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Sunday, March 21, 1999
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The other side of woman’s desire
Facing the Mirror — Lesbian Writing from India edited by Ashwini Sukthankar. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 409. Rs 295.
Reviewed by Kuldip Dhiman

Born to cultural turmoil
Punjabi literature
by Jaspal Singh

Unlearnt lessons of Sri Lankan gamble
Operation Pawan by Thakur Kuldip S. Ludra. Strategic Research Centre Publication, Chandigarh. Pages 100. Rs 400.
Reviewed by H.S. Sodhi

About 1857 mutiny & 1998 battle
Armed Struggle for Freedom by Sahityacharya Balshastri Haridas. Jagriti Prakashan, Noida. Pages xvi+439. Rs 400.
On Coalition Course by Arun Kumar. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 200 . Rs 290.
1999 Diamond Horoscope by Maharishi Gopal Sharma. Diamond Pocket Books, New Delhi. Pages 363. Rs 95.
Reviewed by Randeep Wadehra

Don’t blame the male for all faults
Listening Now by Anjana Appachana. IndiaInk, New Delhi. Pages 510. Rs 395.
Reviewed by Ravinder Kumar Siwach

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

The other side of woman’s desire

Facing the Mirror — Lesbian Writing from India edited by Ashwini Sukthankar. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 409. Rs 295.

Reviewed by Kuldip Dhiman

COMING in the wake of the controversy generated by Geeta Mehta’s film "Fire", Penguin Books’ new offering "Facing the Mirror – Lesbian Writing from India", a collection of essays, poems and confessions, tries to prove the point that what we don’t see in the open does not necessarily mean it doesn’t exist. Even educated women and men, when asked a direct question about lesbianism, will first feign ignorance; if they accept they know what it is, they will say it doesn’t exist, at least in India. It is an evil, they will stress, that is the result of gross westernisation and satellite television.

They will feel utterly embarrassed if it is pointed out that lesbianism is as old, or even older, as our culture, and is even a part of it. Words such as sakhi and saheli originally denoted a lesbian partner. Most kings, queens, badshahs and begums had a retinue of pleasure girls who aroused the queen, and also took part in the final act. Now, modern Indian lesbians have coined a euphemism for themselves, samyonik, from the Sanskrit sam: union and yoni: female genitalia

In her introduction to the book in question, Ashwini Sukthankar writes: "Our status as myth means that many people truly believe we don’t exist, and it means inhabiting the domain of their ignorance, which is neither acceptance nor condemnation. It means being able to live together and spending time with each other, as long as the sexual root of the relationship is never discussed with anyone. It means that it causes no comment when women meet together in public, or in groups – but only as long as we act ‘normal’. . . . It means that, even if we don’t live outside the law, as gay men do in our country, we live between its lines."

Giti Thadani elaborates on this "invisibility" in her short but crisp essay "Silence and Invisibility": "In India, the phenomenon of lesbian invisibility is linked to the myth of tolerance which makes two contradictory statements: first, that lesbians do not exist and, second, that there is no discrimination against them." In a country where heterosexuality is a taboo and sexual harassment of women rampant, how can one expect tolerance for other "deviant" forms of sex?

Our religions, customs and laws are designed for the sole benefit of men; the position of women is worse than animals. Women have practically no say in most of the decisions about their lives, such as education, career or marriage. How would it be if men were married off against their wishes, and if they had to spend the rest of their lives with women whom they hardly knew before marriage; if women treated them as mere objects or slaves?

This agony comes out poignantly in "Words, Yours and Mine" by Mani and Palash: "It seemed to us that everything was over. The red bridal garments that would adorn our bodies looked like a golden future to our families, but to us it was as though they were buying us our shrouds." Another contributor, M.G., had to flee to the USA because "we couldn’t live together in this city, or for that matter, in this country. It was not because it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done or isn’t being done. It was because we couldn’t have done it."

The book does a good job of bringing to light the traumatic experiences of lesbians, but some essays analysing the psychological aspects should have been included telling us why some women go "astray" or are born that way? The two most popular theories concerning the roots of living behaviour are Freud’s psychoanalysis-psychodynamic theory and behaviourism based on the work of neurophysiologist Pavlov. Psychologists believe that there are some women who are biologically lesbian in nature; some are bi-sexual, and some turn lesbian because they do not get emotional and physical satisfaction from men. But the answer is not as simple as that, and it will take some more research to understand the phenomenon.

