119 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, November 21, 1999
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A hardy people in search of new role
Review by D.R. Chaudhry
Forming an Identity — A Social History of the Jats by Nonica Datta. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages viii+228. Rs 450.

Laloo Yadav’s illustrious ancestors
Review by P.D. Shastri
Indian Heritage and Culture by Dhirendra Singh. A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pages 313. Rs 600.

Burmese life before the Generals
Review by Kavita Soni-Sharma
Sweet and Sour: Burmese Short Stories by Thein Pe Myint and translated by Usha Narayanan. Sterling Paperbackes, Delhi. Pages 173. Rs 175.

A litany of hackneyed remedies
Reviews by Randeep Wadehra

  • Launching India into the 21st Century by S.S. Mehta. Minerva Press, New Delhi. Pages 303. Rs 200.
  • Managing from the heart by Arun Wakhlu. Response Books, New Delhi. Pages 236. Rs 245.
  • Socio-Economic Background of Beggars in Religious Centres by A. Joshi and YP. Singh. APH, New Delhi. Pages xi+173. Rs 400.
Punjabi literarture
by Jaspal Singh
I’m a flower, so I live on thorns
50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence



A hardy people in search of new role
by D.R. Chaudhry

Forming an Identity — A Social History of the Jats by Nonica Datta. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages viii+228. Rs 450.

There are numerous theories about the origin of the Jats, ranging from their sudden appearance from Shiva’s locks to their lineage in the Aryan race. Most of these theories are absurd and unscientific, as correctly pointed out by Hukam Singh, a sober Jat historian. The origin of this community, as pointed out by K.R. Qanungo, an important historian of the Jats, is enveloped in obscurity, which the light of scientific research has yet to dispel.

The origin of the Jats, mercifully, is not the subject material of the book under review, though it deals with it in passing. The book deals with the Jat identity as it evolved and got shaped in rural southeast Punjab the (present-day Haryana). Three factors played the most important role in shaping this identity — the qaumi (community) narratives, the role of the Arya Samaj as a religious reform movement and the politics of Chhotu Ram through the medium of the Unionist Party.

Of late, there has been a spate of writings on Jat history, Jat identity and related things. The writers are largely from the Jat community itself. They have dished off tomes on various aspects, emphasising Jat diplomacy, Jat heroism, Jat glory and so on. Unfortunately, most of these are not rooted in credible historical evidence. No historiography, no theory of history there. The need to quote sources is dispensed with as a meaningless activity.

Conjectures and surmises to prop up preconceived notions constitute this brand of history. As a consequence, there is a lot of myth making in the name of Jat history. Some make hilarious reading. For instance, a theory has been propounded in all seriousness that the Jats are ancient rulers who once held sway all over the world and their descendants are found in all important races and the communities even today.

Thomas Mann, the Nobel laureate from Germany, descended from the Mann gotra of Jats while Thomas Moor, an English writer, belonged to the Mor gotra. The lineage of Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt is traced to the Nisir or Nasiar gotra. Risley is not far wrong when he observes that when a Jat runs wild it needs God to hold him back.

This kind of myth making, an attempt to weave a mystique around the Jat community, is in the opinion of this reviewer a response to the present agony of this community. The Jats dominate the rural hinterland in a radius of about 300 km from the national Capital. They control fertile land and have hegemonic position in rural society. But they stand marginalised in Indian politics thanks to their bankrupt leadership. Even the Yadavas, an intermediate farming caste like the Jats, have done better.

When faced with a grim present and an uncertain future, the community ideologues strenuously try to discover a glorious past — an imagined past, as historians call it — as a defence mechanism. But this defence does more harm than good. More on this later. In the present socio-cultural and historical environment, rendered humid by mythmakers, the book under review comes like a whiff of fresh air. It is a sober, balanced and well-researched work on the social history of the Jats in the present-day Haryana.

The custom of “karewa” (marital alliance with the widow of one’s brother), local cults, deities like Gugga, Teja, Ramdeoji, etc. saints, “pirs”, tombs, sufi shrines, etc. kept the Jats distinctly from the Brahminical social order. The Brahmin has never been the object of veneration among the Jats. “Pandit” has been a term of light banter and mockery in rural Haryana. The popularity of narratives like “swang”, “kissa”, “katha”, etc. dealing with the heroic deeds of Allah-Uddal, Gugga Pir, Bhure Badal, etc. helped evolve a distinct identity. There was nothing Vedic or Puranic about this.

