestion: just as education in science is important for economic development, science in education is perhaps more important for social transformation and national reconstruction.

"Education within the framework of people’s science movement" by Vinod Raina, contains many innovations which are the essence of science. Raina dwells on the colonial legacy which continues even today to dominate the Indian body-politic. The author defines the role of a peoples science movement — spreading "scientific temper" in the real sense. He bases his thesis on Gramsci’s ideas and builds it on the Hoshangabad science teaching programme by outlining its details.

Provoked by the rubric that science itself would stagnate if its own achievements were no longer efficiently reported, disseminated and assimilated, T.B. Rajasekhar enumerates the reasons why a scientist wants to communicate, and describes the problems in conventional information transfer methods. He elaborately describes INFLIBNET, a plan for national information transfer system which has since been put into action.

The subject of "Science, peace and society" has been discussed by Rais Ahmed, Obaid Siddiqui and Y.S. Rajan separately. Ahmed wants the scientists to give up their inhibition towards social action. He bases his thesis on international peace, on the heritage of the Buddha on to Gandhi and pleads against the nuclear arsenal. This can best be appreciated in the context of nuclear explosions of May 11 and 13 this year. He sounds prophetic, "Nearer home, the issues are bound to be clouded by emotions and overtones of national pride." How true!

Under "Challenges in science", Harsh K. Gupta describes and discusses the recent developments in earthquake predictions. Because of continuous urbanisation, an increasingly larger part of the population is threatened by earthquakes. Earthquake prediction is presently undergoing an exciting phase of development of techniques, observational facilities and theoretical and practical investigations. Gupta has described these techniques with reference to recorded earthquakes in India and abroad.

A dignified human life, not an animal-like existence, is possible for all as a result of the developments in science and technology, but the reality is that nearby half of the humanity lives in subhuman conditions, avers M.P. Parmeswaran. This is owing to the absence of people’s participation in running the affairs of society. To build a heaven on this earth what is required is effective democracy where all members of society take part creatively. A way has been shown to achieve this through people’s science movement which will help create genuine scientific temper among the people, make science relevant to them and make scientists useful and dear to people, Parmeswaran remarks.

In a 50-page-long essay, D.P. Chattopadhyaya has taken a philosophical view of "Technology: estrangement and enlargement". The renowned philosopher is perhaps at his best while discussing the issue and concludes in a very simple way: "As workers and thinkers we are at an advantage vis-a-vis our technology and institutions and we can control them more effectively than they can possibly control us." Here seems to lie the key to proper understanding of man-technology relationship.

In "Biotechnology and ecological security", M.S. Swaminathan enumerates the five basic requisites to achieve ecological security which can be further ensured by eliminating the triple threats arising from population, poverty and pollution. He details ten steps through which biological productivity can be advanced to meet the needs of the growing population.

The link-up of self-reliance, nonalignment and innovation in science and technology has been brought out by Ashok Parthasarthi. Describing the energy picture in India, C.V. Seshadri considers the contribution of electricity to total useful energy as very small and believes that biomass sources will remain the most significant source of energy in the decades to come.

In "Towards alternative paradigms of development", V. Sudershan refers to the three characteristics common to both modernisation and development, emphasises that this paradigm remains silent on the vital issue of the poverty of masses and does not answer the two basic questions — for whom and for what.

The book is a treasure house of facts and arguments. It provokes creative thinking and that is its real strength. I not only enjoyed reading it but felt a change in my attitude after I put it down. Many a paragraph has to be read and reread just for the joy of it. I consider this book essential reading for teachers and students in our universities and institutes of specialised learning, planners, administrators and law-makers and the parliamentarians. The price is not much but if the publishers bring out a paperback edition, it will help disseminate science in society.

— J. S. Yadavtop


Verses : good, bad and indifferent

The Professional Woman’s Dreams by Sagari Chhabra. Pp. 51 Rs 80.
Scribblings by Pooja Khanna. Pp. 68. Rs 80.
Forty Poems Old & New by Pritam Singh. Pp. 48. Rs 80.
Reflections by Rita Malhotra. Pp. 80. Rs 100.
Coffee Spoons by Aseem Kaul. Pp. 65. Rs 80.
All by Writer’s Workshop Publication, Calcutta.

English poetry by Indian poets, what do you think!?

Ordinary, with an exception here and there. So there! Have I written a review for every poem ever written in English by Indian poets. And a very brief one.