Men seem to be too preoccupied with their own ideas about ideal love, ideal marriage, ideal sex and ideal family. They brag about their sexual prowess blatantly, while their women tolerate their crude advances night after night, and ultimately doze off unsatisfied, and at times wounded and humiliated by the experience. Way back in 1978 Gloria Steinem wrote if men could menstruate, they would brag about it and say for "how long and how much".

And to be sure, sexual pleasure is not the only thing women seek; they need love, compassion, understanding, and tenderness. Most women feel men don’t listen to them enough, they just believe in penetrative sex; they don’t understand what it means to touch, to be close, as Sheena, one of the contributors, puts it, "Commitment can only work between two like-minded single people, otherwise the emotional pain is so immense that no amount of sexual gratification is worth it."

In "Coming to Women", Preeti narrates why she chose to become a lesbian. "I started realising that I was so much comfortable with women because I didn’t feel sexually threatened or degraded by them. If it had been at all possible for me to have grown up in a society in which men didn’t exploit women like this, I might not have become a lesbian at all."

Another battered woman’s poem says it all.

"My heart has turned into/an emotional vampire/by licking/ other women’s wounds."

But turning to women doesn’t solve problems automatically. Women are known to hurt women, exploit one another, be jealous of their partner. Ashwini Sukthankar’s well written "Break-up of a ‘Boston Marriage’." highlights this aspect of woman-to-woman relationship.

Although there are some very well written pieces, and some good poems, most of the contributions are not, as even the editor accepts, writing in the strict sense. If you pick up this book expecting lurid scenes, although there are a few of them, you might be disappointed.

The belligerence that is so often associated with this genre such as group sex, wearing rubber, flagellation, fetishes, and other sadomasochistic acts are conspicuous by their absence either because the contributors are too inhibited or are politically too correct. One of the reasons could be that not all the contributors are professional writers, and because they are speaking out for the first time, they have restrained themselves for fear of censure and ridicule.

But things must change, and society must be a little more sympathetic if not indulgent towards the minority that is unable to be a part of accepted norms. A similar cruel punishment has been meted out to transvestites, transsexuals, gays, fetishists, and hijras; they have been ostracised, discriminated against, ridiculed for no fault of their own. And such people must on their part be responsible towards society, and not exhibit their sexual preferences too openly, and too militantly.

One wonders if such people ever write anything down, and even if they did, would they get away with it? Suppressing a "problem"only makes it more acute. In the Foreword to a similar book "The Undergrowth of Literature," Dr David Stafford-Clark suggests that "only by bringing into the open light of day the tangled undergrowth of literature, which swarms with its own lonely intensity and vigour, like the twilight vegetation of a sub-tropical jungle where the sun never penetrates, can we begin ourselves to understand, and to leave to our children and their children understanding of the meaning of this undergrowth, and the perversions to which it is dedicated."Top


Born to cultural turmoil

Punjabi literature
by Jaspal Singh

Here is a collection of long and short stories "Do Taapu" (two islands) by Jarnail Singh from Brampton, Canada. The Punjabi immigrants in these stories are not the traditional characters who trudged along in an antagonistic socio-physical environment with a sense of guilt and nostalgia.

The second and third generation immigrants who people these stories are well settled and have to grapple with a new reality of broken marriages, defiant and delinquent children, sceptical parents, helpless and neglected old people, discriminated professionals, wayward husbands, and ignored and nagging wives. The settled life has its own problems.

When a people adopt a particular way of life its vices follow the virtues in their stride. "Do Taapu", therefore, is different in content from many literary creations by the Punjabi diaspora.

The very first story "Do Taapu", that lends its name to the title of the book, is about a couple, Balraj and Pushpinder, who initially lead a happy life which is disrupted when Pushpinder’s kins also migrate to Canada to live with them. This leads to cracks in the family and Balraj and Pushpinder separate and take a divorce. Their two children, Savi and Nikko, remain with the mother but the father is allowed to meet the children occasionally.

Pushpinder has to undergo a lot of hardship as a lovely young woman fending for herself in an extremely unfriendly world. She tries a number of arrangements which fail in course of time.