Two religious traditions played an important role in shaping Jat identity. The Jats had no patience for the intricate symbols and elaborate practices of orthodox Hinduism. They described their religion as “kachha mazhab” — simple and earthy — as contrasted with the “pucca mazhab” of the high castes. Second, the reformist tradition in the Jat community had a pronounced non-Brahminical orientation. There was nothing sacred about the Ganga or the Yamuna for them. Idols and temples were emblems of superstition and the Brahmins had no role to play in their rituals and ceremonies. The Naths, followers of Gorakhnath, ate meat and drank alcohol. They had a good following among the Jats in some areas.

It can thus be deduced from the community narratives, religious practices and reformist tradition that they were very much part of the lower rung of the Hindu social order and had no illusion of belonging to the twice-born Hindu varnas till the advent of the Arya Samaj which tried to engineer a basic shift in the Jat psyche.

Whatever be the later-day notions about the superiority of the Jat “quom”, Jats were stigmatised by the higher castes. The Brahmins treated the Jats as Shudras and denied them the right to wear the sacred thread. The Jats were largely free from the Brahminical orthodoxy and caste rigidity. The Arya Samaj’s attack on Brahminical rituals, orthodoxy, superstitions and caste rigidity had a natural appeal for the Jats and they easily took to it.

The Samaj’s act of investing them with the sacred thread gave them the “dvija” status, putting them on par with the twice-born castes. Its advocacy of widow remarriage was in tune with the practice of “karewa”. The religious reform movement had a powerful impact on the Jat community and went a long way in sharpening the sense of the Jat identity.

The treatment of the Arya Samaj in the book as an important factor in fostering the Jat identity is eminently lucid and highly convincing, though there can be two ways of looking at the nature of identity promoted by the Samaj.

The treatment of Chhotu Ram in the book as an ideologue of the Jat peasantry and champion of its interests is laudable. There are two images of Chhotu Ram, two perceptions completely opposed to each other. One image portrays him as a saviour and a messiah of peasants. The other depicts him as a loyalist and a collaborator of the colonial regime (a “toddy bachha”). His role has been mystified and decontextualised by those who treat him as a messiah of the peasantry. In the process, Chhotu Ram has been appropriated by the Jats and has been reduced to a totem of the Jat clan. His detractors do him grave injustice when they portray him as a traitor since he was not part of the national mainstream. To extend this logic further, Jotiba Phule, B.R. Ambedkar and Ramasamy Naicker — the great crusaders for the uplift of the dalits in Indian society — too could be dubbed traitors as none of them was a part of the Indian freedom struggle. (Naicker organised a protest demonstration on August 15, 1947. When the dawn of independence was being hailed all over the country, he and others of his social standpoint believed that the transfer of power in the then existing social arrangement would only benefit the higher castes to the detriment of the dalits).

Nonica Datta successfully steers clear of the two positions about Chhotu Ram. Her attempt is aimed at relocating his politics in its proper historical context. In his time the Jat peasants were victims at the hands of higher castes, especially the usurious Mahajans. They were portrayed as an ill-bred, ill-cultured lot, a sort of semi barbarians. Chhotu Ram exhorted peasants to shed their inferiority complex and fatalistic outlook and become assertive and self-confident.

As an important Minister in the then Unionist Party government in Punjab, he did a lot to improve the economic status of the peasants through numerous legislative measures. He helped them acquire self-confidence and self-respect. He actively cultivated the army lore in the Jat peasantry, investing it with the halo of a martial race. His image as a patron saint, as rightly concluded by the writer, played an important role in the organisation of the Jats as a self-conscious community.

There is a general agreement among historians that the Jats had the status of Shudras in the Brahminical social order in the past, even lower than that at some stage. According to Irfan Habib, they constituted an ostracised community at the level of Chandalas in the seventh and eighth century Sind; they are described as Shudras in the 10th century and as “low Vaishyas” in the 17th.

The book under review provides ample evidence to show that the Jats were very much part of the lower strata in the caste hierarchy and were looked down upon by the higher castes like the Brahmins and Rajputs.