The job at hand however was to write at some length about five collections of verses. I was apprehensive about one thing more than anything else – the poets’ obsession with words straight from the Webster’s dictionary and their choice of metaphors and form aping the western contemporary and non- contemporary poetry that might not look apt in the Indian context – cultural and social – and in the poem itself.

That my apprehensions did find basis will be evident in the quotes I make here.

Sagari Chhabra’s "A Professional Woman’s Dreams" is an example of good work that would have been; only too many words too often spoil the broth. She could have done with some editing. For example, "intimacy" instead of "the complex web of intimacy" would be so much better ("Storm"). Also so much for the rhyme that "around" follows "ground" and "resurrect" is followed by "erect" every now and then. At places she just flashes a montage of complex images as in "Peep Show" and then her reference to menstrual periods as the "crimson cycle" time and again is less than appetising.

Otherwise, there are good pieces in abundance. Consider "jump in, you may just drown,/ stay by the shore, you’ll surely/ die of thirst." ("Storm") or "But, I am/ no new woman/ in this brash new world,/ just a human,/ craving, seeking/ begging on/ bended knees/ tapping on panes/ going quite insane/ – for love/ the inner revolution."

She has a unique capability of breaking away from metaphors and images effortlessly to hit with pungent realism. Consider, from "I was walking/ on even ground/ when you came/ around,.........." to "but you insidiously insisted,/ undoing/ my bra/ that strapped/ my tender breasts/ like a shield,........" and then back to " I swam some/ and then/ lover,/ you turned thief/ and quitely/ slid away/ with my garments/ up a tree......"

The honest raw nerve in her compositions is likeable too.

Pooja Khanna’s "Scribblings" reads like a personal diary. The collection spans ten years of writing and is summarily about love – found, lost, refound. And then some introspection and retrospection. But the choice of words in pieces like – "Sudsing/ creative tension/ even though/ Congenitally incapable." (p. 14, titled "6" ) or "The confluence of touch/ Meanders through cajoling/ Glyptic;/ Pushing me to the edge...." (p. 15 , titled "7") creates a dissonance. So essential "tension" is missing in her compositions and verse falls flat, as in "A voice\ called out in the dark", "If you want love don’t hanker after it./ Live without, in spite of it." "I reached out and someone held my hand,/ A bit clammy but it seemed to understand."

Elsewhere one finds a good piece like "I love you;/ Love/ You/ And what have we—/ Misty mornings/ Warm, suckling/ Rainbows in the tea cup/ And magic in the sugar lumps."

Pritam Singh’s "Forty Poems Old & New" up next. And the first poem "To Amrita Pritam" begins with "Ye" ( "Ye, daughter of Chenab......) and soon "doth", "nought", etc. follow.

"No use the rose that blows so red,/ No use the cypress tree," and then the obvious "When she I love is far away/ And cannot be with me..." ("No use the rose"). I am at a loss for words till I reach "Some live for love, some live for hate,/ And some to win renown;/ Some live because their needs must wait;/ I live to dream of you....." ("I live to dream of you"). "Deliverance" for you is ".........Immune to pain and pleasure, both,/ let me go back to my source...." Excuse me !

Rita Malhotra does not "reflect" anything new in her "Reflections" and poems are mere words more often than not. Words after words, lifeless metaphors before, after metaphors, some clichés and then an attempt to surprise you in the last line — just about sums up this collection. Consider "sketched in/ the colour of nothingness/ I thrive/ on borrowed compassion/ disoriented in/ the galaxy of wounds/ gathering....." ("Vacuum"). In her poems, maybe about herself, the central "she", the woman, fails to evoke any empathy or sympathy. The emotion is so completely missing in pieces like "She embarks on the/ long voyage of time/ assembling years merge/ with mundane/ her existence gets/ trivialived as her/ life sprouts only buds/ no flowers/ she becomes intellectually/ paralysed........." ("Renaissance") Yawn! Feminism!? Or just wailing in self-righteous pity.

