The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 5, 2000

Teaching child-art is no child’s play!
by Balvinder
Asian giants must cooperate and not collide
by E.V. Ranganathan and Vinod Khanna
Not slave state really
by Chitleen Sethi
Language as culture and translation as cloning
by B.L. Chakoo
Ideology or the lack of it
by Jai Narain Sharma
A moral orphan in London
by Randeep Wadehra
His eternal quest for freedom, reconciliation
by Bimal Bhatia
Those you pitied, pity you, rightly
by Kishwar A. Shirali
Control the mind to control all
by Chandra Mohan

Teaching child-art is no child’s play!
by Balvinder

Art: The Basis of Education by Devi Prasad. National Book Trust, India. Pages 182+xxxxvi. Rs 85.

THE most significant aspect of the book under review is the fact that though it was first published in Hindi under the title "Bacchon ki kala aur shiksha" in 1959, many of its aspects are still relevant and hold ground.

However in a country where education is being kept at its lowest priority, to talk of improvement in art education, which is at the lowest rung of the academic hierarchy, sounds simply silly.

Prasad has worked hard and sincerely to propagate the import of art education in the overall development of a child’s general scholarship. And in the process he has succeeded well in combining his strong Gandhian views, acquired through his close contact with Mahatma Gandhi, with those of Rabindranath Tagore and western philosophers like Herbert Read.

While appreciating his efforts in this regard, Dr Zakir Hussain, the founder president of Hindustani Talimi Sangh and later the President of India, rightly lamented the prevalent trend of writers on education. He has observed in the Foreword of the book, "In our country, only those people write on education who do not like to be teachers."

Sadly enough, the trend did not change, as was then envisaged by Dr Hussain, even after 50 years of neglect of education. No wonder Amartya Sen told the world recently about the "inadequacies of the Indian education system" that currently is in the "cleansing process" under the Bhartiya (to its core!) Janata Party regime.

Maybe because the atmosphere of the early fifties was so surcharged, particularly at Santiniketan from where Mr Prasad had graduated under such luminaries as Nand Lal Bose and Binod Behari Mukherjee, with a patriotic renaissance approach, the book seems, in the present context, more utopian than realistic and practical.

For, the talk of "creative expression" of a child or to consider that "a child scribbles in order to communicate its inner world to a sympathetic spectator" (my apologies to Herbert Read) is utter nonsense, at least in the particular context of teaching art.

When one talks of teaching a child an art form it implies that it would first include the basic language of the medium. For, a child starts expressing through verbal language only after he learns at least some elements of the spoken language.

When a person is said to be expressing a feeling, what specifically is he doing? In an ordinary sense, expressing is "letting go" or "letting off steam". One expresses one’s anger by throwing things or by abusing or by hitting the person who angered him. But this kind of "expression" has nothing to do with art.

Similarly, a child’s so-called "artistic expression", because he uses a particular medium that artists use, has nothing to do with art. Yes, it may be useful for a neurophysiologist to assess the child’s behavioural pattern in order to treat a particular child. Moreover even beautiful patterns that an unskilled, with a particular art medium, child often manages to get is sheer accident, which he is unable to repeat even if given similar circumstances.

There is an oft-repeated Chinese proverb saying that "we normally see a painting with our ears". How true. For, our seeing process, or the ability to perceive and discriminate between different objects, is an advanced form of learning. A generalised visual perception, which revolves around only a limited number of "form associations" is not the sole characteristic of a child. It remains stuck even with the grown-ups, unless trained otherwise.

Just as one needs a well-trained ear before one goes for learning music, the very first requirement of the teaching of art is to train one’s eyes so as to look at things with discrimination. And this is what has always been missing in the curriculum of our art teaching. Once one is trained enough to see things as they are and not as something else (like seeing floating forms of clouds just as interesting "unallocated" structures instead of looking at them as human or animal shapes), the next academic steps in the learning of art become extremely easy.

However, I must warn that creativity, which is often associated with untutored child art rather wrongly, can never be taught. For, accident is an important ingredient not only of scientific inventions but also of creative expression. That is why arty accidents, like scientific accidents, need fully trained and childish handling. No wonder, teaching art, particularly to children, is not a child’s play!Top


Experpts from "India and China: The Way Ahead After Mao’s India War" by E.V. Ranganathan and Vinod Khanna.

Book Extract
Asian giants must cooperate and not collide

THERE is a strong base of common interests and perceptions for India and China to build stable long-term relationship. In the aftermath of 1962 the fact that India and China had jointly evolved the five principles of peaceful coexistence became almost an embarrassing recollection. In today’s context we need to look at this legacy afresh, shorn of both illusions and phobias. India and China, and indeed Russia, have a strong interest in asserting these principles. However, our quest has to be for a genuinely multi-polar world rather than some sort of an India-China-Russia alliance against the USA. There is a host of issues on which the interests of each of the three countries will coincide with the USA’s and not with each other’s.

There is an astonishing similarity in the problems shared by India and China in managing their giant economies, in the era of rising expectations of their huge populations while each country adapts to the complex process of globalisation. The two countries share not just similarities but also dilemmas in the way their societies have evolved.

As civilisational entities which strongly emphasise their unity and identity as nation states, both countries are still to achieve an acceptable balance in their domestic governance which would take account of differences caused by ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious and other factors which are present in their socieites. While the plural democratic system in India has helped it to cope better with its diversity and there is no systemic comparison with the situation in China, both countries need to come to terms with the reality that the issues of human rights, development and environment do attract international attention in this era of revolution in information technology. Both countries seek to import advanced technology which could drive their modernisation efforts, and adapt the process of globalisation and marketisation to their specific national conditions. Yet their leaders feel strongly about the "spiritual pollution" that this process brings about, and their business leaders are afraid that foreign competition would swamp indigenous industries.

In both countries, the changing demographic composition is very heavily weighed in favour of the youth. While they rush to embrace hedonistic consumerism, there exists an impressive reservoir of patriotism and nationalism when their societies face armed threats. Sometimes nationalism spills over into xenophobia. In both societies the complaint is that the youth are less committed to their responsibilities to the emergence of a civil society, although in both there have emerged groups of very successful young technocrat entrepreneurs. In both societies, economic liberalisastion has left a vast number of malcontents. Faced with wide regional disparities in the course of adopting more liberal economic policies, both societies are faced with the need to undertake deeper economic, social and legal reforms. In both societies opportunities for the private sector have opened up enormously, but in the given nature of things, qualitative and effective government mediation is necessary in many social and some economic sectors. In both societies, consciousness that development will have to harmonise with environmental considerations has been slow to dawn. For all their respective achievements in the fields of science and technology, vast numbers of their population have become victims of old practices rooted in superstition. The listing of such similarities by themselves does not contribute to better Sino-Indian relations. However an appreciation of such circumstances in both countries should provide the basis for an enhanced shared understanding between the intelligentsia of the human situation in both countries.

