The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, May 21, 2000
Books


Voice of Latin American realism
Review by Rumina Sethi
The metals we carry, inside
Review by Uma Vasudeva
Green nod to final exit
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka
Pep talk as real life accounts
Review by Bimal Bhatia
It is about human tragedy
Review by Manju Jaidka
Swadeshi stress control
Review by H. P. Sah
Foreign policy: from ambivalence to disorientation
BOOK EXCERPT
Time to move away from doxa
Paramjit S. Judge writes from Amritsar
 


Voice of Latin American realism
by Rumina Sethi

Death and The Maiden. Nick Hern Books, London. Pages 50. 3.99.

Konfidenz. Sceptre, London. Pages 180. 4.99. Both by Ariel Dorfman.

A WOMAN checks into a hotel room in Paris in the year 1939. The phone rings. A man whom she has never met is on the line and oddly seems to know all about her, down to the most intimate details. But who is he?

The mystery man first calls himself Leon and then Max; he claims to be a political refugee like the woman’s lover who, he says, is in danger. He might have lured her there for another reason because, he confides, she is the incarnation of a dream about a woman called Susana whom he describes as magnificent in body and mind. Can his confidences be trusted: he calls himself a "masseur for the soul" although he is "undressing her life."

A scene from the film "The Death and the Madam".And what of her: is she telling the truth? It is later discovered that he has no political affiliations and that it is not politics that is the cause of all oppression but sex that dominates all aspects of life. Nothing is certain in Ariel Dorfman’s self-consciously enigmatic and "telephonic" novel "Konfidenz", a tense, clever and erotically charged tale of deception and betrayal or, should we say, the nature of "truth".

It is short and the narrative is scintillating though at places so rapid that it becomes almost difficult for the reader to cope with the frequent surprises. It confirms Dorfman’s reputation which, as Rushdie put it, "is one of the most important voices coming out of Latin America".

Ariel Dorfman, born in Argentina in 1942, is a Chilean citizen. A supporter of Salvador Allende, he was forced into exile after the 1973 coup. He is a professor at Duke University and the author of numerous novels, essays and plays, including "Death and the Maiden", now made into a film by Roman Polanski and probably the world’s most performed play in the past few years.

It is one of those rare moving political plays which, with the limpid simplicity of classical myth, seem to grasp the pulse of the century. It is a Sophoclean tragedy where you are trapped in a society of crumbling dictatorship, one in which your past, the past of the living dead, and your character emerge from the shadows, sending you on a collision course with an impersonal destiny.

Set in the post-Pinochet Chile, "Death and the Maiden" begins as a car pulls up outside the house of Paulina in a remote windswept seaside house. The interrogating mode comes into play rightaway: why does she go for the revolver as she sees the car stop? What is the identity of the unseen driver who has given her husband a ride? And why does she tremble with fear when she hears her husband Gerardo in conversation with the driver?

The mystery becomes all the more intense when she stealthily drives away in his car and then dumps it over the cliff, after which she returns only to gag him and bind him to a chair.

The play is full of tension and claustrophobia. Its subtlety and ambiguity lie in the questionable plausibility of Paulina’s suspicion of the driver, Dr Roberto Miranda, being the torturer who had victimised her 15 years ago. She recognises his voice, his smell (apparently she had been blindfolded during her captivity) and his love of Schubert’s "Death and the Maiden" quartet which she finds among the cassettes lying in the car.

The play demands both our trust in a traumatised victim and a belief in Miranda’s honesty as he protests his innocence. Our sympathies obviously fluctuate between the two versions and the suspense is intensified till the end, showing the fragility of the unnamed state which has emerged out of terrible suppression and is now supposedly enjoying a period of democracy.

But the question that has troubled many playwrights is: does the writing of tragedy become possible in our times? This bothers Dorfman who says he is constantly making efforts to write one, but fears that he might end up writing a melodrama. "Death and the Maiden", without doubt, testifies to the former since it is the story of a South American victim Paulina who enacts her own idea of justice on her torture whom she accidentally encounters.

