Why many Punjab farmers
continue to suffer?
In Bhandari's war, there
are no winnners
not much change in 200 years
Why many Punjab farmers continue to suffer?
Political Economy of the Punjab: An Insiders Account by Pritam Singh. M.D. Publications, Delhi. Pp. 332. Rs 575.
THIS book has not received the wide notice that it deserves. The author has by a conscious choice titled it "Political Economy of the Punjab", as in his view, pure economics does not help in understanding the tricky situation. Even as Punjab boasts of the highest per capita income in the country, the state has almost gone bankrupt. It has the dubious distinction of being the highest indebted state. It is lagging in the field of health and education. Its road communication system is a shambles. There is widespread unemployment. The eco-system has become very fragile due to over-exploitation of natural resources.
The author covers Punjabs development in the political context that preceded its formation as a unilingual state in 1966 and the subsequent course of politics. In the authors opinion, "Punjab was conceived in sin against the secular polity. The state is jinxed since its birth. The ethno-cultural values which could help in harnessing the social energy for accelerating the process of soci-economic transformation, got turned into impediments due to thoughtless homogenising policies pursued by the powerful hegemonic forces". The upsurge of ethnicity, according to this book, is nothing but a revolt against the attempts at mindless homogenisation ignoring ethnic development. The state, therefore, is under the triple spell of "discrimination, deprivation, and dependency syndrome", the author says.
He elaborates this view under three major topics. The first is with regard to the tortuous period of nearly 20 years since independence and the reorganisation of the states in the country in general and of Punjab in particular. While all over the country, states were formed on a linguistic basis, Punjab was treated as an exception. The subject has been covered thoroughly bringing out the various solutions that were thought of but not implemented except in name.
Distribution of river waters and the associated question of a share in power generation and use of the waters for non-consumptive purposes, for thermal and hydel generation within Punjab, the control of the Bhakra-Beas Management Board are the other vital subjects for the state of Punjab. The author has dealt with this subject comprehensively.
The non-formation of Punjabi Suba and the executive fiat on the river water distribution thus account for the sense of discrimination and were an important factor that destroyed the Congress and the moderate Akali factions to the advantage of the extremists and secessionists.
The third and the important part of the book contains data and the authors views on the economy of Punjab, and the "exploitation" it has suffered at the hands of the Central Government. He argues that the per capita income in Punjab, the highest in the country, gives a misleading picture. He quotes from Gerald M.Meirs "Leading Issues on Economic Development" to the effect that development economists no longer worship at the alter of the GNP. They concentrate more directly on the quality of the development process. The author refers to a wealth of data to prove that because of administered prices of foodgrains and the exploitative behaviour of the Food Corporation of India, the surplus grain of the Punjab farmer is "extracted" for the benefit of the consumer in the rest of the country.
In the authors view the fertiliser subsidy is of no benefit as it is given to the domestic producers in order to make them competitive against cheap imports. These and other inputs such as diesel are also regulated by the government. The high cost of agriculture and deliberately suppressed procurement prices have wiped out the profits of the green revolution. The Centre has been circumscribing the decision-making autonomy of the state through various levers in order to confine it to being a cereal economy.
Likewise, Punjab which was getting central assistance to the extent of 59 per cent of its outlays, lost its second and third position and went way down in the matter of central assistance under the Gadgil formula in the fourth Plan. He blames the states lack of industrial development on the Centres discriminatory attitude towards industrial licensing and public sector investment, denial of certain railway projects, etc. He also attributes the environmental degradation and Punjabs backwardness in the health and education sectors to the Central Governments policies.
This part of the book, even as it contains very useful data and a certain analytical framework, suffers from the author having closed his macro eye, if he had one to begin with. In the process, the book is taken up with a statement of the problems without taking a position on certain vital policy issues. It also lets off the state leadership rather lightly and does not give an alternative design and perspective.
The contradiction in his argument arises out of the fact that while he argues for a substantially reduced role for the Central Government, he also wants the Centre to play a substantial and helpful role in the context of Punjab where needed. In fact he views the whole exercise as consisting of only two players the Central Government and the Punjab state. Take the example of central assistance. The Gadgil formula was adopted as a result of the collective pressure of Chief Minister. It was felt that the schematic assistance pattern gave enormous discretion to the Central Government and the Planning Commission to help some states and withhold help from others.