There has been much criticism of Nehru’s China policy. As we have seen, there is some justification for this. But, this is only part of the story. During the birth centenary year of Nehru, many references were made to his being a prophet before his time. The reference was to the end of the cold war providing the context for the realisation of some aspects of his vision. Ideological militancy, religious fundamentalism, exclusiveness in developing India’s foreign relations, had no place either in Indian domestic or foreign policy. Security built not purely on military muscle but on economic development and social justice was his belief. He had abiding faith in the possibility of an international system evolving, which would respect nationalism, pluralism and diversity among all nations that composed it. Mutually beneficial cooperation amongst all nations, big and small, on the basis of the five principles was joint prescription of India and China. One could add to the list which comprised the totality of Nehru’s vision. The experience of China and India over the past few decades and their mutual interests make it appropriate for them to give the lead in realising these aspects of Nehru’s vision, for which the time is ripe as we havetaken leave of the 20th century.

Some very important consequences follow from the simple demographic fact that China and India are far and away the world’s two most populous nations. For a whole range of issues the only country whose experience is really relevant to Indian conditions is China and vice versa because of the sheer scale involved. It is therefore important to appreciate that when we say that India and China have to cooperate, and to learn from each other, this is no mere diplomatic jargon. Food and agriculture, employment and education, environment and sustainable development, technology and energy... the list of critical issues on which the two Asian giants can cooperate synergetically, is long. The implication for mankind on how these two ancient civilisations handle these challenges is self-evident. India-China relations are sui generis.

They stand on their own, neither do they parallel relations which each of them has with others nor are there applicable precedents or models for their conduct. As civilisational states, their contemporary and significant contribution to mankind is the large measure of stablity which they have achieved through their respective economic and scientific achievements, without being a burden on the world. As each country seeks its indigenous path for the development of its continental size economy, so need they seek to fashion relations between themselves.Top


Not slave state really
by Chitleen Sethi

Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals (Delhi Sultanat 1206-1526) by Satish Chandra.

Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi. Pages 283. Rs 495.

WITH history it is simple; the more you know, the more you need to know. Satish Chandra, a well-known historian, who has written and edited many books on medieval India and worked extensively in the field, follows this epithet to the word.

His present work covers the period of the Delhi Sultanat — from 1206 AD to 1526 AD — and is an effort to bridge the gap between existing knowledge on ancient India and Mughal India, which commences with Babur’s rule in 1526.

Though most of the historians are beginning to question the validity of the demarcation of Indian history into ancient, medieval and modern, it still remains the most convenient way of teaching and studying Indian history.

The period under study is of more than three centuries in perhaps one of the most neglected and ignored by the readers and teachers of Indian history. Attention, if any, has been given to a few stalwarts of the period. Starting with Mohammad Ghori. Mehmood Ghaznavi, Iltumish and their conquests, a brief mention of Razia Sultan is made, and then of Balban who consolidated the Delhi Sultanat and Allaudin Khalji’s state measures and market reforms. Mohammad bin Tughlak’s experiments are next on the curriculum ending with Feroze Tughlak’s administrative measures.

There is no doubt that these men and women were the moving forces of this period and deserve maximum scholastic research and attention; yet the present work has gone ahead and put them in their proper geographial, political, social and economic contexts.

Consider the first chapter, "West and Central Asia between the 10th and 12th centuries and Turkish advance towards India". A major portion of the chapter is devoted to the context in which Mohammad Ghori and Mehmood Ghaznavi invaded India, both from the "outside India" and the "inside India" viewpoints. This is quite a relief from the traditional one paragraph mention of the Central Asian empires of the period and a 10-point note of the causes of Mohammad Ghori’s invasions into India.

Like the earlier works of Satish Chandra, this too has gone into a thorough study of details and facts hitherto unused or unknown. Mostly unused. Chandra ends up giving an almost complete picture of the period and the people he focuses on and at times the mere act of compiling and putting together a lot of facts leads one to make a new set of observations and sometimes even a new hypothesis. Chandra’s enumerating the jagirdari crises as a major cause of the downfall of the Mughal Empire in another of his works is one such observation.

The present work is also not just a storehouse of mere facts about the period. Clearly, it goes beyond being a ready reckoner on the period. It looks into the economic and social life in North India under the Delhi Sultanat and a separate chapter is devoted to religion and culture of the period also.

An important discussion towards the end of the book is on the state in India under the Sultanat. A major development of the period was doubtlessly the emergence of a centralised Islamic state in India. But what was the nature of this state? Chandra tells us that the character of the state varied greatly during the 13th and 14th centuries. And though the institution of slavery played an important role in "fusing together different ethnic groups among Muslims", the state in India can hardly be called a "slave state"... "as according to the Islamic theory only a free person could accede to the throne".

Chandra also goes on to discredit the view that this state was a purely theocratic one based on the Muslim holy law "Shariat" which was to be interpreted by the ulema. He says that in general "the sultan in India, while paying deference to the ulema, did not feel bound to consult them or accede to their views where matters of the state were concerned".

The next question that follows the discussion is whether such a state, highly centralised and militaristic, with a ruling class which had a narrow social base, promoted the economic and cultural development of the country. Contrary to the widely held view of this period of Indian history being the dark age of war and rapine, the author has shown that architecture, literature, music and religion developed in the country, to which both Hindus and Muslims contributed. To say that the Qutb Minar was the only major architectural achievement of the period would be to seriously overlook many more facts made available in the book.

In the field of literature, of course, poets and writers like Khusrao, Barni, etc. are only too well known. Sufism flourished in the period and bhakti movement found its origin during the period.

The work is highly readable even for the layman and a student of history, generally looking for enumerated answers in headings and sub-headings, is not disappointed either. Though the book could do with some reorganisation of chapters, especially after the seventh after that one has to go two chapters ahead or one chapter back to keep the link intact. In such an otherwise comprehensive book one expects more details on the Sayyeds and Lodhis who deserve more than the brief mention they get in the book.

Also the book priced at Rs 495 is too expensive for an ordinary student and too technical to be the coffee table variety. Yet with its eye for detail and sound interpretation of the period, it is a must for every serious history buff.Top


Language as culture and translation as cloning
by B.L. Chakoo

The Translatability of Cultures: Figurations of the Space Between edited by Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser. Stanford University Press, California. Pages 348. Price not mentioned.

