The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 9, 2000

Kargil revisited thrice over
by Rajendra Nath
Sikkim factor in China’s hostility
by Parshotam Mehra
Naipaul: West Indian or just Indian?
by M.L. Raina
Right from the dancer’s mouth
by Rekha Jhanji
The first scam of free India
Himalayas: loving but treacherous
by Manmant Singh Sethi
Women as objects of violence
by Kavita Soni-Sharma

Kargil revisited thrice over
by Rajendra Nath

Despatches from Kargil by Srinjoy Chaudhury. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 231. Rs 200.

ALL wars and battles generate a tremendous amount of literary output, be it official, unofficial, analytical, descriptive autographical or eye-witness accounts. Western nations have an acute sense of war history and rich material is available to military students for research. We in India, from ancient times, have neglected the art of warfare and even post-independence India has not really taken to this form of chronicling in spite of four major wars, various counter-insurgency campaigns and the fiasco in Sri Lanka. Whatever literature is there, it is from defence officers and it has not found a vast market. Something about our ethos and culture has much to do with it — armed forces and conflicts are on the periphery of the nation’s consciousness.

Kargil, however, marks a turning point. The media as a "force multiplier" and more importantly, as Srinjoy Chaudhury states, "You are our army. Why can’t you speak with us." He continues, "It was a great line that got people nodding in approval, but I meant it." Thus, the convergence of the nation’s mood, as created and reflected by the media, and the brave and heroic fight back by the armed forces describe essentially the victory at Kargil in many ways.

The nation, for the first time in 52 years, showed by its emotional outpouring and solidarity that it stood behind the armed forces — its own armed forces. Soldiers like me who went through wars between 1946 and 1971 seeing rarely a media man or an accurate dispatch in the papers, can only welcome this development. The media made a tremendous contribution in reflecting the nation’s spirit, in bringing home to the common man the pathos, the heroism, the victories and the sacrifices in treacherous terrain. This has increased the respect for the soldier and boosted his morale. Tiger Hill was not only a turning point in the war, nor was it the army’s victory, it was the nation’s victory. This was the national mood. This has also opened the purse strings of the government for the martyrs and the disabled. Old soldiers like me realise that we did not have group insurance as late as 1971.

Srinjoy’s book is a reflective account of war as the young man saw the chaos and the fog of war, the fears and the motivation, the spirit and the death and injuries which followed. It is a moving account of human nature in war. Brigadier Aul’s unexpressed emotions when his own son was moving up to attack, the death of brothers in the same battle, or officers embracing at the end of the war silently expressing relief at coming out alive.

Soldiers take their memories of war with them, Srinjoy has brought them alive and as a journalist has done well. His account is objective; he describes events and personalities as he saw them: Capt Vikram Batra, Lt Manoj Pandey, ordinary infantrymen, the Nagas, the Jats, the Gorkhas, the Sikhs, the Dogras, the gunners, the signalmen manning the posts at the rear, the supply corps drivers and doctors. This is war reporting at its best. Do not look for the reasons for the war or its analysis, or the description of tactics in the book. This is obviously not Srinjoy’s aim; the objective is to report accurately the events as they unfolded in the immediate vicinity of the battle zone. The role of the artillery has been well brought out in the book.

Readers will understand war and the tremendous energy, fortitude, loyalty and motivation expected from all — from the Generals to the man in the trenches. Kargil was a subaltern’s war in the end and of the Indian jawan, as is logical in all battles of this nature. Even during the war some observed that soldiers fought and died as they were paid for it. This book, without stating directly, counters these statements effectively. The hard training and motivation required to fight war has been stressed throughout the book. A readable book, at par with many written in the West by journalists, and a solid contribution to national unity.

Now to the analytical past, two other books are being reviewed. These have been written before the publication of the Kargil committee report and hence they do not incorporate its comments and analyses. However, they do present fresh viewpoints and insight.

This first is "Kargil Blunder" by Major-Gen Bahl and published by Manas Publications, New Delhi. (pages 204, Rs 495). The book consists of 12 articles written by politicians and intellectuals like Jaswant Singh, S.K. Singh and Mohan Guruswamy and defence officers like General Madan, Gen Afsir Karim, Gen Bahl and Air Commodore N.B. Singh, all dealing with different aspects of the Kargil conflict. The Indian army was initially surprised by Pakistan army’s move across LoC, fought back with rare ferocity, and recaptured the heights helped by the Air Force. The media and our diplomacy played their cards well. The various articles in the book bring out these and other aspects in a logical manner.

Two articles in this book challenge the theory that the intelligence set-up has let down the country in Kargil. Mohan Guruswamy in his article "Who is responsible for Kargil", has stated, "There is much evidence available now to suggest that the three agencies concerned with intelligence gathering — RAW, IB and DMI — had in fact provided their masters with ample warning about Pakistan’s intentions and activities. RAW, it seems, went as far as telling the government that the Pakistanis were getting ready to launch a major operation in Kargil." He further states: "The fact that two of the officials directly involved, the then RAW chief and the then Home Secretary, have been rewarded with cushy post-retirement positions suggest that there might be a quid pro quo for silence."

Gen Bahl in his article "The intelligence failure" also states: "Our intelligence agency RAW reportedly warned of the possibility of a swift, limited Pakistan offensive." According to him, IB also sent a report regarding enhanced Pakistan activity in the Kargil sector as well as intrusion of Pakistani remote-piloted vehicles into the Indian territory at least 20 times."

These articles certainly give another view of the intelligence failure theory. However, on the whole, the various articles in the book have praised the handling of the Kargil conflict by the government. S.K. Singh’s article on "Which way from Kargil" makes interesting reading.

General Madan has suggested that as early as 1990 a suggestion was made that the task of fighting insurgency in Kashmir and guarding the LoC should be bifurcated. This proposal was not accepted, more for personal rather than tactical reasons, the author states. This has a reference to the movement of troops to the valley from the Kargil sector in the nineties to deal with increasing insurgency in the valley, which was at the cost of border security. The troops in the 144-km-long LoC in the Kargil sector therefore became very thin on the ground which enabled Pakistan to send its forces across the LoC.

As the now, insurgency is increasing and it may be worthwhile to reconsider the proposal. It is obvious that Pakistan actions are going to pose serious problems.