Like other depressed castes, the Jats too had an aspiration to rise in the caste hierarchy through the process of Sanskritisation. This process got a fillip at the hands of the Arya Samaj. The Samaj tried to enhance their caste status through the wearing of the sacred thread, the “yajna”, Gayatri mantra and other Vedic symbolism. This triggered a desire for caste mobility among the Jats and led to theorisation of the Jats being ancient rulers, their glory, their valour, and their diplomacy and so on.

If the Jats are the ancient rulers with a “dvija” caste status, “why are they now so desperate to be included among the OBCs? (This has already happened in two states and there is a similar demand in other states with a sizeable Jat population.

Several eminent Jats of Haryana in their memoranda submitted to the Backward Classes Commission set up by the Haryana government in 1990 have eloquently pleaded for the grant of a lower caste status to there community on the ground that there is a ruling of the Punjab High Court, Lahore, declaring the Jats as Shudras; that al-Bruni found them to be Shudras; that they share their “hukkah pani” with lower castes like the Kumhar, Lohar, etc. and not with higher castes like the Brahmins and Rajputs; that they in many cases in villages live in one small room which is also shared by cattle and so on. How to explain this metamorphosis in the perception of the Jats about their caste status? Was the Arya Samaj’s act of introducing the Jats to the Vedic world of the sacred thread and the sacred fire a mirage?

The writer refers to some negative traits of the Arya Samaj movement like its puritanism, anti-feminism and anti-Muslim bias, but in the opinion of this reviewer, it was in the field of caste hierarchy that the Jats got a real drubbing at the hands of the Samaj. Nonica quotes Colonel A. Pressey, an English army officer, who had observed that “the Jat was an unorthodox Hindoo and had no right to assume a badge which would enroll him among the ‘twice-born’ races of Hindoo mythology”. And he banned the wearing of the sacred thread by Jat soldiers in his regiment. How true!

The Arya Samaj bred a misplaced sense of enhanced caste status among the Jats. As a consequence, they were estranged from the lower castes to which they really belonged and the higher castes would not own them. So they were neither fish nor fowl. This explains their presented dilemma and they are trying to wriggle out of the predicament. They are keen to revert back to the slot they belonged to in the caste hierarchy of the Hindu social order. Better late than never.

But in the process they have done enough harm to themselves. None would disagree with the writer about the role played by the Arya Samaj in shaping the Jat identity but what is really important is the content of this identity. In fact, the Samaj obviated the possibility of the Jats emerging as a leader of the OBCs in the movement of social justice in our times. Rather, they were on the other side of the fence in the anti-Mandal agitation, at least in Haryana. The Jats perhaps needed a Phule or a Naicker or an Ambedkar from their own ranks more than a Dayanand. The process of shaping the Jat identity could have been much more constructive and healthy in that situation.

The writer, as already observed, avoids two extremes in the case of Chhotu Ram but there is a centrist position which, while acknowledging his great contribution to the well-being of the peasantry in the composite Punjab, critically evaluates the after-effects of his policies on Haryana society. Chhotu Ram dominated the political landscape of the Haryana region and he was not a part of the freedom struggle. This, it is averred, acted as a check on the fuller participation of the people in the national movement. This also deprived them of the higher level of socio-political consciousness, which could have been theirs if Chhotu Ram had provided them a lead in the fight against colonial rule.

Second, it is argued that since he was a pillar of a party, which believed in seeking concessions from the colonial rulers by collaborating with them, this mind set is responsible for the “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” culture in Haryana’s politics in the modern times. The first contention lacks in substance. Bihar was in the forefront of the freedom struggle but this has not bettered the lot of the people of Bihar in any way in post-independence India. Rather, the poor Biharis today have become national “kaameens” — the hewers of wood and drawers of water all over the country. What is important in the struggle is the social composition of its leadership and its class content.

As regards the naked opportunism and the near absence of any ideological commitment in the political behaviour of the Haryana political elite, it would be unfair to hold Chhotu Ram’s legacy alone responsible for it. Many factors in the historical growth of Haryana society have contributed to its spiritual atrophy, moral decay and political degeneration. But all the same, the contribution of the Unionist Party’s politics in this context cannot be brushed aside lightly. This aspect needs to be researched dispassionately and objectively.