KLAUS REICHERT once wrote: "Why does anybody wish to retranslate something, when and if that something has already become an integral part of the language and culture into which it has been translated? There may be various plausible reasons, scholarly and aesthetic: the text may reach radically different audiences, the language of the translated text may have become obsolete, and so on. Indeed, translation has an innovative force — it secures the survival of texts that otherwise may become historical blanks.’’

However, refocusing of attention is probably next to impossible with texts that have maintained their own tradition and have, to a large extent, detached from their origins. Schlegel’s Shakespeare is a good example. Though many attempts were made to be closer to the original, to reproduce what Reichert would say more sufficiently, "the syntactic and metrical jumps and breaks of its lines or its different stylistic layers, to adapt it better to changing stage conditions", Schlegel’s translations have never been "superseded — not for the fact that they were so good but for the reason that they were and are part of "the Weimar culture which they had helped to shape". Shakespeare has become the third of Germany’s classical authors.

In fact, translation between any two languages involves a kind of an explicit tug-of-war around those elements of each language that are hardly accessible to "agreed-upon equivalents" around those elements of expression, experience, understanding and creative transactions which are "unique" to a given culture. However, translation holds potentially powerful forces of cultural change; it is therefore a conflict-ridden area, both of the global constraints of national cultures and of "the local dominations of everyday others by everyday selves". Therefore the ethics of translation includes both the ethics of crossculture discourse and the inescapably "unit problem" of ethical discourse itself.

"The Translatability of Cultures", which is an assemblage of 14 essays that discusses a wide variety of cultures from Egypt to the present Japan, addresses both discourses and explains cross-cultural interrelationships as well as the illusions and exclusions created by them. It maintains that the conditions under which cultures that do not dominate each other may still obtain a limited translatability of cultures. It is concerned with both the mutual translation of cultures and the crisis inherent in the experience of the translatability of cultures — with the images of cultures and with the social and political concepts linked to and emerging from them.

Thus in the opening essay, "Crises of alterity: cultural untranslatability and the experience of secondary otherness", Sanford Budick investigates the forces that press toward cultural sameness or convergence, certainly not in dialogic "models of self and other". He, however, sets the stage of the crisis in which we operate when he notes that otherness can now allegedly "be integrated into self without confronting the absolute otherness of the other" which is now virtually universal. What particularly interests him is the encounter between German and Jewish culture which, on the one hand, had so substantially contributed to the creation of modern institutions of interpretation in Bible criticism, theology, psychoanalysis, theories of revolution, Marxism, and yet which, on the other hand, ultimately opened "one of the deepest abysses in the entire history of culture".

However, all the essays in the volume do not suggest that they all argue a single view of the value of "the other" in different antecedent cultures or of what that value has become in a seemingly global post-modernism. Indeed, the essays sometimes diverge intensively on issues basic to the book’s inquiry. For example, in Jan Assmann’s "Translating Gods: Religion as a factor of cultural (un)translatability" and Moshe Barasch’s "Visual syncretism; a case study" we have different understandings of the concept of syncretism. Perhaps there is a specific ambiguity that characterises syncretism in general and syncretistic ideas in particular.

Yet all the essays record a reconceptualisation of the experience of culture which, to most contributors to this difficult but interesting volume, is "a matrix triggering interactions between its levels, its heritage, and its recasting, and between its invasion into and its invasion by other cultures".

Thus Kartheinz Stierle’s "Translatio studii and renaissance: from vertical to horizontal translation", Lawrence Besserman’s "Augustine, Chaucer, and the translation of biblical poetics", Aleida Assmann’s "The curse and blessing of Babel; or looking back on universalisms", and Emily Miller Budick’s "The Holocaust and the construction of modern American literary criticism: the case of Lionel Trilling", not only make the study of cultures and of their degeneration into stereotypes but also speak openly and indiscriminately of "cultural invasions" and "imports".

Culture here emerges as a multitude of possibilities, as something which, apart from more or less stable organisational patterns of everyday life, will be constantly in the making — under actual or "imagined pressure". For example, in "The case of Lionel Trilling", which necessitates our thinking about Marxism, Trilling’s responses to Parrington, Matthiessen, Dresser and the major figures such as Hegel and Heideggar, culture is stated as the unitary complex of "interacting assumptions, modes of thought, habits, and styles which are connected in secret as well as overt ways with the practical arrangements of a society and which, because they are not brought to consciousness are unopposed in their influence over men’s minds".

Perhaps because of its flexibility, its conceptual ambivalence, its emphasis on difference rather hierarchy, this definition of culture anticipates the contemporary definition of ideology as put forward by Sacvan Bercovitch in his essay, "Discovering America: a cross-vultural perspective", immediately following the above-mentioned essays. Ideology, Bercovitch believes, is the basis and texture of consensus, the web of ritual, rhetoric and "assumption through which society coerces, persuades and coheres", the system of correlated ideas, symbols and convictions by which a culture (for that matter any culture) seeks — particularly in an age like ours which is an age of expanding vocabulary, experimentation in usage, and fluidity of style and expression — to justify and perform itself.

However, Bercovitch’s definition of ideology not only generally identifies a central assumption of New Americanist criticism which places the writer outside the cultural complex of society, as if culture and literature were forces on the one side of a power struggle, and ideology and politics on the other, but also emphasises that culture is ideological, even if a culture (such as American) defines itself through its rejection of some ideologies such as fascism or totalitarianism.

Interestingly, this significant essay also reveals that America might be apprehended in its fantastic three models of the hermeneutics of denial: (1) the consensus model which denies that America has any ideology at all, as ideology means dogma, bigotry and repression, whereas Americans are "open minded, inclusive, and eclectic"; (2) the official Marxist model which was got into academia during the Depression and revived in the 1960s and which denies that ideology has any truth-value, for it is by definition "false consciousness, the camera obscure of the ruling class"; (3) the multicultural model which denies that America has an ideology on the grounds that there are many ideologies, "all in flux: republicanism, agrarianism, free enterprise, consumerism, liberalism, working-class consciousness, corporate industrialism" and so on, to the point where it comes to seem "the other side of consensual open-endedness".

The other concluding essays such as Ludwig Pfeiffer’s "The black hole of culture: Japan, radical otherness, and the disappearance of difference", Hillis Miller’s "Border crossings, translating: Ruth", Wolfgang Iser’s "The emergence of a cross-cultural Discourse", Gabriel Motzkin’s "Memory and cultural translation", and Rebate Lachmann’s "Remarks on the foreign (strange) as a figure of cultural ambivalence" retrieve a long history of relations between the self and the other by considering the philological aspects of the term "translation" with regard to its several metamorphoses within cultural binarisms.