Ultimately her children prove to be a bridge between the estranged husband and wife but by this time the husband decides on medical advice to settle at Vancouver in the far west, thousands of miles away and thus the dim possibility of a reunion disappears for ever.

The second story "Pachhan"(identity) is a pathetic tale of a retired Indian army colonel, Sulakhan Singh, who migrates to Canada to live with his son and the exigencies of life there force him to take up a job as a guard in a factory. Initially, the family leads a happy contented life. The grandchildren, a boy and girl, are looked after well by their grandmother, the colonel’s wife, and the rest of the family goes about their job at different places earning a decent living.

But a problem arises as soon as the children grow up and become high school graduates. By this time their grandmother is dead. Once the colonel inadvertently steps into the family’s drawing room where his granddaughter is making love with a white boy Davy, one of her classmates. The old man is extremely upset, and shouts at Davy and chastises the child.

She becomes furious and locks herself in her room. Her parents, Harcharan and Harinder, side with the daughter and brusquely tell the old man to mind his own business. The poor colonel is now totally isolated and alienated.

He ultimately decides to live with a fellow guard by giving up his own family. The generation gap, cultural shock and the extreme alienation of the old man are brought into focus. The nostalgia for life as an officer in the Indian Army adds to the tragedy.

"Bhawikh" (future) is a story of two high school students, Navjot and Harjot, daughters of a highly orthodox father, Dilbagh Singh, who keeps them under strict discipline so that they are not "spoiled" by the Canadian way of life. He does not let them mix with boys and once refuses to let them go on an educational tour despite an assurance by their teacher. The girls feel suffocated in the family and are mocked at by their classmates.

Ultimately the elder one falls in love with a Punjabi boy Ranbir who himself is utterly spoiled and immoral. He sexually exploits her and it is too late when she learns the truth about him. But as she breaks up with him, he tries to blackmail her. When she does not yield, he tells her father about it who in a fit of rage, tries to kill his daughter. She is saved by timely police intervention.

After this the girl is forced to live in a "shelter home" and she takes "counselling" from an expert. After completing her studies she herself becomes a counsellor in a far off city. Sometime later she goes to tackle the case of a girl in distress along with a fellow counsellor. Incidentally that girl turns out to be her younger sister, Harjot.

"Jarhan" (roots) deals with a forward-looking Punjabi boy, Kulwaran, who after migration to Canada becomes a university professor by dint of hard work. But in the university he gets a taste of racial discrimination when one day he finds a soap cake in his mail-box suggesting that he should wash off his blackness in order to be acceptable. A white man is promoted though Kulwaran is more deserving. His case is rejected despite protest and representation to higher authorities.

In utter frustration he decides to come back to India where his son gets admission in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, to do a degree course in horticulture. Kulwaran himself becomes the principal of well-known English medium school at Jalandhar. His son, Manbir, is falsely implicated in terrorist activities. The police arrest him and he is brutally tortured.

The boy is saved at a huge cost and in utter disappointment the family goes back to Canada, bitterly cursing its own country as one of the most barbarian societies in the world.

"Pandh Katha" is about a Punjabi immigrant, Lakhbir, a father of two sons, Nind and Ravi. The elder Nind separates from the family after marriage. Then Ravi, a secondary school student, and his father live together, the mother having died in a road accident. The boy falls into bad company and joins a gang of lumpens and louts who commit petty crimes and enjoy themselves in a vulgar manner.

In a scuffle the boy suffers a spinal injury paralysing his lower limbs. But under the supervision of his counsellor he accepts the challenge and turns out to be an excellent wheelchair dancer.

With the passage of time he becomes an expert in computer programming, besides being a fine handicapped dancer. His paralytic condition also improves with exercise and physiotherapy and doctors become hopeful of his recovery after a second operation.

The story is an exploration in adolescent behaviour in Canadian society.

The last story "Parchhawen" (shadows) is about a man, Janmeet, and his wife Balbir who are a grand success in Canada after emigration. But their success turns out to be a nine-day wonder. Janmeet in course of time becomes a good poet and his literary interaction brings him close to another woman, Neelu, who too has a literary bent of mind. She is divorced from her husband who was a drug addict.