The third book, "Kargil — A wake up call" is by Colonel Ravi Nanda (pages 160, Rs 350 and published by Lancer Books, New Delhi). According to the author, the Army in 1999 was facing the same situation as it did in 1962. It had antiquated equipment and a weapons system as the defence budget was cut down progressively since 1990. Some jawans in the Kargil sector were issued condemned snow and glacier clothing. Snow booths were not there at all. In spite of all this, the army acquitted itself with great credit and won laurels from the countrymen.

A serious effort has been made by the author in this book to analyse the Kargil war and suggest measures to meet the future security needs. He has suggested setting up an effective intelligence system linked to satellites. India must have a functional and reliable command and control system on the ground for strategic nuclear weapon capability.

The Ministry of Defence needs to be restructured and the three Services headquarters becoming part of the Ministry. The above as well as other thoughtful suggestions made in this book deserve to be considered by the government and the defence services.Top


Sikkim factor in China’s hostility
by Parshotam Mehra

China’s Shadow over Sikkim: the Politics of Intimidation by G.S. Bajpai. Lancer Publishers, New Delhi. Pages xvi plus 243. Rs. 450

TUCKED away in the Himalayas and sandwiched between Bhutan in the east and the Gurkha kingdom of Nepal in the west, Sikkim is a tiny state which, thanks to its geographical location, has always enjoyed considerable strategic significance. Bordered by Tibet on the north with which it shares a semi-demarcated frontier, Sikkim has long served as a gateway, across the Chumbi valley, to the vast empty land across the Nathu la.

Its puny size, a bare 7,298 sq km, and the lush green of its soil have been sore temptations to its powerful, if unscrupulous neighbours. The Tibetans as well as the Gurkhas have, by turn as it were, ravaged the land. Nor did the Chinese in their heyday of effective sway over Lhasa, much in the 19th century less in the half century since their "liberation" of Tibet, accepted with equanimity the fact of its separate identity.

Of late, in the wake of Sikkim’s merger (1975) Beijing has squarely denounced India’s "illegal annexation" of the land and lent its powerful support in Sikkim’s struggle "for national independence". And in defence of state sovereignty, against New Delhi’s "expansionism".

The importance of Sikkim lies not only in its geographical setting but also in the fact that it provides an interesting and indeed fascinating study of a remarkable ethnic conglomeration. It is the so-called "little Tibet" in India with the strong and powerful imprint of Lama Buddhism from across the border. With a composite population of 406,457 (1991 census), its earliest inhabitants, the Lepchas of Indo-Chinese stock, are now a minuscule minority. So also the equallly small but powerful Bhutias who, in 1961, numbered a little over 15,000.

Immigrants chiefly from Tibet and Bhutan, the ruling house of Namgayal — now defunct— was of Bhutia stock. The bulk of the population and present Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling are Nepalese who since the 1890s have virtually swamped the land. It is their language, Gorkhali, which is more commonly spoken, and being at once hard-working and venturesome,they dominate both agriculture and commerce. There is virtually no industry.

For a social historian, well-versed in anthropology, Sikkim provides a rich fare. The composite character of its people, the historical setting in which it took place, the social and political milieu which evolved as a result thereof, are subjects that await competent hands. Sadly, the book under review is singularly innocent of these facets of Sikkim’s rich cultural texture. And must to that extent be deemed lacking in a larger perspective that alone invests political history with its depth and dimension.

For the botanist too, Sikkim is a treasure trove, boasting a little over 4,000 species of plants and more than a couple of hundred varieties of orchids!

On the political front, the author’s principal preoccupation, Sikkim’s recent history is no older than a hundred odd years. And goes back to the Anglo-Chinese convention of 1890 and the regulations governing trade, commerce and pasturage spelt out later (1893). The important thing about both these instruments though was that neither of the contracting parties cared to bring in the country most directly involved, Tibet. For the overland trade as well as Sikkim’s northern frontier lies with the land of the Lamas.

China’s loud boasts of complete sway over Tibet notwithstanding, the fact was that it enjoyed little prestige and even less authority there. The result was that Lhasa, whose "ignorance, obtuseness and obstinacy" was blamed by the Chinese for refusal to establish a trade mart at Yatung just across the Chumbi valley, refused to accept much less implement either the terms of the convention or the regulations framed thereunder.

Tibet’s refusal to accept the Chinese diktat was only half the problem. Much more intractable was its stern refusal to any ties, official or otherwise, with the Raj. In the event, Curzon’s tenacious effort to open a direct dialogue with the master of the Potala were badly frustrated. And this, it was widely believed, at the instance of Czarist Russia and its agents who had allegedly propped up the authority of the Dalai Lama and assured him of moral and material support. To tear apart this miasma of suspicion and high intrigue, Curzon despatched the Younghusband expedition (1903-04). Ostensibly to negotiate frontier and trade matters, but in reality to punish the Dalai Lama for his recalcitrance.

Inter alia, the resultant Lhasa convention (September, 1904) stipulated that Tibet would accept the 1890 convention and the 1893 trade regulations. Even though it refused to cooperate in the matter of erecting boundary pillars on the frontier (August, 1905) Tibet did not infringe the border which followed "a clearly defined natural watershed". And about 30 years later when the Raj explained the boundary alignment to its local functionaries, the latter gave a written undertaking to honour it (May, 1935).

On the morrow of India’s independence, a "Standstill Agreement" between the Sikkim durbar and New Delhi froze existing administrative arrangements; the treaty itself was more or less an affirmation of the status quo (December, 1950).

India accepted Sikkim as a protectorate with responsibility for its foreign relations, defence and territorial integrity.

Contrary to the assurances that it respected New Delhi’s relations with Bhutan and Sikkim (April, 1960), Beijing soon recanted. And charged that on the pretext of improving the defence of Sikkim, India had encroached on its independence and sovereignty. Later, in the course of the New Delhi-Beijing official level talks (1960-61) it refused to discuss Sikkim’s northern boundary with Tibet on the plea that it did not fall within the purview of the parleys.

The years 1963-65 were witness to increasing Chinese belligerence on the Sikkim frontier with persistent, and largely unsubstantiated, allegations of Indian encroachments on the Chines side of the boundary line. The fog had thickened in the wake of the Beijing-Islamabad axis (1963) and the latter’s undeclared war against New Delhi (1965). China came out forcefully on the side of its ally and amid grave charges of violations of the border and kidnapping of four Chinese border inhabitants and "eight hundred sheep and fifty-nine yaks" served New Delhi with an ultimatum!