However, from these essays an important and significant question necessarily arises: what factor, inherent in the experience of culture, triggers cultural untranslatability continually? It appears that the genesis these essay emphasise has something importantly to do with urgent need for exploring encounters between cultures in terms of translatability — a term which, in this volume, not only turns out to be "a historically conditioned operation", but also "an umbrella concept", which allows one to "inspect the interpentration of different cultures and intracultural levels without necessarily organising these encounters".

Rich in evidence and subtlety of analysis, ‘‘The Translatability of Cultures’’ is, in brief, an investigation of how translating different cultures into each other results in "a recursive looping between them", and how respecification of difference exemplifies cross-cultural interrelationships to indicate "the operational potential" of the space between them. The volume also offers a comparative range of studies which point to revealing conjunctions in the history of culture, politics, ideas, and semantics.

Students of culture, translation, history and social structure will find this book at once stimulating, insightful and provoking, so rich in the intimate knowledge about various cultures, customs and political situations, and constantly informative. Top


Ideology or the lack of it
by Jai Narain Sharma

Ideologies and Institutions in Indian Politics edited by M.P. Singh and Rekha Saxena. Deep and Deep Publications, New Delhi. Pages 526. Rs 950.

IDEOLOGY is the most elusive concept in social science. For it is all about the bases and validity of fundamental ideas. As such, it is essentially a contested concept — that is, a concept about the very definition (and therefore application) of which there is a sharp controversy.

With significant exceptions, the word ideology raises clouds of pejorative cannotation. Ideology is someone else’s thought, seldom our own. That our thought might be ideological is a suggestion that we almost instinctivelly reject, lest the foundation of our most cherished conceptions turn out to be composed of shifting sand which we would not like.

Thus, the history of the concept of ideology is the history of various attempts to find a firm point outside the sphere of ideological discourse, an immovable spot from which to observe the scope of ideology at work.

In the Marxist tradition this point has consisted in the search for a particular group or class where representatives would have a peculiar vocation for non-ideological thought.

In the rationalist tradition, trust has been placed in the objective science of society which would unmask the irrationality of ideological conceptions.

Both traditions envisage the possibility of a society without ideology — whether a Marxist society where ideology as a bulwark of class power will no longer be necessary or a capitalist society where self-evident norms of a rational market economy will operate. But the spectre of relativism of all claims to truth which has plagued humankind refuses to be laid.

Any examination of ideology makes it difficult to avoid the rueful conclusion that all views about ideology are themselves ideological.

The occasion to ponder over this concept is the book under review,

"Ideologies and Institutions in Indian Politics". This volume contains 36 articles by some well-known Indian and foreign researchers. It explores in depth the ideological and institutional roots of the Indian nation-state and its contemporary policies, practices and alternative development models in the national and global contexts and their sociological, politico-economic and environmental ramifications.

The two broad themes that lend perspective to the discussion presented in the book are political federalisation and economic liberalisation. The institutional matrices of the organs of the state, the structures of the party system and civil society are analysed threadbare to highlight their dysfunctionalities, correctives and developmental alternatives.

The crisis of political institutions in contemporary India and the much lamented deinstitutionalisation can be seen from the perspective of the growing democratisation and the attendant teething problems. According to one line of thinking, this crisis is in large part due to its own success. Civil liberties have given voice to the mute and the democratic process has provided the space to play it out.

Those debarred from the public domain entered it with modes of speech and action different from ones to which the initiators of liberal democracy were accustomed and in numbers that greatly exceeded the tiny upper crust that had led the national movement.

Some other scholars taking off from a disproportionate increase in electoral turn-out in state Assembly elections compared to the parliamentary ones, have made a case for the second democratic upsurge in the post-Congress phase "as the politics got decentred in the 1990s, democratic urges found primary expression at the state level. The aggregate turn-out of Assembly elections held during the present decade represents a major jump which also enables one to read a weak trend in the same direction in the previous decade."

These arguments undeniably sound plausible. It is difficult not to feel, however, that this is only partial truth, for the democratic upsurge is not coupled with institutionalisation of procedures and values as reflected in the rampant abuse of democratic power for personal, partisan and even corrupt and criminal ends.

The decline and dysfunctionalities of the institution of the state and civil society has caused a great deal of alarm, but is mercifully compensated to an extent and countered by institutional responses such as judicial activism in areas of constitutionalism and public accountability, public interest litigation for environmental protection and on behalf of the poor as well as new social movements.

Another theme which has lent perspective to a large number of papers in the book is market economy. The enthronement of market forces has still to contend with law and public morality which refuse to recognise the no-holds-barred operations of the acquisitive ethos of market operators as nothing but corruption and sleaze.

Scant respect for and a systematic violation of the economic and other laws and regulations have for long been treated as part of the prevailing market practices by India’s business circles. Obviously, these market practices have their counterparts in the political and bureaucratic spheres paving the way for a tight heres nexus between business, politics and administration.

So much so that it is mentioned that "as a legitimate market develops, so the crime enterprise in the illegitimate market, its alter ego, will develop with it". However, the market enthusiasts blame the development of such illegal economic and political administrative activity on the growing government-business interface, in which the former is seen to be dictating the latter.

A few topics such as "Indo-Pak relations: Choices and challenges", "Reassessment of American geopolitics towards South Asia after the cold war", etc. are out of the purview of the book. Keeping the articles of different authors within the framework of the book is difficult in such a work as this. Perhaps this is one of the main limitations of the edited volumes and the present one is no exception.

Notwithstanding this, some of the best minds have analysed the crises and opportunities confronted by India internally and externally in the post-cold war world. The book makes compelling reading for its wealth of detail and information.Top


A moral orphan in London
Write View
by Randeep Wadehra

The Blue Direction by Aamer Hussein. Penguin, New Delhi. Pages 201. Rs 200.

POST-independence literature has spawned a whole range of emotions: anger, pathos, self-pity, revulsion, compassion and nostalgia for the good old pre-partition days. But what happens when a "sensitive" writer throws in adultery, violence and kinky sex to spice up the product?

"The Blue Direction" is a collection of 10 short stories wherein Aamer Hussein portrays feelings of alienation from his place of birth — Karachi, as he is labelled a mohajir there. He vainly seeks his roots in India. In his current "home" London he is dubbed an Asian who is more likely to turn a criminal than a law-abiding citizen — at least in the perception of the police.