Nonica Datta has deftly dealt with the intricate theme of forming an identity of a complex community like the Jats in the present-day Haryana. Her observations, leaving aside local variations, apply equally well to the Jats of other regions around Delhi — namely, the western UP, Delhi dehat and the adjoining areas of Rajasthan as this zone constitutes one cultural unit. While answering some, her treatment raises a few new questions. And here lies the real efficacy and utility of the book under review. It can act as a launching pad for further research.

It is a must for all those who wish to know or work on the social history of the Jats. It deserves wide circulation but its price is a deterrent for an individual to buy it. Its paper- back edition would put it within the reach of individual buyers.Top


Laloo Yadav’s illustrious ancestors
by P.D. Shastri

Indian Heritage and Culture by Dhirendra Singh. A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pages 313. Rs 600.

This is a sort of an encyclopaedic work and attempts to describe every aspect of India — starting with the Harappa civilisation, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the systems of philosophy, Buddhism, Jainism, mythology (including such details as the lives of Narada and Hanuman) and on to modern times, the British policy of divide and rule, suppression of the Hindus and pampering of the Muslims, partition and Gandhi, Tilak, Jinnah, Ambedkar, the JP movement (in the seventies) and much else to the present day.

It is something of everything, not everything about a few things. Since the canvas is so vast and all-embracing and a myriad events have to be cramped into a short space, at places the treatment tends to be scrappy. Also though the title is “India’s heritage and culture,” the focus seems to shift to the historical aspect.

Also the events in world history and immortal names such as Krishna, Buddha, Chandragupt Maurya and Vikramaditya are placed in juxtaposition with the heroes of the hour such as Fernandes, Mayawati, Bansi Lal, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Jagmohan’s improvement of the Vaishno Devi temple when he was Governor of J and K, JP’s escape from jail in 1942, the tandoori (Sahni) murder case, even the difficulty of buying a railway ticket and such trivialities.

It is a grotesque mixture of the ever lasting and the ephemeral, the sublime and the commonplace, the universal and the local, fact and fiction, mythology and history.

In fact, the later part of the book reads like mediocre journalism.

That does not mean that the book does not have its readable parts, a fresh look at old events which the reader will like to remember.

For instance, there is a chapter headed “Glory of Magadha and why Magadha is the world’s most famous empire”. Magadha is the territory in south Bihar called Karma Bhoomi. It has produced a galaxy of great men, the like of whom no other place in the world can boast of. He starts with Krishna and Jarasangha (wrongly spelt as Jarasandha at many places) whose son-in-law was Kansa.

The author’s thesis is that this Jarasandha defeated Krishna 18 times (giving him the title of “Ran-chhor” or the one who fled the battlefield), for which reason Krishna left Mathura along with his Yadava clan and established a new kingdom at Dwaraka in far off Gujarat’s Kathiawar. We do not accept his story of Krishna’s 18 defeats in the absence of any solid proof. Later Krishna overthrew him with deception and with the help of the Pandavas, he says.

The next great name from Magadha that our author gives is Bimbisara who founded a big empire and ruled over it for 52 years (492-544 B.C). His capital was Rajgiri (a city associated with the Buddha and Mahavira). This Bimbisara was later imprisoned and killed by his son, Ajata Shatru.

The other heroes from there are Nandas, Chandragupt Maurya, Ashoka, Chandragupta I and II, Vikramaditya and Samudra Gupt, hailed as India’s Napoleon, Kanishka, and Harsha Vardhan (the last Hindu king of India). In the religious field Magadha produced Mahavira and the Buddha (the Buddha gave his sermon in the Magadhi language) and Guru Gobind Singh. On the literary side those who hailed from Magadha include Aryabhatta (the astronomer after whom India’s first space satellite is named), Bana Bhatta, Harsha’s court poet who authored “Harsha Charita” (his patron’s biography) and the famous romance “Kadambari” and also Kalidasa, India’s national poet. Harsha became the king at the age of 16. He was twice robbed by bandits and was once nearly sacrificed to Durga.

Their capital was Pataliputra (today’s Patna), which has the unique distinction of being situated at the confluence of four rivers (a world rarity) the Ganga, the Ghaggar, the Gandak and the Sone.