The Gadgil formula, therefore, was aimed at taking away the discretion of the Central Government. The high level of project/scheme-based assistance which Punjab used to receive came down. The Gadgil formula gave block grants and loans based on population at 60 per cent weightage, 10 per cent for states whose per capita income was below the national average, 10 per cent on the basis of efforts made for additional resource mobilisation, 10 per cent on account of ongoing power and irrigation projects and the remaining 10 per cent for special problems. Since the last 10 per cent was given as discretionary grant, Punjab also could get it without going into the definition of special problems. This was the only discretionary resource in central assistance.
Thus it is only on one account namely, its per capita income compared to the national average that it lost 10 per cent. Central assistance as a percentage of the state Plan outlay will naturally look very low if the outlay itself is very high.
The population of Punjab is also low. Against this, UP with a population of 14 crore, Bihar seven crore, Bengal six crore, do not have proportionately higher outlays. The higher central assistance to other states under the Gadgil formula is a device for bridging the disparities in development and preventing their widening.
Since the Central Government is responsible for development of all states in the country, it has to maintain a macro balance. Consider Kashmir, the North East, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with their large tribal population or drought prone or desert areas and hill states and the perspective is corrected.
The author does not accept that the presence of the Food Cooperation of India, which provides assured marketing of Punjabs surplus grain, has been a powerful catalyst in the green revolution. Today, in the background of a seventh consecutive good monsoon, concerns about shortage of foodgrains and the macro management of food security have receded from our minds. It would be a good idea to try out the suggestion of Dr M.S. Gill, which the author quotes with approval namely, to have one years procurement as a central reserve and thereafter leaving the sale of foodgrains by the surplus states as a matter between them and the deficit states.
Attractive as this proposition is, one bad monsoon can create great problems. In fact the deficit states themselves would be hard put to managing their purchases from the surplus states. Both the surplus and the deficit states would suffer havoc at the hands of the middle men (arhtis) in describing whose exploitative practices and clout, the author has devoted quite some space.
Likewise, if the Central government has to have a fertiliser subsidy at the production stage, it has also to take into account this subsidy while determining the administered prices of foodgrains. To stop the domestic production of fertiliser and take resource to the international market, would create a big draft on the foreign exchange resource a critical constraint in macro economic management. Even after permitting free import, it is doubtful if the international prices would remain low all the time.
Apart from fertiliser subsidy, the maintenance of the public distribution system is itself a great burden on the central exchequer. Administered prices at levels which would satisfy farmers with a disposable surplus would correspondingly increase the commitment on account of consumer subsidy. The problem, therefore, is complex for any one charged with the responsibility of macro management of the national economy, which cannot be tailored to the situation in one state. In fact even the large number of small and marginal farmers in Punjab would be hard put to paying high prices of foodgrains in a lean season.
The authors perception that the number of sugar mills was being deliberately restricted in Punjab with a view to confining its economy to cereal production is also not well founded. A number of badly sited sugar mills, which the author discusses, was because influential politicians in the state were behind it. His view that it was the dictate of the central policy that required licensing sugar mills in the cooperative sector which the author regards as inefficient compared to the private sector, is also not borne out. Till liberalisation in 1991, the cooperative sector was the favourite of the state politicians and "progressive" bureaucrats who found direct control of the Cooperative Department over these mills more convenient than private sector management.
The book could have gained a lot if the author had gone into the question of the right cropping pattern for the state in the light of its natural endowment and then raised the question about organising a market cover for diversified agriculture. Judged by these tests, neither sugarcane nor paddy cultivation is a desirable cropping pattern for the state relative to its rainfall and agro-climatic conditions. Both these crops put a severe stain on ground water resources. Even if the central government were to be turned out of foodgrain procurement, the farmer will not gain unless he grows what the Punjabs comparative advantage warrants and markets it to his best advantage. Unfortunately because of assured procurement, the Punjab leadership itself clamours for the FCIs continued role.
The authors criticism that the Centres licensing policy and the Industrial Development and Regulation Act were operated to the special disadvantage of Punjab is not borne out. Even in the matter of central public sector investments, it is well worth remembering that 90 per cent of central investments are location specific such as coal, steel, oil, metals and minerals or private sick units which were nationalised. Further it is an established fact that these capital intensive industries may serve the national priorities but do not make any difference to the states economy because the employment multiplier of these projects is not high. The best solution for Punjab, therefore, is an appropriate cropping pattern in agriculture, diversification, agro-processing and better post-harvest technology, etc. and an industrial strategy that suits its circumstances.