Near isolation goads him to become a compulsive writer and a globe-trotter. He seeks solace in the company of women. From one-night stands to enduring platonic relationships, he explores different facets of man-woman equations. Almost all his "love stories" end in tragedies. In "This other salt" he deals with the fall of love from its high pedestal of sacrifice and suffering to the depths of lust.

The story deals with a man’s search for fulfilment through carnal gratification. Unable to understand the rudiments of love, he searches for it in persons who are unable to give it to him. Sameer, a writer (what else could Hussein’s "mirror image" be?), is the main protagonist. A Bangladeshi migrant to England, he falls in love with a much travelled Palestinian woman, Lamia, who paints escapist paintings, is older to him by a decade, married to Michel — a journalist — and is dying of cancer.

Sameer has affaires d’amour with other women like Tara — part European, part Indian — the lust for whom makes him love Lamiya more (!). Tara has a lesbian relationship with Kim. Sameer’s on again, off again relationship with Suhayla, another woman, breaks-up, leaving him scarred.

While in London, Sameer divides his time among such varied activities as making love to Lamiya, writing stories, attending to Tara and watching her quarrel with the ugly, wild-haired, bisexual, charismatic poet Kim. He lives a life of a restless bachelor in any metropolis. Troubled by the Muse, his inquietude puts on intellectual overtones. He pretends he doesn’t want to leave the cold, grey, lifeless London in winter as he wants to share other people’s pain while he himself is living in a state of longing the year round.

Yet, he goes to Indonesia in summer with Lamiya and her husband Michel on a funeral journey. Both men know that she is dying and almost imperceptibly they make preparations for her death while touring the picturesque archipelago.

The stay there, however, is not uneventful. They meet Wisnu — a pious Koran-reading, pork-hating Muslim with a Hindu deity’s name who reveres Sri Dewi — the local goddess of rice. Wisnu services the homosexual yearnings of Hobbs, the Australian pimp. These are the relationships — empty, meaningless, time killing. Giving is painful, so taking becomes the easy way out. But what can one take from a person who really has nothing to give?

This comes out tellingly when Sameer returns to London after burying Lamiya in Jakarta and goes out with Tara and Kim to a dance party. When he has no more money to spend on them the two women ditch him. While walking back to his room he is mugged. The blood seeps through his bandaged wounds onto the pavement. A pedestrian (literally) end to a bland narrative.

In this collection, there are too many abstract passages that would put off the reader. Perhaps, " The lost cantos" is the best of the lot. On the other hand, "The keeper of the shrine", might interest those who are not acquainted with Romeo and Juliet or with Punjabi folklore like Heer-Ranjha or Sasi-Punnu. It deals with the cliched love triangle involving a married woman, her grandfatherly husband and a younger lover. Inevitably the story ends in tragedy.

Hussein’s claim that just before the riots began in Delhi the local Hindus had marked Muslim houses with swastika marks appears to be a figment of imagination. Hindus consider this mark as sacred and not as a sign of communal aggression. They use swastika on auspicious occasions and in sanctified places like temples.

It would be a sacrilege to use it for evil acts like killing. Perhaps the author has tried to lift this piece of fiction from the Jewish experience in Nazi Germany. The book’s flap describes his writings as a "oblique, subversive portrayal of the preoccupations of our time..." Well, subversive is the word.

Interestingly, the male protagonist in these stories invariably falls in love with older women. Shades of the Oedipus complex?

Most of the stories have a lot of atmospherics —sounds and sights described in almost pastoral prose. But to what effect? With the exception of a couple of stories, most lack viable plots. Lack of imagination and poor control over the narrative have ruined a potentially excellent book of fiction.

This literary "blue baby" may not be able to endure the reader’s scrutiny. Reading should be a pleasure, not a struggle.

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The Memories of Dr Haimabati Sen translated by Geraldine Forbes & Tapan Raychaudhuri. Roli Books, New Delhi. Pages 407. Rs 495.

This volume portrays the struggles, pain and tragedy experienced by a courageous woman who had to find her niche in life overcoming the forbidding, literally asphyxiating, social conditions prevailing in Bengal during the 19th century. Forbes and Raychaudhuri have translated these memoirs, using the non-published material written in Bengali by the late Haimabati Sen.

Dr Sen was born to a Ghosh couple in 1866 in Khulna district in the present Bangladesh. Married at the age of nine and a half years to a 45-year-old twice-widowed father of two daughters, Haimabati soon became a child widow in 1876. Destiny had something different, though not exactly pleasant, in store for this extraordinary girl.

Despite her unsympathetic in-laws, she determinedly pursued her education. Shunned by her brothers after her parents’ death, Haimabati went to Benaras — the refuge of widows (by a strange coincidence the town is in the news thanks to "Water" — a movie on widows). Soon she was able to find employment as a teacher in a school established by Indian reformers.

Abandoned by her own kin and in-laws, Haimabati assiduously built a network of relationships. This was essential to survive in a hostile world. She was an attractive 20-year-old woman, enough to attract undesirable attention of the local rogues. She left for Calcutta to live and study in a "home" for widows there.

She remarried at the age of 23. She was able to pursue her studies even after marriage. She entered the Campbell Medical School in 1891 for a three-year course. She proved to be a bright student. When she was awarded a gold medal the college’s male students went on the rampage! An indicator of the perennially brittle male ego.

Later on she also won the Viceroy’s silver medal — so good was her academic career. Yet she found it almost impossible to find a job commensurate with her qualifications.

This very interesting biography tells us about the social, economic and political conditions prevailing in the 19th century India with the focus on Bengal.

This is the saga of a woman-pioneer who had to fight entrenched prejudices and hurdles to achieve her ambitions — modest by today’s standards but rather big considering her days. She was a professional doctor, of whose income her husband lived. It hurt his ego, but not enough to behave in a responsible manner. Tragedy was waiting to happen in her life. And it did. How? Read this engrossing book, you will find it more interesting and thought-provoking than most of the so-called best sellers.

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Love Never Faileth by Eknath Easwaran. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Page 288. Rs 250.

Literature on Christianity is probably the most voluminous in the world. This should not be surprising as, in the past 2000 years, Christianity has been evolving at an awesome pace — from persecutions by the Jews, the Dark Ages, the Crusades and finally the transformation into world religion thanks as much to the British empire as to the missionary zeal of the clergy.

St Francis preached self-reform in order to set an example for others. It is not necessary for others to come in direct contact with the messiah to attain salvation or to shed evil. All one has to do is to mould one’s actions and thoughts in such a manner as to reach the ideal. Perfection will come in due course, if one remains consistent. Thus one should pray, "Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console."