Magadha had the most powerful army of the day. It has the most fertile soil and also the richest mineral deposits in the world — coal (Dhanbad), iron, uranium, mica, copper, gypsum, etc.

When Magadha was great, India touched great height and vice versa. The author laments that Magadha (Bihar) has lost the sense of history and destiny and has deteriorated.

Our writer starts with the old discredited theory invented by the westerners that the Aryans came from outside (Central Asia) and killed the original inhabitants and drove the aborigines into the jungle. This theory of the foreign origin of the Aryans was invented by the British rulers. The fact is: the Aryans have lived her since time began. Proof? We have places of pilgrimage dotted all over the length and breadth of India.

The writer starts with the Mohanjo Daro-Harappa civilisation (these places are in Pakistan). It was a very advanced urban civilisation. All of a sudden it crumbled, perhaps as a result of some devastating natural occurrence like an earthquake. The westerners regard it as a pre-Vedic phenomenon. No, it is very much a part of the Vedic civilisation. Its 1,000 seals depict god Shiva as Pashupati. They buried their dead. A dog’s grave has been discovered at Rupar, one of the outlying areas of that civilisation.

The Vedas celebrate as chief god Indra (the god of rain has primacy in a pastoral country). There is a running war between Indra and Vitra (drought) in the Vedas. Indra wins by launching his thunderbolt with which he breaks the clouds to yield rain. Shiva’s bull is the indispensable bullock for farming. The whole world rests on its head.

Other Vedic gods are Agni (200 suktas or chapters are dedicated to this god against the 250 to Indra). Mitra, Varuna and all 33 of them are of different functional aspects of one supreme god.

In the subsequent Puranic ages, the Vedic gods gave place to new gods such as Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer) and also Durga, Hanuman and the whole pantheon.

In the Vedic age the devout worshiped the gods not for spiritual perfection or salvation but for such benefits or blessings as food, wealth, cattle, sons and health.

The South become the home of real Hinduism, says our author. The recurrent waves of Muslim and other invasions drove our rishis and scholars to the South. Vedanta was born in the South. We talk of six systems of philosophy or darshanas — Nyaya (logic or reasoning), Vaisheshik (atomic theory of the universe), Sankhya (which says creation evolves by its own laws no god is needed: first atheistic system in the world), yoga (today its physical exercises or asanas are popular all over the world), Mimansa (ritualism) and the Vedanta, our highest system of philosophy. To this list, our writer adds three more, taking their number to nine: the Charvaka school (eat, drink and be marry, there is no god, no rebirth), Buddhism and Jainism.

About the modern times, these are some of the writer’s beliefs. The anti-Hindu British colonial government partitioned India into three parts, giving one to the Hindus and two to the Muslims (despite the Hindu overwhelming number).

Prithvi Raj won the war 11 “ times”, but lost the 12th). Reason? The Muslims thought all is fair in war, while the Hindus carried their code of chivalry to the extreme.

The Rajputs and the Marathas have been among the saviours of Hinduism. Gandhi was more of a saint and less of a politician. The British, Jinnah and Ambedkar exploited this weakness of his for their own advantage.

Sardar Patel merged some 600 princely states in India — a gigantic bloodless revolution. Imagine India without the contribution of Patel!

The lower castes have played a major role in shaping India’s history. Bhagwan Krishna was one such, a Yadava; so were Jarasandha, Nandas, Mauryas, Guptas and others.Top


Burmese life before the Generals
by Kavita Soni-Sharma

Sweet and Sour: Burmese Short Stories by Thein Pe Myint and translated by Usha Narayanan. Sterling Paperbackes, Delhi. Pages 173. Rs 175.

LOW key, beautifully told, attentive to details about people, ideas and full of wit and humour. This is how one would describe the short stories in this collection. The author, Thein Pe Myint, was a leading figure in the Left Movement in Burma.

His beginning as a man of letters was not very dignified. While a student leader he had to use the influence of U Nu, the famous Burmese lawyer and politician, over the editor of a magazine, to have his first story published. Very soon, however, he established himself as a major literary figure in Burma who was at the forefront of the modern genre of story telling in that once beauteous country before the Generals decided to govern the people.

From his vast body of writing, including travelogues, short stories, novellas, novels, biographies, film scripts and political tracts, it would be difficult to decide which to choose for a small anthology. Yet Usha Narayanan has performed that difficult task with admirable skill as she has in the translation of these texts.