The war of nerves was to continue unabated for the next two years. India’s "reactionary ruling clique" was repeatedly reminded of its innumerable lapses and exhorted to embrace the thought of Chairman Mao, a panacea for all its ills. Happily, in the face of the gravest of provocations, New Delhi stood its ground and kept its cool. And peace reigned on the Sikkim frontier.

Meanwhile developments in Sikkim itself were leading to a denouement of sorts. The Chogyal egged on by an ambitious American wife, Hope Cooke Namgayal, a New York socialite, began to harbour dreams of independence for his little kingdom. Sadly for him, he commanded little popular support. Matters came to a head when an enraged populace surrounded his palace and demanded his ouster. Leaving New Delhi little choice except to declare Sikkim a state of the Indian Union (1975).

This was grist to Beijing’s propaganda mill. It affirmed that it "absolutely does not recognise" the fact and unleashed its by now familiar rhetoric. Over the quarter century that has elapsed since, the stalemate persists for Chinese publications continue to describe Sikkim as a separate entity and equate its status with that of Bhutan and Nepal. More, Beijing refuses to discuss the subject as being "beyond" the scope of the India-China border dispute.

That is all there is to this slender volume which calls for a few brief comments. To start with, developments during the crucial years, 1965-67, are too thin a spread for a large chunk of the volume (pages 120-215); these could for the benefit of its author as well as his readers, be summed up more succinctly in less than half that verbiage. Again, there is little by way of the larger perspective of developments on the frontier as a whole (of which Sikkim is only a small part), even less by way of critical assessment. Two other points need a passing mention. More rigorous editing would have helped a crisper narrative. Also a bibliographic note, further reading on the subject.

As to the politics of intimidation, these are by no means peculiar to Sikkim. Over hundreds of years Chinese rulers have been obsessed with the idea that the frontiers of the Middle Kingdom lie in the foothills of the Himalayas; the claim to Sikkim keeps that myth alive. Again, Beijing’s dealings with Tibet, Mongolia and Taiwan provide apt if fascinating studies of the strategy and tactics of intimidating an adversary. Sadly, for Tibet, the Chinese succeded; happily for Mongolia, they drew a blank. And on present showing, in terms of the results of its presidential election (March 18, 2000), the verdict in Taiwan has gone decidedly against Beijing.

A word on the author. A civil servant, Bajpai had a varied career including a brief stint at Gangtok in Sikkim (1965-70). Which would largely explain why developments in those years overshadow much else that is germane both to Sikkim as well as the larger whole of the frontier.Top


Naipaul: West Indian or just Indian?
by M.L. Raina

V.S. Naipaul by Manjit Inder Singh. Rawat Publications, Jaipur & Delhi. Pages 252. Price not mentioned.

History-Fiction Interface in English Novel by T.N. Dhar. Prestige, New Delhi. Pages 271. Rs 500.

V.S. NAIPAUL is by all accounts a leading novelist of our time. Besides, he is a marvellous teller of travel stories and writes elegant prose — much superior prose to the kind of argot pedalled by Rushdie and his literary can-carriers. It is not that he has lacked critics as well as admirers both in India and in the West. In fact he has been written about in considerable detail.

Praised by English and American academic critics but generally panned by Indian scholars for reasons which have nothing to do with his literary skills, Naipaul has raised everybody’s hackles. He has riled the post-colonial critical mafia because he does not see the world in the same Manichean terms as they do. He is a deconstructor of many of the myths sedulously cultivated by post-colonial theory about the Third world. He has looked beneath the chrome-plated sheen and found the Third World as sordid as the First World.

Like every Third World academic writing on Naipaul, Manjit Inder Singh makes his initial oblations to the Said-Spivak-Bhaba troika but, as he warms up to his author, he goes his own way and comes up with some acute insights about Naipaul Singh is an intrepid scholar, has earned his spurs by reading deeply in Naipaul’s writing and other matters. His book, then, is different from the garden and common varieties of Naipaul scholarship that excoriates the author for what he is not rather than for what he is (an instance of this kind is Sara Suleri’s unbearably tedious reading in "Rhetoric of English India").

While "politically correct" scholarship has by and large been unappreciative of Naipaul’s gifts as a writer, it is to Singh’s credit that he has read more than a "stance" in the novels, explored the trickster motif in the Caribbean novels (linking him with Mann’s "Felux Crull") and has seen the advantages in Naipaul’s "packaging of sardonic humour and sharp wit" in his early fiction. What makes me turn to Singh is the fact that he is very alive to Naipaul’s use of pop culture, a fact largely ignored by his detractors. Singh is good on "The Mystic Masseur", makes relevant observations about "Biswas" and is extremely plausible in his reading of "The Mimic Men" — all these my favourite Naipaul novels.

Here I would like to caution Singh not to take recourse to Foucault in explaining "Biswas". The novel itself is good enough for a critic of Singh’s sensibility not to lean on Foucault’s shaky crutches. But then, being a post-colonial academic, habits die hard.

Since Singh studies Naipaul as a "diasporic writer", it is but natural that he should expatiate on the nature of diasporic writing itself. Barring his approving nods to Bhaba, Said and other by now shopworn sources of post-colonial theory, Singh’s own readings are sensitive, largely convincing (because he follows the familiar track), and makes us go back to the novels. I say this because I find the novels themselves revealing enough so as not to carry the theoretical freight with my reading. "A Bend in the River", "Guerrillas", "In A Free State" and many travel books (particularly the ones on Islamic countries) show Naipaul as a polemicist but with a razor-sharp eye for the nuance and mark of actual experience.

Manjit Inder Singh has written a highly professional critique, but also one in which he is aware of the fact that a novelist is more than his "stances", "subject positions", "ideological interpellations" (he has spared me yet another helping of Althusser) and many other dodgy bric-a-brac that clutters much writing on "diaspora". This monograph deserves a place among the very few useful studies of V.S. Naipaul.

T.N. Dhar’s well-argued monograph on the history-fiction relationship in the Indian English novel is, as far as I know, the first of its kind and is, therefore, welcome. But this fact alone does not qualify it for scholarly attention. It is a solid piece of work girded upon wide reading in philosophy and history. Its aim is clearly stated: to see how some of the Indian-English novelists see the relationship between history and fiction. Not in the theoretical sense, though, not entirely. But in the sense in which "the active involvement of the novelist with history" draws the attention of the reader to what Dhar calls "interface".

The first two chapters are of a general theoretical nature and set the context in which Anand, Sahgal, Rushdie, Tharoor and O.V. Vijayan mould their historical material into viable fictional structures.