Then how different do you think is "A thousand tongues lick the Mahatma – lip-service paid to a paper head/ With postage due. Rama has turned blue and translucent, like broken glass......." Aseem Kaul’s "Coffee Spoons" is vibrant, thought-ful and thought-provoking and certainly about more than just himself. Written with an angst against prevailing social, cultural and political order, well-edited verse is full of a point of view and yet away from rhetoric. Sample "....Of the conversation, sobbing in their throats,/ In their saliva; notes out on the broken stoop/ Clattering in the tin mesh of the chicken coop,/ Stale crumbs to hungry beaks, to starving hearts–/ And she says. ‘Give this chick/ Some bread and she’ll lay for you’. Then start/ The trembling of fingers, quick! quick!!......" ("Black and Blues")

Or "The sound of clamorous shutters/ At dawn, and the sun/ Goes off like a flashbulb in the sky./ She holds herself up to the light/ Like an old negative, she is overexposed......../ She gives herself to the fluid arms/ Like a Kodak bride/ Hoping for something to develop......." ("Snapshot").

There are some interesting commentaries as in "She carries her heart up her sleeve/ Like a magic trick; her coughs/ Are always buttoned when/ She clears her throat............Giving herself, the way a flower releases/ Drops of vaished rain (arms evaporating in a slow flush);/ She hoped that no one was looking upon her." ("Office Love").

With titles reading "Ambedkar", "America", "Cathedral", "Christ by Gaslight", "The death of Cleopatra", "Kashmir", this is a collection with a promise, from a second year economics student.

And I might not return the editor’s copy.

— Ravinder Kumar Siwachtop


Meet the dam man and his tough hero

My Tryst with Projects Bhakra & Beas by Jagman Singh. Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. 372. Rs 575.

THE Bhakra Dam, a wonder of engineering as the highest straight-gravity dam in the world, is the pride of India. Nehru said the Bhakra Nangal project was something tremendous, something stupendous, something that shakes one up when he or she sees it. He called it a temple or a place of modern pilgrimage in independent and resurgent India.

Thanks to the Bhakra canals and the electricity produced by the system, the region has witnessed a revolution in agriculture and industrialisation, with the result that the thrice-partitioned Punjab has emerged as the richest state in India, the chief supplier of wheat and rice to the country. Later Haryana too followed suit.

Before Independence, only 10 per cent of water resources was tapped for irrigation and the rest, specially important in an agricultural country like ours, flowed into the sea. The Bhakra dramatically changed that. This dam was conceived as early as 1926. But as usual with government, nothing happened; only files became thicker and thicker.

Things began to move in right earnest only after the arrival of Slocum, an international authority on dam construction.

The writer of this book, Jagman Singh, took his engineering degree from Maclegan College, Lahore (at that time the only such institution in the entire region), and was appointed an SDO at Bhatinda. After some time, he was transferred to the Bhakra project. He did not like it and approached his superintending engineer to request the chief engineer to cancel his transfer. The SE said, "I would rather recommend the termination of your services". Thus he went to the Bhakra, where destiny had great things in store for him.

The Bhakra project site then had no civic amenities — no housing, no electricity, no nothing — there was a tent for residence, a flickering kerosene lamp for light and firewood for warmth in extreme cold. Later houses were constructed and after seven months he got one. The railhead was at Ropar, 60 km away. Rickety buses plied on this deeply rutted kachcha track.

Slocum arrived on the scene. He dubbed all Indian top engineers inefficient and incompetent. He wrote to Nehru about the clumsy and insensitive bureaucracy that seemed bent on stopping progress. There was absolutely no work culture. Slocum drove his car very slowly white Indians tended to drive fast. Indians drive only to get killed. Nature saves them. Indians are in a great hurry only on the roads, but very sluggish in their work.

In despair, Slocum went back to America and swore never to return. But fate willed otherwise. He was persuaded to return, spent 10 years in Nangal, completed the dam and died in India.

Slocum had no formal education and no engineering degree. He had developed his own rules of thumb and by the strength of his compelling personality, he came on top in his chosen profession and became a legend in his lifetime. He was a steely man determined to succeed.

His presence and work style galvanised the staff. Nehru gave him a free hand. So he sent back any engineer or officer who was not up to the mark. Not only the Indian personnel; he sent away even American experts, whose work did not come up to his expectation. The whole scene was electrified. The new work culture banished lethargy and the do-nothing habit. At 10.30 a.m. he was at his job and he looked with disapproving eye at any late comer. He worked with his own hands: our officers came dressed in an immaculate suit, tie and all, as if they had come to a gala party.

Slocum lived and died for work. "Good morning, sir," somebody wished him. "What good morning? Bad morning; rain is falling in torrents and all construction work is at a standstill," he would thunder. Someone left a water tap running. "Water is the most precious commodity; it is criminal to waste it," he admonished, showing his attention to small details.