St Paul believed in the purest form of love sans selfishness. To quote him, "I may have all the knowledge in the world, I may be able to speak 14 languages, including one or two that are spoken only by angels. I may have crossed the Atlantic in a canoe with only a cat for company. What does it matter? If I haven’t learnt to love, I am nothing."

St Augustine had to resolve the dilemma of finding happiness. As he states in his "Confessions", the first spiritual autobiography in the western world, "But where did they know (happiness), that they should desire it so? Where have they seen it that they should love it? Obviously we have it in some way, but I do not know how. Unless we knew the thing with certain knowledge, we could not will it with so certain a will .... May it be that one gets joy from this, one from that? One man may get it one way, another another, yet all alike are striving to attain this one thing, namely, that they may be joyful."

Mother Teresa was an embodiment of love in its sublime form. To bring succour to the suffering and neglected humanity requires an attitude that only a saint can possess. She was truly an incarnation of love. She also believed in relentlessly waging peace in order to avert war. She had the capacity to make even the greatest of sceptics believe in her life’s mission.

Love, compassion and serving the suffering humanity have always been the salient features of Christianity. The author has tried to emphasise these aspects by highlighting the life and times of St Francis, St Paul, St Augustine and Mother Teresa. This volume will be of interest to both the believers and non-believers.Top


His eternal quest for freedom, reconciliation
by Bimal Bhatia

The Political Philosophy of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama: Selected Speeches and Writings edited by A.A. Shiromany. Tibetan Parliamentary and Policy Research Centre, New Delhi. Pages xxxv +270. Price not stated.

ACCORDING to the Dalai Lama, "The Chinese have managed to swallow Tibet, they have not been able to digest it. And this is the fruit of our courage and determination."

For the Tibetans, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the supreme spiritual leader and god king. His beaming, benign face and magnetic personality infuse a new kind of hope and optimism amongst Tibetans, whose faith in and devotion to him are complete and total.

The Dalai Lama who in 1989 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is considered a revered leader with a distinct stature all over the world. While the Chinese refer to him as a "splittist" who is trying to internationalise the Tibet issue, according to the Dalai Lama, he has been merely trying to "preserve Tibet’s cultural and national identity and to find a fair solution to our problem, one which is mutually acceptable and beneficial to both Tibet and China."

That is why this volume containing the selected speeches and writings of the Dalai Lama makes interesting reading. Part I, "Exposition of the issue of Tibet", contains his speeches and writings and Part II, "Interaction with the world media", contains his interviews to the world media, for whom the Dalai Lama is one of the most popular and sought after personalities. Part III, "Organising the Tibetan diaspora", includes his intimate talks and exhortations to his compatriots in Tibet and those in exile with him, particularly the members of the "Parliament-in-exile", various department officials and members of the Special Congress of the Tibetan people. Part IV, "Statements on National Uprising Day", gives you an insight into how the Dalai Lama exhorts his countrymen to remain steadfast in their struggle without losing hope.

Taken together, you get a feel of the Tibetan problem and the single-minded purpose with which the Dalai Lama has been espousing Tibet’s cause. You also get a feel of the nobility of this great man and a clear idea of his thinking.

Sample his views and broad vision. "For the sake of the people of China as well as Tibet, a stronger stand is needed towards the Government of the People’s Republic of China... If the world today truly hopes to see a reduction in tyranny in China, it must not appease China’s leaders." He, however, does not want any "attempt to isolate China" and advocates bringing it into "the mainstream of the world community".

During his extensive travel worldwide he has championed the cause of Tibet. He has addressed Parliaments in Europe, Great Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Lithuania and a number of other countries, besides international forums like human rights and peace conferences. He has spoken and written on human rights, environmental problems, nuclear proliferation and disarmament, apart from highlighting the Tibetan issue and cause.

In the past there existed a special patron-priest relationship between China and Tibet; a relationship which was spiritual rather than temporal. In those times the three countries China, Mongolia and Tibet were referred to as separate countries.

In Tibetan the word for "China" is "Gya-nak" which means "foreign land", implying Tibet to be separate from China. The Chinese, however, explain that Tibet is not part of China, but it forms part of Chung Kuo, "Middle Kingdom", of which Gya-nak is also part.

Sun Yat-Sen, the father of the Chinese republic, considered Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria as foreign countries. Also Mao Zedong in the late 1930s when he was leading the liberation struggle — and not yet in power — considered Tibet to be independent.

Tibet was independent till 1950 when the Chinese trooped in as "liberators". In 1951 a 17-point agreement was signed under duress for the so-called "peaceful liberation of Tibet". When the Dalai Lama went to Peking in 1954 Mao told him that the Chinese had come to Tibet to help the Tibetans develop into a modern and prosperous country. Mao said the Chinese would leave after 20 years when Tibet was developed and in turn would be able to help the Chinese.

Once the Chinese army gained full control of Tibet, they shed their facade of discipline and politeness and became repressive. Brutal force was used to suppress the Tibetan resistance — first in Kham and Amdo (the Dalai Lama’s birthplace) — and finally in the whole of Tibet by March, 1959. This forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India and seek refuge and continue the struggle for Tibet’s cause.

Among his initiatives in exile were to see that Tibetan refugees arriving here by the thousands were rehabilitated and given proper education.

Till 1983 more than 1.2 million Tibetans died under Chinese rule. Of these, more than 400,000 were killed through military action or in labour camps. Several hundred thousand died due to starvation, something which had never taken place in Tibetan history.

Almost all of Tibet’s wealth, especially the religious statues, images, paintings and icons, which adorned 5,700 monasteries and 500 temples, have been plundered and taken to China. Amongst the lost are the irreplaceable ancient Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan texts destroyed by the Chinese.

The massive influx of Chinese immigrants caused the Tibetans to begin thinking like the Chinese, use their language and behave like them. It was a demographic aggression threatening the Tibetan identity. Apart from the cultural erosion of its people, the land is being denuded of its rich mineral resources, in particular uranium.

In September, 1987, the Dalai Lama proposed a five-point peace plan for the restoration of peace and human rights in Tibet. Essentially, the plan entailed (a) transformation of Tibet into a peace sanctuary; (b) abandonment of China’s population transfer policy; (c) respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms; (d) restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste; and (e) commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.

This plan was well received by the international community but the Chinese reacted with a renewed show of force in Tibet and a violent crushing of demonstrations and uprising.

In an address at Strasbourg in 1989 the Dalai Lama presented a more detailed proposal for negotiation with the Chinese government. For want of a proper response, the Strasbourg initiative was withdrawn by the Tibetan government in exile.