In the chapter, "Towards an understanding of history-fiction nexus", Dhar draws upon some of the current historians who see a direct link between history and the novel, notably Georg Lukacs, Dominic La Capra and Hayden White. Very rightly Lukacs is central to any discussion on history-fiction nexus. His position that history is inextricably woven into all narrative is understood by Dhar as a starting point for his own understanding of the concepts. Lukacs saw history unfolding in the socially mediated narrative of individual fate (as in his excellent reading of Nellie Dean’s position in Scott’s "Heart of Middlothian"). For him the typicality of character in narrative itself suggests the implication of the historical consciousness. Lukacs could not make a clear distinction between history in narrative and history as narrative for the simple reason that his ideological position would be vitiated by any such distinction.

La Capra and White do, in a sense, make this distinction, but tend to slur it over in actual practice. In La Capra’s "History and Criticism" and White’s "The Content of Form" the attempt is, first, to draw boundaries and then to collapse them by pointing out that both literary and historical consciousness are saturated with narrative: both tell stories and are, therefore constructions, or rhetorical effects, as in Hayden White’s typology. Dhar uses White and La Capra’s concepts to redraw the "interface" among his chosen novelists.

The chapter on "The Indian paradigm", arguably the most rewarding in the whole theoretical excursus, brings out the Indian concepts of history and time and offers some interesting propositions about the Indian narrative tradition. Dealing with yugas and kalpas, rather than with discrete historical entities, narrative in the Indian tradition is a broad-sweep presentation of historical cycles and epochs. And yet, as the chapter progresses through a synoptic account of history and narrative in our tradition, it becomes clear that our tradition did not lack the historical sense in which we understand it today.

Armed with this understanding, Dhar reads his chosen novelists with special attention to their sense of history. As a conscientious scholar, he presents the gradations along which each of his novelists situates the relationship between history and fiction. I find his readings, just as I find Singh’s readings of Naipaul’s fiction, sympathetic, observant and meticulous to a large extent.

Since Anand is a confessedly historical novelist, it is not surprising that Dhar should find his fiction more pervaded by history than many writers who find spirituality everywhere Indian writing do. Unlike Conrad, Anand does not hide his historical secrets. In novel after novel particularly in the vast saga involving his hero Krishan Chander through various phases of the freedom struggle, he sketches a vibrant history of contemporary India and projects its deep contradictions. Though there is much clumsy characterisation in this saga as well as a large dose of overt didacticism (a constant feature of Anand), it still remains an example of history interwoven into the fate of individual characters through a traditional narrative structure.

With Nayantara Sahgal history becomes a daily occurrence, as Dhar shows with skill and discernment. Too close to the events narrated, her historical sense lacks the dimension of detachment which alone can provide what Henry James calls the wider perspective. Though Dhar is reticent to spell it out, Sahgal is at best a reporter in fiction, whose works do not support a sustained historical reading.

With Rushdie it is easy to see the mincing of history and fiction and Dhar successfully shows it. Dhar has a fine analytical sense and can see beyond the immediate situation. But in his zeal to represent Rushdie as a great innovator, he seems to me to overrate Rushdie’s "modern fairy-tales". True there is enough in the writer which can be read as something out of the ordinary. But to equate all fantasy with a superior historical sense is to blur the distinction between what is here and now and what is evoked through fantasy.

However, I find Dhar on Rushdie, as on other novelists in this monograph, perceptive as well as probing. I have had no inclination so far to read Tharoor, in spite of Dhar’s chapter, but I think Dhar is good on Vijayan.

T.N. Dhar has written a much-needed study, particularly when this kind of thing has not been attempted before. He writes well, has done a great deal of thinking and successfully drawn attention to the novelists’ historical concerns. His understanding of history as real allows him to go beyond "nativist" desire to see India as just a spiritual haven for jaded consciousness. Dhar’s indeed, as Singh’s is, a deservedly worthwhile effort.Top


Right from the dancer’s mouth
by Rekha Jhanji

Rhythmic Echoes and Reflections: Kathak by Shovana Narayan. Roli Books, New Delhi. Pages 176. Rs 350.

THE book under review is a comprehensive study of kathak, the classical dance form of North India. Shovana Narayan is a renowned dancer who has given recitals all over the world. She has a strong grounding in the classical tradition of kathak and offers a new interpretation of this dance form. The long practical experience of the author has made the book extremely valuable. Because any theorising on art becomes significant only if the author is conversant with that particular art medium.

The author starts with the origin and development of kathak as a dance form. She points out that it originated in the ecstatic dance of Brahmins when they were narrating mythological stories. She points out that contrary to the popular belief in a more recent origin of kathak, there are references of kathak in the Mahabharata. She contends that the one who tells a story is a kathak (katha kahe so kathak kahlaye). Thus kathak derived its origin from katha and kathakars and kathak originated in temples. The kathakars were usually Brahmins.

Despite its strong Hindu base, the author holds that kathak is the most secular of all dance forms. It displays a beautiful synthesis of the Hindu and Muslim cultures. In the literature of the past two and a half centuries there are names of not any outstanding male kathaks. There is a mention of female dancers like Amrapali, Salavti, Kasha and Kuvalya in Jain and Buddhist texts. Even the mention of female dancers is incidental. There are references to the tradition of devadasis in ancient texts like Padma Purana, Rajatarangini, Meghdoot and Kudiattam.

She highlights the close relationship between sculpture and dance by including several photographs of sculptures of dancing girls. Some of them are clearly dancers of kathak.

As a dance form kathak perceives the body along the central vertical median, not far removed from life itself with the three-dimensional effect emerging through dynamic motion. The weight of the body is equally divided on both feet with very slight flexing of the knees. Amongst all classical dance forms, kathak maintains the most natural body stance emphasising the dynamic aspect of nature and life.

The common impulse to externalise those states into movements which are otherwise latent is the basic principle underlying kathak. The movements, gestures and postures are drawn from everyday life and emotions expressed by the dancer are immediately identifiable by the viewer despite the inherent stylisation in all classical dance forms.

The eight major features of kathak are ishtapada (prayer), thaat (introduction), jatshuny (establishing the dance movements), gatibhava (enacting a story), bhavarang (enacting of literary pieces around hero-heroine), nrityang (danced rhythmic patterns), tarana (pure dance sequences) and tatkar (footwork). The rendering of these features varies from one dancer to another. The more natural the dancer, the more fluid are these features.