The considerable abilities of Myint as a story-teller come across in his bringing to life many of our commonplace experiences. The old bachelor lawyer who is looking for a house keeper-cum-wife proposes to his servant girl only to be rejected. The poor father who steals his daughter’s jewellery to obtain creature comforts. The stingy husband who fights with his wife over household expenses. All these are stories our readers can easily relate themselves to.

Some of the stories in this anthology have subtle political undertones even while they retain their humour. “I have become the great MLA,” says the hero of one of the stories beginning his adventures as an MLA. He goes on to clarify that the MLA “is much higher than the District Commissioner”.

As an MLA in Rangoon, he gets besotted with a prostitute whose claim to fame is that she only slept with people like MLAs and District Commissioners. A simpleton that he is, he decides to bring her home as wife with disastrous results.

Then there is this one from the point of view of an ageing professor which will tickle the memories of many young women who have passed through our local campuses. Thein Pe Myint tells a touching story of a professor who comes across this young woman walking ahead of him. The story is about this walk. The admiration of the old man for the young body. Adam never had to think so much about Eve. The subtle manner in which ageing sexuality is described in this story could provide our own Khushwant Singh with a lesson in writing about the female body.Top


A litany of hackneyed remedies
by Randeep Wadehra

Launching India into the 21st Century by S.S. Mehta. Minerva Press, New Delhi. Pages 303. Rs 200.

THE 21st century is only a few weeks away, as is the new millennium. Can things radically change in such a short span of time to pitchfork the sluggish Indian economy into the company of the developed ones? Whenever one comes across phrases like “marching into the third millennium” or “the dawn of a new century”, one gets the impression that all one has to do is wait for the day to arrive.

Alas! Things are not that simple. Sweat, blood and tear go into the making of a success story. The other ingredients being wisdom, foresight, organisation and, of course, luck. This is true as much for nations and business empires as for individuals.

Mehta has chronicled the past mistakes which have led us to the present mess. He has also tried to analyse where and how our development plans went wrong. Comparing India with the Asian Tigers, he finds India a poor performer — no matter what standards are used. But none of his observations are really original.

We have been hearing from experts of all types this litany of woes. He talks admiringly of the way Japan has developed the robotics, the manner in which Singapore has “gone the whole hog” in adopting the western developmental model. The reforms since 1991 have liberated factors of production from the clutches of wily politicians and the self-serving elite.

With the market-driven economy there is hope for a more efficient use of our resources. On the flip side there is an ever-present danger of unemployment getting more acute leading to mass unrest. There are other social factors which we can ignore only at the nation’s peril.

The author’s suggestions on political, administrative, military and even foreign policy reforms are hackneyed. For example, the idea of having a presidential form of government has been around for decades. For various reasons this has remained a drawing room topic for polite chat. Mercifully.

When we are unable to check dictatorial tendencies with all the existing constitutional checks and balances, what chance does the American system stand, given the “mai baap” propensities of our rulers? Joseph A. Schumpeter, an Austrian-American economist, observed. “Democracy is a political method, that is to say, a certain type of institutional arrangement for arriving at political — legislative and administrative — decisions and hence incapable of being an end in itself.”

What we need is to strengthen the existing democratic institutions. As US journalist HL Mencken once said, “The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.” For this we need a vibrant education system which would instil healthy democratic values in the common man, check nepotism and corruption and would let merit be the sole criterian for one’s progress.

If you want to know what is wrong with our country, this book can give you some idea. However, if you are keen to improve things around you, better buy a book on self-improvement too. After all, you form the basic unit of the largest democracy in the world, my dear reader.


Managing from the heart by Arun Wakhlu. Response Books, New Delhi. Pages 236. Rs 245.

This is a book after my heart. With extreme pain one has been watching the replacement of compassion with hard-nosed “realism”. The dividing line between careerism and professionalism has been getting increasingly blurred. Somehow efficiency has come to be associated with hard-heartedness.

The selfish calculating person who uses others for his narrow interests has come to gain social acceptance, while the humane individual is considered inefficient and not fit for the top job, or for that matter, any responsible position. This book swims against the tide. Wakhlu asserts that every human circumstance and condition is influenced by the adage, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. Thus a new paradigm for human interaction at the work place is propounded here.