What does the Dalai Lama seek? "I am not seeking independence for Tibet, nor do my actions seek its separation from the People’s Republic of China. I am for autonomy, genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people to preserve their distinct identity and way of life. I do not seek any privileges or position for myself; on the contrary I have made it categorically clear many years back that I do not wish to hold any official position once we have found a solution to the Tibetan issue. I sincerely believe that my middle way approach will contribute to stability and unity of the People’s Republic of China."

This basic approach was conceived in the early seventies. He believes that the atmosphere of deep distrust between the Tibetans and Chinese will not disappear so quickly. And that is where a blurb on the jacket of this clothbound book speaks the Dalai Lama’s mind with remarkable optimism: "The future of Tibet at the moment appears something like a dream. My wish or my idea, my vision, is that Tibet should be a zone of peace completely free from any weapon, any military hardware. I think in Tibet the nature and the environment are quite peaceful... They are a peace-loving nation. So the concept of a zone of peace or sanctuary is very appropriate for Tibet. That is not only going to benefit the Tibetan people but will also benefit China and India."

You can easily sense the signals of peace and tranquility waft in the air as you leaf through this book.Top


Those you pitied, pity you, rightly
by Kishwar A. Shirali

There’s More to Life than Sex & Money by Sue Calwell and Daniel Johnson. Penguin India, New Delhi. Pages 361. Rs 295.

LIVES of courage and conviction sustain us perhaps more than we realise. On Republic Day the nation honours children who risked their lives to save others. But how much do we know of their lives and circumstances? Who are they, what are their feelings and aspirations and, more importantly, did their act change their lives? Even children can and do articulate. Has some one taken the trouble of tapping such a treasure?Besides, we know deeply of other persons who may not have been honoured but have touched our lives.

In our own City Beautiful, there is one such person who lives from moment to moment in pain but nobody sees the pain. All one sees is his smiling face with a twinkle in his eyes, thick glasses notwithstanding, with a pen in hand and a notebook. He has been lying on his back for the past 25 years. He runs an NGO to train and find work for the unemployed youth, schools for rag-pickers in a labour colony, and many other projects. Through his poems he met his wife, and they have a daughter. Vineet is part of the folklore of our city.

In Sidhbari, Kangra, a medical doctor from Vienna runs a clinic for the paharis. Dr Barbara came to Dharamsala 20 years ago, worked for a pittance, brought up two children, both smiling and scolding. Now a trust Nishta is providing nutrients, shoes and wool for the mothers to knit sweaters for the local primary school children. Besides, it runs socio-economic projects and sustains the Mahila Mandal.

In the neighbourhood is also this veritable dynamo of energy, who at the age of 63 started building mud and slate houses, with local material and local architecture. She is a Californian art student, married a Gujarati and came to Nashik at 19. After many decades of projects, four children, housekeeping, and disappointments, she moved to the artists village in Andretta, into a humble mud house near the Sanyals and Norah Richards and the blue pottery sardar Gurcharan Singh. Now at 70 Didi Contractor has designed a clinic and 10 solar energy-heated houses.

Munni, a mother of two college-going children with an oppressive husband in Dhaka, took a bus to the border thinking she had had enough. She worked as an ayah/housekeeper in India and then New York. A journey of exploitation, loneliness, endless struggle, physical pain and economic stringency plus illegal residence. She had no formal schooling, no formal skills. But she could take care of old people. With an indomitable spirit, she survived in the cold foreign culture. She even took a "khulla" from her husband, continued to support her family. After 30 years she is at last becoming a US citizen.

Barefoot, clad in two pieces of orange chaddar, Swami Ramana from Andhra Pradesh had sat at the feet of Ramana Maharishi from the age of 19.

After wandering for many years, he now lives in the hills of Baijnath. A sadhu in charge of the kitchen was named Chiragh (after Alladin). One day Chiragh decamped with the royalty of the swamiji’s Telugu short stories. Many years later he returned and took up from where he had left off. When asked, the swamiji replied simply: "I am in the business of forgiving"!

A student of law in Panjab University, Vijay had terrible nightmares. His cousin had committed suicide and was asking for justice. This cousin had encouraged him. Vijay was born with severe congenital physical disability — no feet. His parents had resigned themselves and him to their karma. He sat at their shop, doing the accounts. Secretly this cousin took him for an orthopaedic operation and prosthetics. He could now leave the small town and go places.

The loss of his benefactor was still crippling. Vijay learned to forgive himself. He now teaches at the university, rides a two wheeler and is married.

If we look closely, there is a lesson in each of these lives.

Sue Calwell and Daniel Johnson have compiled such fares of courage and pain.

The book goes beyond didactic lessons of the home-grown variety, the gharelu nuskhas — home remedies — chicken soup for the bold and beautiful when not so bold ’n’beautiful. Also wisdom in small bytes from ordinary people in extraordinary situations is called and honed. The insights revolve around being open, knowing yourself, believing, giving of yourself, changing priorities, loving life and learning from life.

A shy, withdrawn woman learns from her devastating losses "that keeping secrets is bad and that I needed people. Awoman from Yugoslavia and an American man build a bridge across the cold war, beginning with a small kind word of concern. Another scared of heights does a parachute jump. Facing one’s fears is a trick of the psychology trade called implosion. I would ask my students to imagine having a pakora of cockroaches or if they preferred, a sandwich of lizards. After such an exercise a lizard on the wall would hardly be frightening.

Choosing positive attitudes in situations of broken spines, necks, cancer even broken spirit can heal and make all the difference. Amy, an university professor at Madison, when told she had cancer said it was a wake-up call, to prepare for her journey. An Australian tearing around on a motorbike in the Outback was a quadraplegic. Such persons make a joy of their lives, however short. When down if you just "look over your shoulder", you are likely to see someone worse off.

"It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s our reaction to the problem that’s the problem."

It’s a work book for action, for change. If we want our lives to turn around, we have to get off that seat of "poor me" and do something. The very act of doing, you will be surprised, restores self-confidence. Our self-esteem is energised. Negativity, depression get disinvested.

Action for change does not mean earth-shaking changes, but small steps one by one. This may sound like old wine in new book, behaviour therapy in a simplified, easy reader handbook. Perhaps! And why not?Psychology needs demystification. However it does go beyond into the realm of here and now, experiential behaviour modification if you will. The gestalt of life, the holistic view of success and the frustrating cost of surviving in the rat race, "the hurry sickness", the corporate world.

The tribe would do well to take a close look at these homilies; they might find life more meaningful.