In the past two centuries two major centres of kathak have emerged at Jaipur and Lucknow. These centres have a distinct style. While the Lucknow gharana has grace (lasya) as its predominant feature, virility rendered through tandava is the distinguishing feature of the Jaipur gharana. The identification of a gharana with a place rather than with individuals came about in the 19th century when the most active patronage came from Lucknow, Benaras and Jaipur.

As a dance form kathak has passed through many vicissitudes. However, there is a continuity in the basic stances and postures of the dancer. These postures also exist in some of the photographs of ancient sculptures reproduced in this book. However, literature, music and the dresses of the region of the Indus and Gangetic plains, where this dance form originated, have had an impact on this dance form.

Kathak is a dance form which accommodates innovations. The story-telling tradition and the emphasis on various local languages besides Sanskrit have given rise to many new experiments. Every generation has given a novel interpretation to this dance form. The movements of dancers of the eighties and nineties of the 20th century vary greatly from those of the earlier generations even of the same gharana.

The innate capacity of kathak to imbibe the ethos of changing times is one of its greatest strong points and it has helped in the enrichment of this dance. Contemporary social problems like human rights, environmental degradation and inequality have also been incorporated into the repertoire of dance themes by contemporary artists. Modern interpretations of ancient myths and legends have also been undertaken.

Quite like the themes of kathak, the accompanying musical instruments have kept pace with changing times. From the age-old pakhawaj and veena, tabla, harmonium, sarod and sitar have also been accepted as accompanying instruments. Earlier the Hindustani music was the dominant style for the accompanists. Now kathak is also danced to carnatic music and even to the classical western compositions of Schubert, Ravel and Debussy.

The author has discussed in great detail the various gestures (mudras) and their relation to emotions in kathak. Certain gestures have become symbols of certain objects and entities. For instance, an alapadma is taken to symbolise a flower in bloom and the representation of the flute through gestures is understood to refer to Lord Krishna. But all these are communicable only in a given cultural context. For anyone unfamiliar with this context may not be able to grasp the significance of these gestures.

The author needs to be congratulated for her immense sensitivity to detail of the different aspects of this dance form. It could have been possible only for a practising maestro to highlight all these dimensions of this great dance form.

However, one wishes the author had written at least one chapter on her own experiments with kathak. Something of her experience does become evident from the wealth of details she provides about the poetry, music, gestures, dresses and the names of artists associated with it.

One does wish that she had been a little more autobiographical (at places) to give the reader a simultaneous glimpse of her own artistic journey as a kathak dancer. That would have made her exposition of this dance form more alive and engaging.

This is not to detract from the brilliance of this book. Needless to say, it is a valuable contribution to the study of this fascinating dance form. Top


The first scam of free India

FOR all his frequent criticism of T.T. Krishnamachari (popularly known as TTK), both as Commerce Minister and later as the Finance Minister who implemented Nehru’s socialistic policies, A.D. Shroff and TTK developed a grudging respect, even admiration, for each other.

According to Shroff, of all the Ministers of Industry since independence, TTK must be acknowledged as an outstanding success. He said that while "some of us" may differ from him on the views he holds and propagates, there is not the slightest doubt that in the discharge of his very high responsibilities, he has shown remarkable drive, energy and understanding of business problems and above all, a capacity for taking quick decisions. Their differences were always about policy and its implementation; other than that, TTK had enormous respect for Shroff’s business and financial acumen and he in turn for TTK’s abilities.

TTK was, during his term as Finance Minister, keen on establishing a shipping company in South India to be registered in the state of Madras. A group of businessmen were encouraged to take the initiative to set up such a corporation with the assurance of government support by way of soft loans and guarantees and funding from financial institutions.

J.H. Tarapore, a Madras-based industrialist and a close friend of Shroff, prepared a project report which met with TTK’s approval, but he still hesitated. Finally, the Finance Minister told Tarapore that the government would be willing to recommend loans even to the extent of 20 times its paid up capital (as against the 6:1 debt;equity ratio at that time) as long as the company got itself a chairman of the right stature. Tarapore was in a fix. He beat around the bush and came up with some suggestions but none would meet TTK’s approval.

Finally, he gave him a broad hint about the kind of person who would meet with their approval. Tarapore was troubled. Well aware of Shroff’s trenchant and frequent criticism of TTK, he hesitated to mention him. Finally, he did tell the Minister that the only person he knew who would meet TTK’s description was A.D. Shroff, but he didn’t think that the name would meet with his approval.

To his surprise, TTK immediately grabbed the idea and told him that if he could, indeed, persuade Shroff to be the chairman, he would ensure all possible assistance to it. Shroff agreed to be the chairman and South India Shipping Corporation was born.

It is ironical that TTK finally resigned from the government over the Mundhra scandal. Shroff’s expert testimony had played an important role in helping Justice M.C. Chagla reach his decision to indict the Finance Minister which led to his resignation.

The Mundhra Scandal

The first major financial scandal of independent India was what is popularly known as the Mundhra scandal. The government owned Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) had bypassed its investment committee and, under pressure from the government, had purchased Rs 124 lakh worth of shares in six companies belonging to the Calcutta-based industrialist Haridas Mundhra in order to bail him out. LIC’s investment committee was informed of this decision only after the deal had been struck.

An explosive disclosure in Parliament of LIC’s surreptitious deal by Feroze Gandhi, Prime Minister Nehru’s son-in-law, in 1958, led to a nationwide furore and forced the government to appoint a one-man commission headed by Justice M.C. Chagla, a retired Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court?

He conducted a swift and transparent public enquiry which led to the punishment of the guilty in under two years. Unlike the hearing of the Joint Parliamentary Committee which investigated the securities scam of 1992, Justice Chagla decided that a public inquiry is "a very important safeguard for ensuring that the decision will be fair and impartial. The public is entitled to know on what evidence the decision is based." It was also meant to encourage the public to come forward and offer additional information to the committee.

The result was that huge crowds thronged the public hearings and the proceedings had to be amplified using loudspeakers so that people who failed to find seats in the court-room could hear what was going on. J.R.D. Tata used to attend some of the sessions and on the day when Shroff was to depose before the committee, the crowds were so large that he could not even enter the court-room.

The six Mundhra shares were: Richardson Cruddas, Jessops, Smith Stanistreet, Osler Lamps, Agnelo Brothers and British India Corporation. Of these, the last three were complete duds, Richardson Cruddas and Jessops had been good dividend-paying companies until then and Smith Stanistreet had a good chance of being profitable under a good management. There was ample evidence that Haridas Mundhra was bleeding the companies and siphoning off large chunks of money, while simultaneously operating in the market and rigging up prices as cover to his own sales of these scrips.