Now about the states own management of its finances. The author is silent about how the states resources are being squandered through mindless populism. Free water, electricity, writing off of land revenue have told on the states resources and capacity for further investment. Seventy per cent of the state budget is devoted to the wage bill of the employees. Even the market committees mis-siting, delayed construction and commissioning and poor facilities in the yards are the result of the State Governments own performance, for which the central government cannot be blamed. Its entire educational and health infrastructure suffers largely on account of the absentee employee class.
There are a number of other issues in the book around the theme of central exploitation but constraint of space does not permit detailed comments on these.
Despite all these, the author must be complimented for the formidable array of data he has marshalled and an analytical framework he has built up. Even as one may disagree with his view that Punjab alone is suffering and that too solely on account of the central government, the book is extremely useful as a reference material. One comes across very few books which pack so much date and information in 313 pages.
The book has been written in a racy style and makes very interesting reading. It is a useful publication and should sharpen the public debate on several questions that the author has raised.
P. H. Vaishnav
Does a transplant have roots
Shiva Dancing by Bharti Kirchner. Dutton, New York. Pp. 326. $ 23.95.
EXPATRIATE writers. They are generally branded as exiles. Their lot is unenviable. Where to they belong? To the new land where they have relocated? Or to the country they have their roots in? In most cases they occupy an uncertain space somewhere between two antipodal territories, mentally and emotionally suspended between two disparate cultures, belonging a little here and a little there, but actually nowhere. Their plight may be likened to the legendary character Trishanku who tried to ascend to the heaven but found himself suspended upside down between the earth and the sky.
Diasporic writing reflects such a state of mental suspension. Bi-cultural worlds are presented as the author tries to work out a fusion between the two, sometimes resulting in frustration and despair, sometimes in an uneasy compromise, and sometimes in utopias of the mind. The lost world is recreated as an Eden and from their postlapsarian location writers and critics have written much about their "imaginary homelands" and "imagined communities". Quite often, diasporic writing enacts a homeward journey which begins as wish-fulfilment but ends as a crude awakening to reality. In the writings of the Indian diaspora, the journey motif figures prominently, whether it is V.S. Naipauls return to the area of darkness that abounds in a million mutinies, or Bharati Mukherjis home-coming as the Tigers Daughter, to the Calcutta of an irretrievably lost childhood and adolescence.
The journey to the East, the much-longed for homeward trek, is a motif that surfaces again in "Shiva Dancing" by Bharti Kirchner who was born and brought up in India but left for the USA in the sixties to pursue the study of mathematics. There she got into computer sciences and became a systems manager and a software specialist. She visits India frequently, sometimes for a few months at a stretch. An enthusiastic cook, she is the author of several cook books. "Shiva Dancing" is her first work of fiction. A second novel, "Sharmilas Story", is in press.
The ground that Kirchner explores in "Shiva Dancing" is predictably a tentative one between different ways of life, different modes of seeing, thinking, and believing. If one were to state the facts baldly, "Shiva Dancing" begins with a child-marriage where the seven-year-old bride is abducted immediately after the wedding, removed to a western locale and reunited with her childhood companion/husband only after a gap of 28 years. Meena Kumari, the child bride, belongs to an illiterate and backward community living against the backdrop of the rolling sand dunes of Rajasthan. Here little, if anything, changes.
Kidnapped by dacoits immediately after her wedding, she is rescued by a rich American couple who take her to the USA. There she grows up to be a poised and confident super-woman of sorts, pursuing a successful career in computers. And yet, deeply ingrained in her psyche is the memory of the dry, sandy terrain where she once had roots. At the age of 35 she finally does get an opportunity to return to India to her long lost love, Vishnu, trying to set the clock back to a time in the remote past.
"Shiva Dancing" unfolds along several parallel lines. It traces the separate lives of Meena Kumari and Vishnu; it places before its readers two separate cultures, the western and the eastern; it moves on the materialistic plane, charting the professional ups and downs of its characters even as it narrates the story of the main protagonists emotional growth from arrested adolescence to maturity; it employs the overriding motif of the dance of Shiva performed in gaiety and triumph, symbolising the great cosmic dance of creation that will go on forever, the divine energy that cannot be restrained; it posits divergent points of view, separate worlds that must remain distinct, that can never be coerced into a whole.
Straddling these worlds, moving in search of roots from the one to the other, the protagonist must make a choice. This choice would necessarily involve giving up the one in favour of the other. This is what makes it painful. And yet the idea of choice and free will is reconciled with destiny, leading to an acceptance of the situation so that finally, in the resolution, the idea that is underscored is that this was writ and needs must be.