The book reads well, full of sensitivity, compassion and humour. Money in our country is going down the drain, right? Right! So why don’t we appoint a plumber as Finance Minister! "When given a lemon you should make lemonade!

A thought for action, perhaps somewhat simplistic. Besides, the lives of courage revolve around those who have chicken soup! What of those living on the edge?

An English Buddhist nun, Ani Tenzin Palmo, had spent 19 years in a Lahaul Spiti cave and is now setting up a nunnery. When told of the title under review, she gave a hoot of laughter, saying, Oh! is there really.Top


Control the mind to control all
by Chandra Mohan

Reinvesting Influence: How to Get Things Done in a World Without Authority by Mary Bragg. Future Skills Paperback. Pages 233. Rs 215.

IN today’s educated world of vanishing authority it is being increasingly recognised that authority has lost meaning and the only route to achieve goals is to influence minds to join your thinking and forge willing partnership. The larger the group to influence, the tougher the task. Mary Brag goes on to systematically develop influencing capability into a multi-step self-development tool.

She begins with an analysis of the power and influence of your position. What are the seven levers of power?What are the six principles of influence? Explaining basic concepts, she moves on to a four-step process for developing your own capability to influence.

Capability to influence has to naturally begin with understanding your self. Every individual has his own personality, physical appearance, mental frame, body language, style of dress, education and family background, emotional make-up and past. Unless the chemistry of this personality links into and rings a bell in the target you want to influence and its personality, all effort will only end in disappointment and frustration.

With each target having its own distinct personality, step two obviously means understanding the target in equal depth: his personal factors, job priorities and career aspirations, his organisation, its politics and pressure points. Of utmost importance in this process is to eliminate any taint by the coloured lenses of your own make-up.

Step three is diagnosis. What are the hidden values and culture of the organisation? What are the formal and informal network?Understanding leads you to the gateways to harnessing it for your influence. Cultures do run deep. Every community carries its legacy of past victories and defeats, its heroes, its knowledge leaders, its bank of experiences. Present dilemma and crisis dictate the pain it will accept in change.

Step four leads to strategy and tactics for developing your own influence. Skilfully tooled up and cultivated, culture and network can help you move your own influence on the victory trail. It could mean multiple tools. It could mean tools changing with time. At times it could even mean retreat. The key issue for success is action after understanding your own self and the community you want to influence.

What is important to remember is that personalities, cultures and situations differ every time. No canned solution guarantees success. It is upon the leader to search for and tailor a solution. Roads taken by eminently successful leaders of the past can only be guides to align the antennae.

Illustrated all the way with examples, the guide is complete with concept quizzes, check lists and action lists. It lives upto its best seller class.


Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology by Rober Pool. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages 358. Rs 245.

Bronowski in his "Ascent of Man" had made an incisive observation while tracing the evolution of homo-sapiens and civilisation through the ages: "Man makes tools, and they in turn re-make man."

This cryptic observation underlines the indivisible link between society and technology. While fire, electricity, car and transistor were obviously a result of the technical prowess of societies at that time, these inventions wrought radical changes to the very life-style of societies. Moving in the same vein, Pool traces the harnessing of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and its divergent paths in different countries due to social influences.

While Einstein had spelt out the theoretical possibility of the atom as a source of energy in the early years of the century, World War IIprovided the real thrust:a super bomb to decide the winner. Otto Hahn and Strassmann in Germany were the first to split the atom in 1938 and a top calibre German team had been ordered to turn this new science into the ultimate victory bomb for Hitler

Driven by urgency of finding an answer to Hitler’s sweeping wave and enabled by the flood of immigrant Jewish scientists escaping Hitler’s pogroms, the US push began two years later. It goes to the composite creativity and talent of Fermi and teams at the University of Chicago and Los Alamos National Labs that the first controlled nuclear reaction pile went critical in December, 1942. Three Nobel laureates and seven winners of the highest National Science Awards speak of the talent assembled.

The bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which ended the war, established the infinite energy now within man’s command. Apparently expensive at that early stage, belief in its eventual competitiveness with thermal energy with time and experience was so ecstatic that even nuclear aircraft was talked of.

On the military side, nuclear submarines were obviously the first choice: undetected undersea travel in total secrecy for months. For peaceful use, electricity generation was the natural choice and with the post-war economic boom, the US demand for power was insatiable.

It was fortunate that the navy’s nuclear development programme which began in 1946 got a leader like Captain Rickover. A champion and restless learner, he quickly grasped the technological options, their development level and their risks. He was also a leader par excellence — knowledgeable and tough, planner-executor, stickler for safety and standardisation. With detailed pre-planning and concurrent construction of reactor core and hull, the Nautilus, keeled in June, 1952, went to sea in January, 1955, perfect from day one. Many more followed in quick succession. With Rickover’s penchant for standardisation and safety, the US record of nuclear power plants with navy remains superb.

Diversion of the Atomic Energy Commission’s attention to harnessing nuclear energy for peaceful use for electricity generation began in 1953 by dangling a bunch of carrots and waving a stick for finding willing partners among the many private utilities and downing costs to raise its competitiveness against thermal power. In this preoccupation resources and experience were spread thinly.

Wild promises and corner-cutting for costs by the turn-key contractors in inter-firm rivalry for dominance added to cost and time over-runs and a stream of new safety regulations under public pressure added to the woe.

Public romance with nuclear energy soon evaporated. Increasing public concern with environment and quality of life led to cynicism, disillusionment and finally hatred. The melt-down of the core at the Three Mile Island station in 1979 dropped the final lid. Nuclear power was abandoned for ever.

The French experience was totally opposite. French were nowhere in the development of nuclear technology. The war had also left it impoverished. Low on fossil fuel resources, it decided on nuclear power in the seventies to meet its hunger for electricity. Its advantage lay in a single national power utility to which design responsibility was assigned. Construction responsibility was again centralised in two nationalised agencies: Framatome for the reactor and Alsthom Atlantique for the turbine.

They quickly decided to buy American experience through a tie-up and standardise on size and technological alternatives. Entire energy could thus be concentrated on cost refinement and safety. The result: 80 per cent power needs of France is being met by nuclear power and an unblemished safety record.

Our own experience is none too different. Romance with the promises of Homi Bhabha of the fifties has evaporated in the face of poor delivery and cost over-runs.

The extreme shapes which nuclear energy for power has taken in different countries illustrates the power of culture on science and innovation. Outcast pariah in one society which pioneered the technology and angel-saviour in another which joined two decades later. As education and knowledge spread, social pressure will increasingly dictate the shape which new knowledge and technology take.