LIC’s investment committee had made no official protest, even when it got to know of the deal. Committee members believed that the chairman and managing director of LIC could not have made a deal of this magnitude without consultation or instruction from the government. They did not record either their approval or disapproval of the purchase and the matter ended with a general discussion. When the scandal blew up and the Chagla commission began its inquiry, the government, including the Finance Ministry, had argued that the purchase had been made "to remove a drag on the market" and keep it from collapsing and not to save an individual broker.

However, H.T. Parekh had written a note to the LIC soon after, saying that it was common knowledge in those days that Haridas Mundhra was heavily involved in the Calcutta stock market and that disturbing reports about his positions and manipulations continued to circulate. Mundhra was frantically trying to liquidate his position. The budget proposals of 1957 dealt a serious blow to the already tottering Mundhra empire; on the Bombay Stock Exchange, the share of BIC was falling faster than others in an already depressed market.

Parekh believed, and said in his deposition before the Chagla commission, that the bailout of Mundhra may have been justified as a matter of public policy and that Mundhra himself, while escaping the clutches of his creditors, had to book huge losses due to the sale to LIC. Parekh himself had submitted a note to LIC on August 20, 1957, observing that the large purchase of shares from Haridas Mundhra, without consulting the committee was a controversial act, particularly since Rs 50 lakh of the investment would yield practically no return.

Other depositions indicated that it was already a practice for government institutions to buy shares and prop up the market. However, K.R.P. Shroff, president of the Bombay Stock Exchange, said that had LIC consulted the investment committee he would "certainly not advise them to touch it (the Mundhra shares)". He strongly denied to the Chagla commission that there was a crisis in the Bombay Stock Exchange or in Calcutta because of Mundhra’s manipulations — had there been a problem it would have affected Bombay, he said.

Bhagwandas Govardhandas, a leading broker and also a member of the LIC investment committee, went a step further and told the Chagla commission that not only were the Mundhra shares worthless, but also the BSE had, as far back as August, 1956, put up a notice to warn investors that "some of the shares being hawked by Mundhra were forged" Gordhandas’ deposition was forceful, articulate and proved by example that Mundhra’s dealings were shady and unreliable and that left to himself he would not touch the Mundhra shares "with a pair of tongs."

The commission then called A.D. Shroff as an expert witness. He outlined the investment methods and policies followed by New India and ICI and also told the commission that his own investigations into the Mundhra companies had "staggered" him. On his advice, a bank connected to Tatas had withdrawn a loan offer made to Mundhra. Saying that Mundhra had been chasing him for a long time to buy his shares, Shroff told the commission, "He (Mundhra) had an infinite capacity for not telling the truth. From my long experience I have learnt that when a man is in difficulties, if he comes to you, he will never disclose the truth about himself."

Shroff told the Chagla commission that Mundhra’s manipulations had ruined the companies and from the manner in which Mundhra was operating, he knew that they would collapse sooner or later. At one stage Mundhra had told Shroff that his total commitments were a staggering Rs 10 crore. (As against this, LIC’s market operations per day at that time were barely worth Rs 10 lakh.)

Under Mundhra’s persuasion, Shroff had studied his companies at length and had then refused to do business with them. He had concluded that Mundhra was not only no businessman, but that he in turn was being manipulated by some unscrupulous brokers. "I am surprised that his collapse has come so late," said Shroff.

It was fairly common knowledge in Bombay that against the six lakh shares of Richardson and Cruddas, there were nearly half as many duplicate shares floating in the market and this was the best of the Mundhra companies.

Haridas Mundhra, in his suave and self-assured deposition, had later tried to trap Shroff and demolish his expert deposition by claiming that he had sold Shroff 25,000 Smith Stanistreet shares at Rs 2 above the market. He had also sold him another 30,000 Jessops shares in March, 1957, and later 20,000 shares of Indian Cables.

When Shroff was again questioned about Mundhra’s claims, he told the judge how Mundhra had let him down in the Jessops purchase by not disclosing that he had weakened the company by forcing it to purchase Rs 60 lakh worth of Richardson and Cruddas shares. As for the Smith Stanistreet shares, Shroff again reiterated that it was a good company since it held valuable manufacturing licences from two world-famous pharmaceutical companies. Even in the transactions he had taken the precaution of demanding a brokers’ contract and yet had to serve on Mundhra several notices before getting delivery of the shares.

Shroff alone, among the market participants, seems to have testified that LIC ought to have invested all its money in a manner that benefited its policy-holders and ought not to be in the business of stabilising the market (a view that was not shared by Parekh, K.R.P. Shroff and others). He pointed to the danger of LIC’s unrestricted powers with respect to life insurance funds, vested under the Act, being misused by the executive for political considerations.

"It is difficult to understand why the LIC funds should be used to bolster the policies of the government which were responsible for bringing crisis in the market", argued Shroff. The LIC, he said, had taken over Rs 360 crore worth of the life savings of people; its policy of stabilising the market using those funds was a serious problem.

Justice Chagla asked Shroff whether he thought that LIC made the investments to remove a drag in the Calcuta market." Shroff replied, "If you allow me, sir, this is a cock-and-bull story. I would like to know who was interested in the Mundhra shares. The general public was not interested in that; of the ten million shares held by Shri Mundhra, a majority were pledged to various banks while others were held by brokers. I can’t see how these shares could be a drag on the market".

Shroff also denied that there was a crisis in the market in June, 1957, and on being asked by the Judge if he believed that the purchases were made to "tone up the market", he replied: "It is so absurd. After all, the Mundhra shares were of no importance to the Calcutta market. The market for a long time had a horse-sense about the shares and the average investor was no longer interested in them. As for the stories about a possible crisis, they were pure invention and no broker report from any reputable Calcutta broking firms even had a casual reference to such a possibility".

Shroff’ also found that the price paid by LIC was unjustifiably high. "In the background of the suspicion about the spurious shares, it beats me that LIC should have paid those prices", he said.

Shroff’s powerful and categorical deposition had virtually ripped through LIC’s claims in its defence. It even stumped the counsel. The Attorney-General who was appearing for the government did not cross-examine him. Sachin Chaudhuri, the counsel for LIC, got up and pleaded that he was not in a position to question Shroff until he had gone through his entire evidence. He said that he was "overborne" by Shroff’s deposition and that it covered so many "vital matters being inquired into by the commission that he wanted time to study the evidence". He confessed that his personal experience regarding financial matters was limited as compared to the vast and rich experience of the witness.