Management sans humanity is coercion, and in Wakhlu’s scheme of things there is no scope for strong arm tactics. Consequently, an optimum mix of human values, work culture, individual health, thinking, communication, learning, team work, leadership, action and time-management skills can do wonders in increasing productivity without affecting the workers’ enthusiasm and welfare.

Athreya, in his foreword, points out, “No person can be an island, particularly a manager working as he or she is in a dynamic environment...Knowledge and action make a formidable combination. Add devotion. It may be unbeatable. Such devotion need not be a distant God, but to the people in the shape of external and internal stakeholders of organisations.” I agree wholehear-tedly.

One can wax eloquent on this book’s proposition for the elusive human touch to resolve the myriad conflicts at workplaces and elsewhere, which are bound to arise with greater intensity in the next millennium, but my editor has hinted that I hog too many column inches. So eschewing verbosity, I wish this book is made compulsory reading for all decision-makers.

Socio-Economic Background of Beggars in Religious Centres by A. Joshi and YP. Singh. APH, New Delhi. Pages xi+173. Rs 400.

Beggary is our national shame. Beggars are a blot on our ancient civilisation. Beggars are... yes, you have heard such conventional remarks before. But pause and reflect, what exactly is beggary? The hard-nosed “realist” will tell you that today it is a well-organised business, much more paying than many respectable professions. The nationalist will tell you that it is a direct result of our slavery for ages. The rationalist will tell you that beggary is the scoundrel’s first refuge as it has the sanction of our age-old religious and social practice.

It is true that Buddhism propagated the bhikshu tradition. But the purpose was to initiate the layman into the Dhamma by killing his ego.

Later on Jain and Hindu streams too started adopting this practice. Similarly Islam and Christianity also sanction zakat and charity. Thus the contention that beggary is specific to a creed, region or ethnic group is bunkum. In 1874 the European Vagrancy Act was passed to prevent Europeans from begging. In India the anti-beggary law was first passed in West Bengal in 1943, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in 1945, while Himachal Pradesh was the last to enact it in 1979.Top

Punjabi literature by Jaspal Singh

I’m a flower, so I live on thorns

Ghazal in Punjabi is a legacy of the great Urdu poetry tradition. Mirza Ghalib, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi and others are almost household names in North India and Pakistan. There has been a host of other illustrious Urdu poets who practised and perfected this poetic form.

Many Punjabi poets also experimented with it and some of them achieved near perfection like their counterparts in Urdu. “Mushaira” in Urdu has its Punjabi version in “kavi darbar”. Every town has a unit of Punjabi Lekhak Sabha which regularly organises literary functions, including “kavi darbar”. These are prominently featured in the literary columns of Punjabi newspapers and are eagerly looked forward to by the hopeful participants.

In recent years some women have also adopted the ghazal form as a poetic expression and a few of them have really created a flutter in the literary circles. Sukhwinder Amrit is one of them who has contributed to making the ghazal form perfect in Punjabi. Her first collection of ghazals “Suraj di Dehleez” appeared in 1997 and after a gap of two years the second collection of 62 ghazals “Chiragan di Daar” has hit the book stalls.

Interestingly Sukhwinder Amrit is not a Ph.D like most Punjabi writers. In fact she has had very little formal education and is thus an intruder in a way into the literary world.

She is a housewife married to a businessman and has small children to care for. That she could grow out of her situation despite handicaps and hurdles is in itself an achievement.

The atmosphere in her family in the beginning was not very conducive to sensitive literary pursuit. Yet she doggedly persisted in her effort and ultimately succeeded in composing some of the most sensitive ghazals.

In due course she came in contact with some well-known poets, above all Surjit Pattar who inspired and guided her at the initial stage. But inspiration and guidance can help only if the mind is creative and is struggling for expression on its own.

Most of the metaphors used by Sukhwinder are very common and overused by poets since time immemorial. But she makes use of them in her own way that adds more to the semantic import of these old symbols. She says, “Supne wich ik rukh te likhia raatin apna naam asin/Din charhde nu ho gaye sare jangal wich badnaam asin.” (We scrawled our names on a tree in a dream; by the daybreak we were scandalised in the entire forest.) Now this very common prank of youth (scratching names on barks) has been used to convey the phenomenon of adolescent love and its tragic denouement in course of time.