Keeping in mind the biographical details of the authors life lived partly in India and partly in the USA, a question that inevitably comes to mind relates to the autobiographical content of the novel. How much of the authors own experiences go into the making of her book? How much of the creators viewpoint does the protagonist present?
Like her protagonist, Kirchners was once a predominantly Indian sensibility which is now undoubtedly an American one. Her Indianness seems fragile: she needs to look for it and hang on to it precariously.
This is evident from her western orientation as she makes a conscious effort to capture and present a culture fading in memory an exercise that often makes her fall back on stereotypes. But by deliberately evoking the stereotypical and the sentimental, Kirchner is trying to show how a successful woman in the American industry may still suffer an "identity crisis". When Meena does try and recover her past she realises the futility of her effort. She discovers, in Kirchners words, that "you cant go home again".
The story rests on a weak hinge the role played by memory: the individuals capacity to recall the past, especially when the past is that which occurs in the first seven years of ones life. How much of what the adult Meena remembers of the first seven years of her life may one take as reliable? And is it not strange that the memory not only retains its vividness despite the passage of time but also seems to become more compelling, growing into a call that may not be denied?
But one may, perhaps, anticipate some flaws in a first novel. Kirchners story makes some demands on the reader: it demands a willing suspension of disbelief, and an acceptance of the narrated tale. Only then it is possible to probe further, examine the impulses that underlie the narrative, and determine what exactly the author is trying to convey.
It is not simply the physical terrain of India that the writer tries to look back to. The eastern philosophical tradition, its myths and legends are also evoked through the title, "Shiva Dancing". In the dance of Shiva, Kirchner sees "the chaos and the balance that is so much a part of modern life. Not always one of triumph, it may be performed in many moods and may be taken as a dance of celebration, of anger, revenge, or destruction.
In "Shiva Dancing," the dance is one of abandon, fulfilment and completion. It symbolises cosmic harmony, the ceaseless rhythm of the eternal world which will carry on regardless of the petty rise and fall of human civilisations, the struggles and conflicts in lives that are ephemeral, the shallow pulls and pressures of individual existence. And yet this very Indian motif is used as the backdrop of a life lived in the USA.
The book, thus, brings together the East and the West, a theme that is predominant in the works of writers of the Indian diaspora. It seeks to answer some of the questions that plague the writers on the personal, emotional, and intellectual level. And the answer it comes up with, as in Meenas story, is there is no going home. For "home" is a world that has now changed beyond recognition. It is a milestone left behind. Left behind forever.
In Bhandari's war, there
As I Saw It by Romesh Bhandari. Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi. Pp. 326. Rs 495.
DANTE, in his "The Divine Comedy" has graded low-grade sinners like panders, seducers, flatterers, sorcerers, hypocrites, thieves, sowers of scandals and schisms in society and falsifiers of every sort into the eighth circle of hell one lower than the last one to undergo the punishment they deserve. Corrupt politicians, "barterers, the malefactors who made secret and vile traffic of their public offices and authority, in order to gain money" have been placed in the middle part of this circle. The Indian political elites, notorious for their acts of thievery, felony and cupidity, deserve a pit lower than the one prescribed in Dantes hell for such seedy creatures.
Indian politics, marked of late by a series of mega scams, utter disregard of elementary norms and propriety, gross misuse of social identities like caste, community and region to further ones narrow ends and pathological craving for power and pelf, has become a veritable hell. The book under review provides an insight into this hell. It makes interesting reading as its author has long been a denizen of this dark and dismal world.
Romesh Bhandari, a career diplomat of long standing, describes his experience as Governor of UP during the recent turbulent times in the book under review. There is nothing new or novel in it. It is a compilation or rather a rehash of recent political developments in UP already reported and discussed extensively in the media. What is distinctive is Bhandaris interpretation of important events.
Bhandari came for virulent criticism for his links with shady characters like tantric Chandraswami and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, his extravagant living style as Governor and his handling of the political events in UP during his brief but highly controversial tenure as Governor. The book has a two-fold purpose. First, the author wants to come clean on his shady links and his living style. Second, he is keen to prove that his detractors led by Kalyan Singh are real culprits, subverters of the Indian Constitution, and his own lamb-like innocence was sullied by his foes for petty personal ends.