Justice Chagla turned to Shroff said, " The learned counsel is intimidated by your vast knowledge. He wants time to study your evidence". On the Judge’s request, the hearing was adjourned.

Haridas Mundhra himself was calm and self-assured through the hearing. He appeared before the commission in January, to a hearing which was packed to capacity and overflowing on to the lawns of the Council Hall. When he came in five minutes before the proceedings began in a blue flannel suit, a large section of the public jeered him but according to reports, when he left the witness stand there was cheering among the visitors. In his typically grand manner, Mundhra had, in a packed courtroom, offered to buy shares from all private investors at the same price as the others.

The proceedings were beginning to become so crowded and volatile that Justice Chagla warned that he would have to restrict the public unless they behaved themselves and remained silent. Mundhra was most composed during the examination, he admitted to financial difficulties and estimated his indebtedness at Rs 6 crore, which he claimed was properly secured.

Mundhra categorically deposed that chairman of the Calcutta Stock Exchange, B.N. Chaturvedi, had advised H.M. Patel, then the principal secretary to the Finance Minister, to buy the shares in order to "relieve the load of his shares on the Calcutta market". He further confessed in his deposition that he had met H.M. Patel in Bombay on June 21, 1957; Patel had asked him to submit a written proposal and agreed to have it examined. Later, Mundhra met the chairman of LIC and even wrote to the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, sending him a copy of his proposal.

One of the key weaknesses of the LIC decision was its commitment to Mundhra that the shares would be purchased at the June 24 closing prices on the Calcutta Stock Exchange. As various witnesses pointed out, this was a clear incentive to Mundhra to rig up the closing quotations in order to get a better price for his shares. Predictably, the prices of his shares had in fact shot up on June 24, though Mundhra claimed that he had nothing to do with the price movement and attributed it to the leak of information about his deal with LIC.

The matter became even more controversial because Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari had informed Parliament that the shares were purchased at the closing price of June 24 or that quoted by Mundhra which was lower. In fact, LIC had paid Mundhra more than his quoted price for three scrips.

The Mundhra deposition was interesting. He projected himself as an earnest businessman, trying hard to make a success of his business, victimised by a bunch of brokers and suffering because he lacked the connections in the media and among bankers to espouse his cause. In a brazen contradiction to the deposition of expert witnesses, he claimed that all his companies had good potential to turn around and had in fact begun to improve their performances. He also claimed that he could have obtained a better price if he had not sold the shares to LIC.

Clearly, the brokers exploited his weak position and the Indian banks who held his shares as security against loans had disposed them off to recover their dues. This did indeed worsen his position.

In his report, Justice Chagla referred to the "impressive evidence" of Shroff who, with his 30 odd years of vast and varied experience in the investment business, had deposed that "Knowing what he did about Mundhra and his activities, he would have hesitated to buy any shares in which Mundhra had a controlling interest". Justice Chagla’s report held Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari morally responsible for the episode and he had to resign in 1958.

Mundhra’s manipulations were not restricted to LIC. The income tax department had curiously withdrawn certain notices pending against him having entered into "some understanding" about the payment of arrears. LIC had released the money payable to Mundhra only after the income tax department had confirmed the withdrawal of notices against Mundhra. It later transpired that Mundhra did not honour his agreement with the tax authorities either.

The irony of the Mundhra episode clearly did not capture the public mind even though Justice Chagla emphatically, underlined it in his judgement. When life insurance was nationalised in 1956, Finance Minister C.D. Deshmukh told the Lok Sabha that one reason for nationalisation was that life insurance was not being managed either efficiently or with an adequate sense of responsibility. He laid great emphasis on the concept of trusteeship which, he said, should be the cornerstone of life insurance. The hearings also revealed that LIC had bailed out Haridas Mundhra even though Prime Minister Nehru himself had noted that the Mundhra companies needed to be investigated.

The public hearings of the scandal and the contradictions in the testimony of Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari, who tried to distance himself from LIC’s decision, and the actions of his Finance Secretary led the Judge to conclude that the Minister is constitutionally responsible for the action taken by his secretary and he cannot take shelter under it nor can he disown his actions.

Justice Chagla established seven principles out of the inquiry:

l That the government should not interfere with the working of autonomous statutory corporations and if it does, it should not shirk responsibility for directions given.

l That chairmen of organisations such as LIC, which deal with investments in a large way, should be appointed from among persons who have business and financial experience and are familiar with stock exchanges.

l That executive officers of the corporation owe their first responsibility to the corporation and should not surrender their judgement to the influence of government officials.

l Funds of LIC should only be used for the benefit of policy holders and not for any extraneous purpose other than the larger good of the country.

l In a parliamentary form of government, Parliament should be taken into confidence at the earliest stage to avoid embarrassment from other sources of information.

l The Minister must take full responsibility for the actions of his subordinates and cannot be permitted to say that they did not reflect his policy or acted contrary to his directions.

l The government should immediately apply to the corporation Sec 27-A of the LIC Act of 1938, modified as required to carry out the solemn assurance given in the LIC Act.

The Judge said: "The inquiry has been an education for the public. It should also act as a corrective to administrators all over the country because in future they will act with the consciousness that their actions may be subjected to public scrutiny". In fact, the opposite happened. The securities scandal of 1992 saw public representatives joining forces to ensure that the Joint Parliamentary Committee did not conduct a public hearing. This led to selective press briefings, horse-trading and a witch-hunt and failed entirely in its basic task of tracing the money or suggesting systemic improvements.Top


Himalayas: loving but treacherous
by Manmant Singh Sethi

Across the frozen Himalaya by Harish Kohli. Indus Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 296. Rs 595.

Well founded fear/which takes one through the valley of the shadow of death/without abandoning one there/is what makes the worst of worse journeys;/The situation is made all the more intense when fear is somehow/mingled with delight — George Woodcock in "My Worst Journeys"

THOSE of us reared on Dr Livingstone and Christopher Columbus, Amudsen and Scott, would be hard put to name one of our own in the same league. A few famous mountaineers come to mind — Bachendri Pal, C.P. Vohra, H.P.S. Ahluwalia, Tensing, Gurdial Singh.

But who is Harish Kohli?