Similarly the signifier of “moon” has been used to bring home the ignorance and indolence of the middle classes which are oblivious of the people’s problems. The poet says: “Odhar sade chand nu kha gaye tukk samajh ke bhukhe lok/edhar nehre di bukkal wich karde rahe araam asin.” (The starving people ate our moon taking it for a loaf of bread and we lazed in the dark oblivious of all this.)

In one of her couplets Sukhwinder juxtaposes “wind” and “fish” against the behaviour of the seducer. She says, “Pata hai os nu mai paun han machhli nahin koi/Na jane kiyon mere duale oh bunda jaal rahinda hai.” (He knows that I am the elusive wind and not a fish; why does he then keep casting a net around me?)

She cautions her lover against visiting her town in these words. “Tu mere shehr na aavin khizan da daur hai ethe/ki har buta hi ethe tan barha behaal rehinda hai.” (Don’t visit my town now. It is autumn here; every plant is sad and depressed.)

In another couplet about autumn the poet says, “Khijan buhe te aa pahunchi oh patti hai jharan wali/wafa usdi te karda hai birkh itbaar hale wi.” (Autumn is knocking at the door and/that leaf is about to fall but the tree still has faith in its steadfastness.)

The this-or-that link between leaf and autumn is emphasised in quite a few couplets. Similarly, the relation between light (lamp) and darkness is explored in many couplets. She thinks he is a lamp shining on the other side of the river and she is the dark night on this side; the river of distance separates the two.

Dream is again used as an illusory paradise while life is overwhelmed by sorrow. The poet says, “Hakikat wich nahin aona tan mere khab wich aa ja/ Badal jaiga jad eh dard da aalam chala jawin.” (You can come in dream if not in reality and you may leave as the days of distress pass.)

Another couplet has flowers and thorns juxtaposed in dream and reality. The poet says, “Mere khaaban ch fullan da barha hi aona jana si/Ise lai sej soolan di sada hass ke handhai mai.” (Since my dreams were full of flowers, I happily slept on a bed of thorns.)

The dreams of the poet carry all good things of life since they are beyond the turmoil of reality. They are what Freud calls an “illusory wish/fulfilment”, escape from the harsh reality of life. The vague man-woman relationship is clearly manifested in definite terms, “Piaar hai eh asin ehnu piaar hi kahange/tusin apnatt chahe dosti kaho.” (This is love and I shall call it love; you may call it affection or friendship.)

Many ghazals have “river” as the main symbol. The poet believes that a raging river eats into its own banks. Sometimes the river passes unnoticed through the plains and ends up in the arid sands of a desert with no sign left behind; at others it joins the sea as something going back to its source. At times the river is in rage and at others it is calm and quiet.

The poet has unshakeable faith in her inner strength. She says, “I have swum through whirlpools and turbulent waves; now let the storms also try their force to shake me.”

In one of the couplets she emphasises the importance of common human attributes. “Karauna hai je sijda bandian de wang mil sanu/ki har pathar de butt muhre eh sir niwan na kar howe.” (If you want to be adored, meet me like a human being; I can’t bow before every stone idol.)

Sukhwinder’s semantic universe abounds in such metaphors as dream, moon, sun, star, tree, bird, flower, sea, fish, river, wind, cloud, desert, cage, whirlpool, stone, lamp, butterfly, sword, flute and so on. The image of a traveller occurs in many poems.

The imagery used by the poet has been drawn from the world of nature. But these symbols are a personification of various feelings and attributes.

Most of the ghazals have human relations as the theme, particularly man-woman relationship.

The poet does not display any social commitment. The greater forces of culture and history are not invoked at all. Therefore despite her artistic finesse, these poems remain an exploration at the personal level to understand the kaleidoscopic patterns of man-woman relationship.

All ghazals, therefore, are an allophonic variant of one ghazal but in each form the reality of “relationship” comes out in a different colour.

Sukhwinder Amrit has shown a keen poetic sensitivity in the use of words which distinguishes her as a skilful composer of ghazals in Punjabi. If she explores the vast sources of human culture, history and mythology with the same intensity and skill, she may turn out to be a poet with a grand vision.Top

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