Slocum felt that safety was not the dominant factor in the various Bhakra programmes. More than a hundred workers died in the construction. When he was taken to the right tunnel, he said, "Jesus Christ, ... do something to stop this treacherous rock." He did not visit the other (left) tunnel.

Thanks to the impact of Slocum’s personality, the mood was upbeat and there was a sense of urgency, enthusiasm, missionary zeal and pride to build a glorious future. All wore common khaki as a sign of equality.

His cult was: "we want actual work, not paper work." There were no bulky files, only direct instructions and chits.

Whisky flowed like water every evening and most engineers (even some women) sometimes got drunk. Later our writer’s wife weaned him from liquor as well as being a vagabond. This chapter reads like an interesting novel. Very creditable for an engineer.

In the success of the project, our writer, then an executive engineer, made significant contribution. This being a pioneering venture, the engineers were groping in the dark; some problems and situations were novel, even for Slocum. Many times our author showed his mettle in solving problems that seemed to defy a solution. Once a bridge was to be built and the problem was how to load and transport heavy beams (eight tonnes each) to the site 200 metres away. With some brisk thinking he solved the problem and his bosses complimented him for this.

The staff consisted mostly of ah hoc engineers. What would happen when the project was completed? They wanted a permanent posting. The job of being their spokesman fell on our author, a natural leader. Darshan and Katoch were two other senior engineers. Slocum is supposed to have said, "If you have these (engineers) and Jagman, you don’t need me." The writer only half-believes it, since he learnt of it from a second-hand source and not from the horse’s mouth.

His success, he claims, was due to two things. "I was a strict disciplinarian and tolerated no insubordination" and, two, "I practised generosity in rewarding good work. And again, by temperament and training, I strove for better and more efficient ways of doing things. I achieved at the project a fair degree of success." Once he completed a job five days ahead of schedule.

We could do with a fewer of such self-compliments.

The Bhakra-Nangal project was completed on time. The saga of Slocum should be made compulsory reading for all who work on similar projects. There are frequent postponements of completion dates and costs multiply. The Bhakra dam cost an incredible Rs 175 crore. The Ranjit Sagar Dam is still being built. Apart from the colossal loss of time and money, what is regrettable is that Pakistan gets our share of water 51 years after Independence because of our inability to complete the dams.

The Bhakra canal system was inaugurated by Nehru on July 7, 1954, and the Bhakra Dam was completed in 1962 and dedicated to the nation.

Then came the Beas project (1962-73). The engineers rendered surplus at the Bhakra were moved to Talwara. With the exit of Slocum the glory was gone but these were the men trained at the Bhakra to succeed, and so the Beas project too was completed on time.

As usual, our author notched up more exploits and innovations here. He built a crane indigenously and the boss was much impressed. He received cash prizes and a gold medal for a paper he wrote. He put down a strike and trade unions turned against him. "If Jagman Singh stays there, the Congress can’t win elections," said Prabodh Chandra, a Punjab hero of yesteryears. He was asked to go on long leave. Later he was forced to leave the dam. A large crowd collected to bid him farewell. All "wept bitterly"; there was not "a dry eye".

So he took over as Chief Engineer of the MITC. Bansi Lal asked him if he could produce high capacity water pumps to provide water to the arid fields of Bhiwani. "Yes, sir, I can."

"Cost?" "Nil sir." But others quoted Rs 6 to 8 crore. These would be designed at the MITC and manufactured at the government workshop at Karnal. He was all the time springing surprises. After retirement, he joined private construction companies, for as he quotes Voltaire to say, "Work saves you from three things — boredom, vice and need."

The first chapter of the book is the story of his early years. In fact the book is his autobiography against the background of dams. Now autobiography is a tricky art. People can take it from the Hitlers, the Nehrus and the Gandhis (they seek in them secrets of their personal rise), but what of you and me? The reader is allergic to any self-praise of the writer and the writer wants nothing else. The reader has a suspicion that it is not the real story but the author’s imagined version of how things should have happened.

His father, Ch Dewa Singh, started as a school master and rose to be an inspector of schools and principal of a training college. He fought an election against Bansi Lal in his home town Tosham and, of course, lost. His mother wore a burqa, the prevalent fashion of the Muslim aristocracy.

The book is packed with thousands of names of "little great men" who touched his life. He evidently felt great joy in reviving the memory and trying to make them immortal in his narrative. But such details only bore the reader.