Bhandari describes his shady links as accidental. "I had got to know Chandraswami rather accidentally," and "I liked the man as a human being," he observes. Similarly he argues that his meeting with Khashoggi in the USA in 1985 was also accidental. But such a chance encounter does not explain Khashoggi attending the marriage of Bhandaris son in India and his son spending the first night of his honeymoon on the luxury yacht of Khashoggi.
While countering the charge of wasteful expenditure on the renovation of Raj Bhawan at Lucknow, Bhandari flaunts his lineage in his defence. "Thanks to my ancestory and marriage, money has never been a problem," asserts Bhandari. But he forgets that people for whom money is no problem, do not have a right to squander and plunder public wealth.
It was Bhandaris handling of some complex political situations in UP which led to a fierce controversy. The October, 1995 Assembly elections in UP produced a hung House with the BJP as the single largest party. Bhandari "had some research done" on whether the Governor had to invite the single largest party to form a government and then give it time to secure the confidence of the House or could Presidents rule be imposed without the Assembly being convened. His "research" yielded a precedent of the second kind.
In a similar situation in 1965, V.V. Giri, the then Governor of Kerala, had recommended Presidents rule without inviting anyone to form a government. "This precedant of 1965 was most appropriate as for as I was concerned," observes Bhandari.
But his research was of such poor quality that it failed to take note of another precedent of a much latter date. In 1982, G.D. Tapase, the then Governor of Haryana, invited the Congress, the single largest party in a hung Assembly, to form a government and gave it a months time to prove its majority. Which precedent was more relevant in the UP context is a moot point but what is important is that Bhandaris "research" yielded a pre-conceived result.
The ridiculous experiment of sharing power between the BSP and the BJP in UP on a rotation basis produced bizarre results. After Mayawatis six-month term was over, the power was handed over to the BJP under the leadership of Kalyan Singh. Subsequently, the BSP withdrew its support and Kalyan Singh was asked to prove his majority on the floor of the House. This Assembly session saw mayhem of the worst order. There were riotous scenes which have been memorably recorded on video tapes to show the depth of degeneration of parliamentary behaviour.
After this notorious Assembly session in which Kalyan Singh succeeded in proving his majority, through means howsoever questionable, Bhandari recommended Presidents rule. The Central Government accepted the recommendation but the President of India wanted reconsideration. It was this act of the President which put Bhandari in a patently wrong spot.
Subsequently, it was the unseemly hurry in which he installed Jagdambika Pal, a member of the breakaway Congress group which had aligned with the BJP, in power which drew a lot of criticism. What happened afterwards is history.
Bhandari fails to come out clean on any of the counts. But he eminently succeeds in depicting the vile deeds of his detractors in the BJP camp in a right perspective. To save its government, the BJP opted for large scale trading in legislators. This operation, shorn of all principles and norms, has not been seen anywhere else in the country. Even Haryana, the progenitor of "Aya Rams and Gaya Rams" in Indian politics, pales into insignificance.
Kalyan Singh liberally rewarded everybody who had left his parent party to join hands with him for a share in the loaves and fishes of office. All 22 defectors from the Congress, all 12 defectors from the BSP and all three defectors from the Janata Dal were made ministers. Then there were his own party men and allies in the Samata Party. The result was a 93-member ministry.
Several history-sheeters involved in cases ranging from murder to kidnapping, rape and smuggling, adorned the ministry.
The BSP had a strength of 67 MLAs. Only 12 had defected. This did not constitute one-third of the strength, a mandatory requirement under the anti-defection law. But the Speaker gave recognition to this group. The case is before the Supreme Court.
Kalyan Singh did succeed in saving his ministry but he dealt a deadly blow to the image of his party. His shady political deals has gone a long way in eroding the moral basis of the BJP. Its leaders have always tried to project the BJP as a party with a difference. An important ideologue of the Sangh Parivar is never tired of talking of the "chehra, chaal, chintan and charitra" (image, working norms, thinking and character) of the BJP, but all this is mud now. The same gentleman dismissed the UP episode and the BJPs electoral alliance with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu as aberrations but subsequent events have proved that this is the partys norm. The pre-election slogan of "able Prime Minister and stable government" has turned out to be a hoax, thanks to the BJPs amoral politics.
What Bhandari did has damaged an individual, himself, and he had to quit in disgrace. But what Kalyan Singh has done has caused lasting damage to his party.
D. R. Chaudhry
Women, not much change
The Secret Self: Short Stories by Women. Selected and introduced by Hermione Lee. Everymans Library.