Janmeet’s affair with Neelu creates tension in the family. She on the other hand becomes friendly with Harpal, an illegal immigrant who also has a literary flair and is trying to settle permanently in Canada. But Janmeet’s entire family passes through a period of tension and turmoil. After having gone to the other extreme, it seems they would come back to the normal. The story ends on this optimistic note.

Each of these stories deals with some aspect of life in Canada, particularly of the Punjabi migrants who have now adopted the Canadian way of life. Most characters in these stories are adolescent boys and girls who appear in the kinship structure as an alien element that is more Canadian than Punjabi. The old and middle aged people feel a little out of place. Such a structure has its own conflicts and contradictions that Jarnail Singh portrays with the skill of a sensitive writer. Aesthetic Publications, Ludhiana, has lived up to its reputation as a standard publisher.Top


Unlearnt lessons of Sri Lankan gamble

Operation Pawan by Thakur Kuldip S. Ludra. Strategic Research Centre Publication, Chandigarh. Pages 100. Rs 400.

Reviewed by H.S. Sodhi

INDIA has fought five wars since Independence, of which only two have been started by India and on foreign soil — the Bangladesh war of 1971 and the Sri Lanka war between 1987 and 1990. And both wars have many lessons.

The author has dealt with the Sri Lanka war in this book and he traces the events from the very beginning, sees the emerging trends and reactions of the parties concerned and the eventual denouement. The facts are not new but the analysis is fresh and thought-provoking.

A major factor to emerge from the account is the uncoordinated functioning of the various agencies of the Indian government which eventually pit some of them against its own Army in carrying out the tasks set by the government. While the Army was trying to subdue the LTTE and bring it to the negotiating table, the Indian government was offering the LTTE money and other help with RAW as its main conduit. To this must be added the role of the Sri Lanka government, which having inveigled India into doing its dirty work, eventually started helping the LTTE with advance notice of impending operations and also supplying it with weapons.

The irony is that it was India that initially helped the LTTE with a safe haven in Tamil Nadu, trained it and supplied weapons and then the Indian Army had to fight the same Tamil outfit in Sri Lanka. The initial decimation of the LTTE by the Sri Lanka army during Operation Liberation was averted by timely Indian intervention. And again it was India that helped the LTTE regain its standing by pulling out of Sri Lanka when, many believe, total success was within sight.

Lessons are there to be learnt at every level: international, national and military. It is a different matter that India is one of the few countries that, far from learning from other’s mistakes, finds it difficult to learn from its own. But this does not justify avoiding any discussion of these lessons.

The first one brought out by the author is that India has yet to decide on its geo-political policies and its areas of vital concern. The absence of a well thought-out policy sets the wrong trend. While there is the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, there is no agency to give an objective and informed view on security aspects.

As a result the in-house policy makers tend to toe a line favoured by the government of the day. The author stresses the need for setting up an agency with representatives of the armed forces on it and, in fact, headed by the Chief of the Defence Staff and including the Cabinet Secretary and other concerned Secretaries.

The author examines three scenarios likely in the case of Sri Lanka and its significance to India. Two of them are inimical to Indian interests. The only favourable one needs clear aims and policies to achieve, which have been missing so far. The Indian perception is unduly affected by considerations of the likely impact on Tamil Nadu.

There is also the need for an institutionalised procedure to plan and conduct any military venture. After the government has laid down the policy and aims in a very clear manner, the first step is to set up a combined command organisation. As matters stand, the primary role is likely to be that of the Army with the full support of the Air Force and Navy. It is, therefore, prudent that the overall commander should be from the Army with commanders of the other two services working with and under him. There cannot be a divided command, nor should such matters be decided on the play of ego. The logistical needs must be examined from the very inception and suitably arranged.

The role of the armed forces must be decided by their training, equipment and organisation. Roles that can be carried out by other agencies must not be given to the armed forces. In Sri Lanka the main role of the Army was meant to be policing, which was wrong and the intervention got off to a bad start.

The positioning of commanders has to be well forward. It was wrong for the GOC IPKF to be located at Madras while his main task was in Sri Lanka. Similarly, GOC 54 Div kept sitting at Palaly while his forces were advancing on Jaffna. Even in other wars, the commanders staying too far back lost clear opportunities of success; for instance, the crossing of the lchhogil canal in the 1965 war was not supported because the brigade commander was too far back and could not be contacted.