On May 5, 1982, history was made when a army team of four members and a Tibetan mastiff named Druk successfully traversed the length of the Himalayas from Kepang La, south of Namche Barwa in the east, to the Karakoram Pass near K2 in the north-west. They had traversed by foot and ski almost 8000 km, through the darkest jungles of Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan; across the foothills of Kanchenjunga in Sikkim; along the deepest gorges of Nepal and Uttrakhand Himalayas; over the high plateau of Ladakh and across the treacherous passes of the Karakoram.

En route they had crossed more than 50 passes, worn out four sets of rucksacks and eight pairs of boots apiece, climbed the Island and Phapchamo peaks in Nepal and attempted the Kabru Dome in Sikkim. It had been 14 months in the making and an adventure never attempted before. Harish Kohli was one of them.

An adventure-loving officer in the Army, Kohli had to wait in the intervening years for the kind of adventure in the battlefields along the lines of Patton and MacArthur, which never came. Rather the army Everest expedition which cost five lives pushed adventure on the backburner in the Army.

However in the summer of 1994 the idea of skiing cross country germinated in his mind after speaking to Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer who with Mike Stroud made an unsupported crossing of the Antarctic landmass, a distance of 2170 km in 95 days. Though the project invited incredulity within the Army, with the tenacity characteristic of an able mountaineer, he managed to put together a team of eight and gain corporate sponsorship from Air India, VSNL and Meltron.

This is a saga of human endeavour and human endurance. The book is researched and written extremely well and reads almost like a thriller. Local history is woven seamlessly into the story and one can almost feel the ice creep into the bones. Historical characters come alive along the silk route.

The terrain and the cold give an idea of what our soldiers must have endured this winter in Kargil and for many years in Siachen. Into this hostile terrain in the coldest winter in two decades enter the team. The weather is so hostile that outer gloves taken off for 15 minutes cost a man seven fingers. With such an inauspicious start the team braved on. The Himalayas is not a skier’s paradise. It is the terrain of the mountaineer. Altitude takes its toll. Avalanches are frequent on the steep slopes and the weather is mercurial. Dehydration is endemic.

"An hour later, they reached the pass and I breathed a sigh of relief. They were immediately despatched to a safe site across the pass where others waited.... as I turned my skis downhill, I heard the mountain clapping its applause. A large mushroom cloud rose into the sky, followed by a rumbling as of thunder. The slope we had just crossed had finally given way and the expected avalanche had leapt loose. It seemed as though it had been waiting just for us to pass by out of its danger."

That they survived to tell the tale is a wonderful mix of grit, daring, teamwork, plain risk-taking and good use of technology at hand. For navigation they used the global positioning system (GPS) which couldn’t show them around the crevasses but did put them accurately on the map and enabled them to move even in complete darkness.

Every member of the team comes alive in his own way. When the going gets tough the tough acquire a sense of humour. The team makes it through because it is the effort of the team, for the team and everybody is loyal to it and its objective. The book is dedicated to the team.

The photographs are breathtaking but unfortunately so is the price. This book is a great read for adventurers for its adventure, corporate hacks who have to build loyal teams to face adversity and a must for our increasingly couch-potato generationX. Top


Women as objects of violence
by Kavita Soni-Sharma

Women, democracy and the Media: Cultural and Political Representations in the Indian Press by Sonia Bathla. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 209, appendices, bibliography, index. Rs 195.

THIS book is about the presence, or rather absence, of women in the discourse on Indian democracy which is carried on every day in our newspapers and news magazines. It raises a number of interesting questions and suggests a number of interesting insights into the manner in which our news organisations are structured, news is structured and women given a back seat.

Actually women have always been in public life, either as workers or as leaders. Yet the astonishing consensus in practice seems to be that they are good for the private sphere of society and have no place in the public sphere. It is, as feminists have been arguing for over two decades now, a matter of mindset.

When a woman does well in the public sphere her womanhood, or its absence, is specially pointed out. This is so whether it is a woman politician who leads her country on the path of self-dignity and economic growth or a woman IAS officer who does wonders in her postings in far-off tribal areas where men fear to tread.

woman, in either case, becomes a topic of wonderment. It is like a dog that walked on two legs. Everyone notices that it walked, no one bothers about how well it did. Bathla, in this extensively researched and tightly argued book, makes a signal contribution to the manner in which such a mindset gets constructed and the way out of it.

Bathla starts with the presumption that contemporary media is an important part of the public sphere and if we are able to question the absence of women in this sphere, it would do wonders for the overall position of women in society. Her investigative strategy is drawn from various streams of content analysis, which have gained wide currency in the West. Along with analysing the contents of news, she also talks extensively to women who are actually participating in public life.

She picks up five English language newspapers for analysis: The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Hindu, The Statesman and The Indian Express. For a study that was conducted in the 1990s it is unfortunate that she calls them "national" newspapers for with the exception of their first page and the sports page, they are very much locally oriented, but let such a minor quibble be.

She finds that most of the stories on women in these newspapers were "event oriented". An event happens with a woman at its centre and it gets reported briefly. Most such "events" concerned violence against women. Punishment, rape, burning, murder, etc almost as if women were subject in no other activity in society.

Even in these reportages, very little effort was made to investigate. Most of the time the event was reported straight out of police or hospital records under a byline in the newspaper. She speculates that such stories, reporting only violence, might even play a major role in instilling fear of the public sphere among its English-educated middle-class female readers.

Interestingly, she noted that neither male nor female journalists showed any interest in discussing controversial issues which concern various women’s organisations. While women journalists were sensitive to women’s issues at an intellectual plane, most of them had no professional interest in the matter. Most of the time it was a women activist who approached the media with a story and not the other way round. Even when media people needed comments from women activists it was done over the telephone. No deep conversations over the women’s issues were either discussed or reported upon.

Yet not all has been dark, reports Bathla. Women’s organisations have over the years learnt strategies to overcome the disinterest shown towards them by the media and by democratic society in general. What do they do? As one of her respondents reported, "We do like common people do it. We start with talking and if they don’t listen, try again talking in a different office with someone different, and when everything fails then we go and do hai hai outside their offices." It works.

In the end, Bathla gives a number of suggestions on what could be done to ensure that women too get a place for themselves in the public eye. The suggestions range from making changes in the educational system to ensuring that media organisations consciously follow a policy of reporting on women’s issues other than violence.

But then, as she herself suggests throughout her book, formal policies concerning women have been in place for over two decades now. If they have not been implemented substantially, it is for women to force the rest of society to put them into practice. After all in a democracy one has to grab one’s own social space from society, one does not get it on a platter.