HERMIONE LEE explains on the title page that this anthology derives its title from what Katherine Mansfield once said about her story "At the bay": "One tries to go deep to speak to the secret self we all have." Not only abstract concepts like mysticism, behavioural science, psychological, especially Freudian, studies, but also creativity in visual, literary and performing arts find their echo in "The Secret Self".
Almost all major historical upheavals could be traced to the secret feelings and emotions of key players. For instance, Hitler might not have persecuted Jews if his mother (a Jew herself) had not abandoned him in childhood. It is only when the secret self is filled to the brim and becomes a heavy burden that it finds its outlet in the form of creativity or destruction, but always different from normal social behaviour.
The present volume is a collection of short stories which bring out the feelings of love, hatred, disgust and fantasy, often lying hidden in the human bosom. Reading the stories, readers can empathise with the characters and comfort themselves on the idea that literary giants have also experienced similar emotional storms.
Another noteworthy feature of the 33 short stories is that they span over two centuries, providing a continuum of writing from all continents. Still the stories appear fresh and relevant to our time. Cross-cultural diversities have also been woven successfully into these crisp pieces.
The authors explore the prevailing sensitivities and portray women characters in subtle totality,with all their desire as wives, lovers, mistresses or indulging in sheer fantasies. These pieces also depict the delights and deprivations, fulfilments and dreams, romances and pathos that a woman experiences through her life. Naturally, since the theme of the volume is to project woman through different historical periods and social situations and in all her moods, which often remains hidden in real life.
Now a few words about a few stories. In "The Storm", Kate Chopin brings out the inner storm of two old lovers, Calixta and Alcee, when they find themselves thrown together in Calixtas house during a storm with no one to disturb them.
The description of this scene must have been path-breaking in the late 18th century when it was written. "They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms. She was revelation in that dim, mysterious chamber; as white as the couch she lay upon. Her firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birth right, was like a creamy lily that the sun invites to contribute its breath and perfume to the undying life of the world... And when he possessed her, they seemed to swoon together at the very borderland of lifes mystery."
It was just one of those storms after which the sun shines rendering life as normal as it can be.
"The man without a temperament" is a slightly eerie story of a couple, in which Robert is looking after his invalid wife who requires a salubrious climate. Katherine Manfield depicts Robert as a person who mechanically and meaningfully looks after his ailing wife, but every time he looks at the signet ring, some secret thoughts cross his mind, revealed only at the end of the story.
He whispers "rot" in reply to his wifes apology for waking him to remove a mosquito from her net.
"The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara is about a young black teacher who secretly wants to prepare the blacks of America to fight against the injustice of white capitalism. She takes them to an expensive toy shop and a museum, at the end of the visit one of the children remarks: "You know, Miss Moore, I dont think all us have put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs." And Miss Moores secret desire finds fulfilment.
"The Lottery" by Marjorie Barnard and "Weekend" by Fay Weldon are expressive portrayals of women as silent sufferers in marriage. In "The Lottery" the last hope of Grace, a dutiful middle class wife, is fulfilled by a lottery of £ 5000, which provides her an opportunity to seek freedom. Grace had been buying lottery tickets by selling pieces of jewelry left to her by her mother. Any other way of finding money would never escape the eyes of her husband.
In "Weekend" Martha is a career woman, a dutiful mother, a devoted wife (one who is also excellent in bed despite being tired), and a careful upper middle class hostess because her husband Martin expects her to do all that. He even has jibes at her or the children to show that Martha could do better.
His remarks that Marthas car has become old with broad hips are actually directed at Martha, when in reality he is comparing her with his friends mistress. Martha suffers all these indignities until finally she breaks down thinking of the future of her daughter "Jenny: wife, mother, friend" when she starts having her periods.
"Two hanged women", a story of the secret desires of two women for each other, is by Henry Herald Richardson, while "One for the islands" is a sheer purposeless fantasy of a woman. "Svayamvara", one of the three feminist fables by Suniti Namjoshi, highlights a womans desire that her dream man should have the courage to accept defeat.
In fact the theme of the anthology is best traced to or identified in "The White Doll" by K. Arnold Price. Here the father remarks to his son: "We cannot hope to understand other peoples lives. Lives are really very private. They are mysterious. They are hermatic."
All in all, the stories in this anthology pack powerful narration and ebullient description, often quite bold and unconventional but then these are the representative samples of almost two centuries of evolution of literature and societies across the world.
It must have been a real job for Hermione Lee to put together this selection. Well done!
Jivtesh Singh Maini