A major lacuna in successful Army functioning with minimum loss of lives is the absence of independent thinking among commanders and also the lack of gumption to hold and air views which may be contrary to what the senior wants. The reasons for this are obvious and are often discussed, but these do not encourage the need to inculcate and encourage independent thinking.

In the 1962 war against China there was the COAS meekly accepting orders from a junior Defence Ministry official. In the Sri Lanka war the overall commander has said the operations should have been launched after a slight delay to enable reinforcements, but he accepted orders to the contrary from a higher authority.

Who then looks after the success of the operation and also the lives of the jawans who have to do the fighting and dying? Napoleon, more than 150 years ago, laid down the dictum that "A commander-in-chief is not exonerated for his mistakes in war, committed by virtue of an order of his sovereign or of a minister, when he that gives it is far from the field of operations and knows little or nothing of the latest developments. Hence, it follows that any commander-in-chief who undertakes to execute a plan which he considers bad, is guilty. He should give his reasons, insist that the plan be changed, and finally resign rather than become an instrument of the ruin of the army."

Politicians in India know nothing about military affairs and need to be guided or faced openly. Here, the order for the hasty start of operations was given by the then COAS sitting in Delhi and not fully au fait with the ground realities — or these were not forcefully put across to him. This too is no excuse for the overall commander of the operation to have accepted such haste; he should have insisted on reinforcements to arrive. Giving a disingenuous rationale is of no use or excuse for the lapse.

The foremost task of a commander is to ensure that his troops are launched into battle well briefed, well equipped and fully prepared for what is ahead. The aim is to work for minimum casualties to own troops through advance-planning. In making the plans the options and likely alternatives have to be realistic. Then a worst case option has to be the basis. A major factor is always the enemy and it is basic to planning that the enemy is not underestimated — but this has been the major falling of the Army. During Operation Bluestar this happened and again during the Jaffna battle which was planned to finish in four days, took 15 days!

There were no reserves since reinforcements had not arrived. The old cliched dictum "if there are two men to defend London, put one up front and one in reserve" was thus violated. Knowing that the battle for Jaffna would involve fighting in built-up areas, there was no attempt at preparing the troops for this; in fact, the divisional battle schools were started only after that and that too out of the meagre resources of the formations in battle. Units were at only about half strength. The use of heavier weapons like artillery was not resorted to, presumably to avoid civilian casualties — very noble but what about the jawans getting killed? The impression is unmistakable that the life of a jawan seems to be of the least importance for those in command and formulating and executing plans.

Such planning reached criminal proportions when helilanded operations were undertaken as part of the Jaffna battle. The troops involved, were in the process of landing at Palaly airfield on the afternoon of October 11 under the impression that they were to be committed to garrison duties, when they were also asked to undertake this task. There was no briefing worth the name; the men were tired. One copy of a map was handed over with instructions to get photocopies made!

The company commander was taken on a cursory air recce and he then called his men and briefed them on a sketch he drew on ground sheet. Food and other administrative arrangements had then to be taken in hand and liaison carried out with the supporting arms — and the operation started at 0230 hrs.

The operation was launched in a heavily built-up area that was known to be held by the LTTE and there was open discussion of this operation over the PRC 25 radio what is not secure. The result was inevitable; the LTTE was fully prepared and decimated the platoon of 13 SLI. The arrangements of the link up were not fully tied up. Only one man survived from this platoon.

And yet the overall commander still claims that he would do the same again — but he hedges it now with the proviso that given more effective communications and more resources! Why were these factors not considered at that time? It goes to show a total lack of concern for the lives of the jawans.

This incident is almost similar to the Saragarhi fight in which all men in the post, from 4 Sikh were killed. The British honoured them by a standing ovation in Parliament, award of IDSM (the then highest award to Indians) to all them, grants of land to the families and declaration of this date as a perpetual holiday for the Sikh Regiment. The Saragarhi memorial still exists in Ferozepore Cantonment. For the men of the 13 SLI there was nothing except a few minor awards.

One is reminded of another incident where such hasty plans were made — in fact, forced — and an entire battalion was captured by Pakistan as the link up did not take place. This was 4 Sikh during the 1965 war with Pakistan. On the anniversary of the Saragarhi battle, the Colonel of the Sikh Regiment and the Army Commander, Lieut-Gen Harbaksh Singh, insisted on the tired battalion that had just come into the area after another battle, to undertake this infiltration task on foot as a second Saragarhi day! Such is the basis of our planning.