To sum up. Despite it being a saga of self-glorification, often substituting wishful thinking for facts, at places with a touch of slight exaggeration and vetting, this is still a great book, rewarding reading, and will expand the reader’s mental horizon.

P. D. Shastri top


A pleasure girl’s life of pain

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Vintage, London. Pp. 434. £ 6.99.

"I WOULDN’T be caught dead reading this book." That was my first reaction when my former boss suggested I read this highly recommended and critically acclaimed book. It took a little bit of her charm and a broader definition of the term "geisha" before I actually got hooked on to this book. So did the rest of my friends who subsequently ended up reading the book they wouldn’t want to be caught dead with.

If I were to use just three words to define this book, they would be vivid, beautiful, captivating. It is also the kind of book that leaves you on the edge in the sheer hope that it would never end. That is part of the reason why I found the end so disappointing. The subject matter, the history, the plot and the story just leaves you hungry for more.

So what is this celebrated story all about? This story is a rare and engaging experience about the life of a geisha Sayuri. Through her narrative the lives of several others in her time unfolds. This extraordinary tale summons up a quarter century from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history. Sayuri’s story opens a half-hidden world of eroticism, exploitation and degradation.

Though the character of Sayuri and her story are completely invented, the historical facts of geisha’s day-to-day life in the 1930s and the 1940s are not. The obvious result of this engrossing mix between fact and fiction is a novel that covers the broad social canvas like the Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s works.

According to Arthur Golden’s absorbing first novel, the word geisha does not mean a "prostitute as westerners ignorantly assume — it means an artist". To capture the geisha experience, Golden trained as hard as any geisha would. After earning a degree in art history specialising in Japanese history, he worked towards a masters in Japanese history from Columbia University. Here he also learnt Mandarin. After a summer at Beijing University, he went to work in a magazine in Tokyo. It was in Tokyo that he met a man who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This led to 10 years of painstaking research. Golden spent time researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the rich and the famous.

The result is the story of Chiyo (later known as Nitta Sayuri) that begins as that of a fishing village girl in 1929. Her fisherman father sells her to an okiya (house) in Kyoto’s famous Gion district. Her grey-eyed beauty is startling even in her childhood. Here she works as a maid who earns the wrath of the primary geisha of the okiya, Hatsumomo, because of her beauty. At one level, this can be construed as a pretty girl earning the envy of someone older, while at another level it is a rather common case of seniors petrifying juniors. However, Hatsumomo’s meanness towards Sayuri only earns Sayuri the reader’s pity.

Sayuri makes a foiled escape attempt from the geisha house soon after she is sold. This results in the loss of her trainee status under Hatsumomo. Later, Hatsumomo’s rival Mameha takes her under her wings. She flourishes under Mameha’s skillful guidance, acquires the name Sayuri, is made a daughter of the okiya and even fetches the highest price for her mizuage (virginity). The implications of Japan’s militarism and the shortages that were bound to ensue make Mahema pair up Sayuri with an army general. The war drags on and Sayuri’s okiya manages to get certain things other houses cannot.

Though the desperation of war also jolts Sayuri out of the comfort of her Gion home. She has to find work as a menial worker for a while but her life is not as bad as those who end up in the factories. After the end of the war, with the General dead, other men start vying for her attention and
Sayuri begins her life afresh. She finally gets to devote her life to the only man she has ever loved. He is the chairman of an electrical corporation who had left a marked impact on her when she was a crying Chiyo. Her long thwarted desire gets accomplished towards the end, but trouble has a habit of brewing in the most unexpected of places. Sayuri is forced to leave Japan and start afresh in the USA when the chairman’s eldest daughter is to get married.

Her final move is an effort to rediscover herself once again and to find a rare kind of freedom on her own terms, with all the risks that it entails. "Memoirs of a Geisha" is not just a book about the life of Nitta Sayuri; it is a book that brims with metaphors, nuances and history. Its memorable characters come alive through all the humour and pathos with which the book is rendered. It is a rare slice of Japanese history that comes alive in this intimately original novel.

As one progresses from page to page Sayuri’s rich yet soft voice unfolds real-life dramas of immense magnitude with ease. It is her voice that takes the reader behind the deceptive rice-paper screen to a world of beauty and cruelty. And the history of that era and the style of this extraordinarily gifted writer leaves one hungry for more.

That is precisely why one hope that "Memoirs of a Geisha" is just the beginning of a long, fruitful ending for Arthur Golden.

— Deepika Gurdevtop

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