The fault lies both with senior officers for making such impulsive and unrealistic plans and also with the commanding officers who accept them. This is an aspect of training that needs urgent attention.

The author chides Jawaharlal Nehru for endorsing the language policy of Sri Lanka in 1956, making the knowledge of Sinhalese a must for government employment. This is not a fully justified criticism. It was about this time that India was trying to adopt an official language—and this need is there for all countries. In India lacking agreement on Hindi, English has taken on this role. The USA has a large proportion of its population from Afro, Asian, Hispanic backgrounds but they all have to know the official language, English.

Overall, a very creditable effort by the author to highlight the lessons that emerge if only there is somebody to take note and implement them.Top


About 1857 mutiny & 1998 battle

Armed Struggle for Freedom by Sahityacharya Balshastri Haridas. Jagriti Prakashan, Noida. Pages xvi+439. Rs 400.

Reviewed by Randeep Wadehra

FROM time to time eminent historians and thinkers have emphasised the need for keeping historical accounts fair and impartial. However, this is easier said than done. An element of bias does creep into the account as man is not free from prejudice. Thus the same event would be interpreted differently by different persons depending on their own propensities. What is the first war of independence for Indians is still viewed as sepoy mutiny by the British. Thus even in the "cut and dried" vocation of historian, perspective is a tangible reality.

This book was originally published in Marathi on May 10, 1957, to commemorate the commencement of the "ninety-year war of independence". Balshastri Haridas, who died in 1968, was a freedom fighter. He was sent to jail in 1939 and 1941. In 1949 he was arrested when the RSS was banned. This, coupled with the fact that the foreword to the book is written by MS Golwalkar would make one wonder if the contents would be scholarly or more like a pamphlet dyed in saffron. In the event, the misgiving is proved unfounded.

No doubt, the pride of a nationalist ideologue manifests itself here and there. Nevertheless, the savant perseveres with his profession’s ethics. However, inaccurate interpretation of events does creep in occasionally. For example, Haridas describes the massacre of the British women and children in Kanpur as "unpremeditated". This is not true. There was no immediate provocation from the civilian victims to trigger the carnage.

What is especially interesting is that the narration is peppered with quotable quotes. Sample some: this was what the renowned revolutionary Sachindra Nath Sanyal wrote in his book "Bandi Jiwan" when Aurobindo Ghosh —who was acquitted in the Alipur Bomb Trial — had retired from the temporal affairs, "I think the want of thoughtful genius at the head of all our movement is the cause of this fruitlessness. If Aurobindo had remained amidst us...Oh! but he left us. Someone has said on this withdrawal of Aurobindo: ‘He is gone to the mountain, /And he is lost to the forest". / The spring is dried in the mountain, / When the need was the sorest’."

Though poor leadership has been the bane of our society, yet Baba Gurdit Singh’s was an exemplary performance as a leader during the "Komagata Maru" and later the Budgebudge episodes.

Another quotable quote is of Chandra Shekhar Azad. No, I am not referring to his famed preference for death to arrest. He once declared, "I would marry such a woman who, if at all the Congress comes to a compromise with the British rulers, would be ready to accompany me beyond the borders. There would be two rifles on the shoulders of both and a bagful of cartridges. If we get in difficulty, she would fill one rifle and give it to me, and I would go on firing ceaselessly. That way should come my end!"

The book is readable and inspiring. Violence per se is bad but for the freedom of the motherland, it becomes an honourable calling.

On Coalition Course by Arun Kumar. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 200 . Rs 290.

Instant history can never go out of fashion, thanks mainly to the inexplicable fascination it holds for the general public. When epoch-making events take place — the emergency and the subsequent rout of Indira Gandhi, for instance — a plethora of publications try to cash in on the readers’ quest for the truth. The verdict of 1998 catapulted AB Vajpayee back to the PM’s gaddi exactly 656 days after his two-week old government was virtually voted out. Arun Kumar has tried to analyse the event.

The book is a thoroughly professional job by an experienced journalist. It covers events since the Gujral government’s fall and gives an overview of poll battles fought — of both the ballot and the bullet varieties — in different constituencies across the country. Undoubtedly, the book answers most of the questions pertaining to what happened at the hustings in 1998.

It gives convincing reasons for the rise of the saffron brigade and also of the regional parties. However, is coalition politics durable? What would be the future equation between the Leftists and the Congress, the Rightists and the assorted regional parties?The book leaves these questions unanswered.

It is difficult to look into the crystal ball as it is a bit foggy at the moment. But going by the past trend, one should not be surprised if an as yet invisible wave resurrects the Dynasty in the person of Sonia. The astounding follies committed by the current government are only hastening the generation of such a wave.

1999 Diamond Horoscope by Maharishi Gopal Sharma. Diamond Pocket Books, New Delhi. Pages 363. Rs 95.

Talking of crystal gazing, predictions are a multi-crore-rupee industry in our country. You have numerologists, tarot card readers, palmists, face readers and the traditional astrologers. While adherents claim that such predictions have a scientific basis, the opponents excoriate them as quackery. Personally I have had mixed experience.

This book is full of inaccuracies and contradictions. For example, on the one hand, Sharma says that the human relationships of Librans will be most compatible with the people born under the zodiac sign of Capricorn among others, and, on the other, he cautions the Capricornians that they will find it difficult to get along with Librans! Dear reader, if you still insist on buying this bundle of discrepancies, the choice is yours and pleasure is certainly of Maharishi (!) Sharma.Top


Don’t blame the male for all faults

Listening Now by Anjana Appachana. IndiaInk, New Delhi. Pages 510. Rs 395.

Reviewed by Ravinder Kumar Siwach

"There’s a time and place for everything," someone has said.

To begin with, Anjana Appachana’s "Listening Now", as a piece of literature, does not belong to the present genre and definitely India is not the place where her first novel might find favour with the readers.

If the back cover of her latest work (she has "Incantations and Other Stories" — a short story collection to her credit) is to be believed, she has found admirers in America where she is currently a visiting assistant professor at Arizona State University, Tempe.

Readers would agree that Indian writers have invariably enjoyed a better rapport with readers in the West. Maybe more because of the fact that the Indian context as a collage of many cultures, religions and life-styles has offered much to the western reader than due to any extraordinary brilliance of the works (not everybody is a Salman Rushdie after all). It seems likely only due to the latter reasons that "Listening Now" might have found favour too. (So far as feminism and global evolution of modern women are concerned, remember works like "Fear of flying" by Erica Jong which appeared long back.)

On offer here to the Indian reader is old wine in new bottle. And the "bottle" itself is not so new.

The novel is about the lives of Indian women as it is led in the classical mould of selfless do-gooder, the sati savitri and the pattivarta bhartiya nari (and the pangs she suffers while she is having to live up to her ideals!)

Although one would look forward to reading more than that when feminism is acquiring newer definitions (and when the Shobha Des are working overtime), one cannot discount the fact that a majority of women in India still live out of the kitchen. To a great extent, this act alone justifies the novel.

As far as the content and narration are concerned — the plot is too thin (and this a work which did need a good plot). If even that is taken away, it reads like monotonous biographies of the main characters (all female) one after the other, who suffer at the hands of their men or their in-laws. As the central character there is Padma who had been deserted by her lover while she was pregnant with his daughter. She goes on to live on her own and gives birth to her daughter and is looked after by her sister and her friends. Against that backdrop, we get a peep into the lives of all her friends and her sister (who are all listed out in the index itself!). One can refer to Hindi films for a good part of whatever else is there, in there.

What might surprise one is the absence of a single male character dealt with in full. Husbands and fathers appear to say a line or two and then vanish till the lady in distress would call them in her memory to pain her with what she had heard. Why have the males not been allowed to say their part, one fails to understand. For that, even the non- MCPs would want a honest hearing (the writer who happens to be a male has full sympathy for Padma & Co but has no less sympathy either for the male of the species in the novel for not getting to say their say).

As per Anjana’s portrayal, males are insensitive characters who would marry, more often than not to just have a maid and not a mate or at least that is what appears to be to the women counterparts. True, modern-day living is changing us, and woman is trying to find herself in place but that doesn’t mean that men will only antagonise her. True, love might go out of the window soon after the marriage but that doesn’t mean that only the woman needs to be loved or that only the man is at fault. Maybe that’s not what Anjana means too but that’s what one would end up understanding from the novel.Top

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