Here Dorfman is not trying to denounce a situation of torture which he explains by asserting: "Many of the people who have been tortured have had their stories suppressed. The first crime is the torture. The more terrible crime is that they are silenced. As a writer I’m more worried about silence, because I can do something about that."

Thus we see that in all his writings there are characters who are obsessed with the nature of their identity which propels them towards speaking out. Dorfman supports the genre of novel which he feels is better equipped than the stage to deal "with fluidity and with the shaping and misshaping of identity".

Truth itself is interrogated and language is held suspect as in the strange German phonetic spelling of "Konfidenz". It has to be realised that finally his works leave the impression that they are dealing not simply with reality. Although they are full of realism, they are not realistic. The idea shaping Dorfman’s experiments with the novel and the stage is that just as trust breeds trust, so is the truth about the opposite. Every watcher is being watched, and behind every spy there is another.

"Konfidenz" has the features of a play and is obviously a playwright’s novel, showing the easy agility with which Dorfman moves between the novel and the play. It is a novel in the form of a dialogue. Often the conversational narrative between the lady and the mysterious caller is interrupted by the voice of the omniscient author who stands apart giving his objective commentary on the action and the characters. Dorfman himself maintains: "Very often in my novels I find that my characters simultaneously exist as projections of the inner life. It has to do with the playfulness of the literary imagination. The same thing happens in my plays. For example, in ‘Death and the Maiden’, both Paulina’s husband and the man she believes was her torturer have their versions of how she should work out her future life. There’s the ‘silence option’ or the ‘accommodation option’. She’s got her own version. You could see them all as part of one mind working it out: the ego, the super-ego and the id. I don’t want to give up the mystery that is behind these stories — as a noveliest that’s what I bring to the theatre."Top

 

The metals we carry, inside
Review by Uma Vasudeva

Health and Disease: Role of Micro Nutrients and Trace Elements by R. Nath. APH Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 636. Rs 1500.

SPECTACULAR results have been obtained from research carried out in the field of nutrition, especially in the area of micronutrients and trace elements in the past two decades. Molecular nutrition encompasses the physiological role and function of micronutrients and trace elements at molecular level, incorporating fundamental advances in molecular biology and biochemical genetics. It has unravelled new roles of some vitamins and trace elements as antioxidants which protect cellular damage to the basic constituents — namely, lipids protein and DNA from in situ generated reactive oxygen species (ROS) and oxyfree radicals (OFR). These constituents have given a new dimension to our understanding of how micronutrients act.

The author has used a monograph published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to include the trace elements in this book. Information on minerals has been provided only as it is related to nutrition, as enough literature is available on other aspects. Only nutritional deficiency diseases have been analysed in the book.

The author has divided the book into four parts. In order to update the knowledge in the area of micronutrients and trace elements, the author has added eight reviews written by experts on the subject, which have been given as two appendices.

Nath has described units of activity, metabolic functions, food sources, absorption and transport, biochemical indicators, and the disease caused by a deficiency of various vitamins. In the case of Vitamin A, the author has found that its availability is much greater than that of its precursor carotenoids. There are important unsolved questions regarding the distribution of Vitamin A, its delivery, turnover, and toxicity because of a large intake.

Further studies are also needed on the carotenoids content of foods, from different food matrices, with different levels of fat in the diet and in the presence of various parasites, on the extent of carotenoids absorption, especially from different food matrices, to retinol and on biological significance of carotenoids.

In the case of Vitamin D, the author explains that a large part of its requirement is met by skin synthesis rather than by dietary ingestion. This is true under conditions with ample solar exposure. However, people living at a latitude above 50 degrees need dietary sources, particularly during the winter period to maintain adequate Vitamin D status. Groups with a limited capacity of endogenous Vitamin D synthesis, such as people with heavily pigmented skins or living at higher altitudes or the elderly, are most dependents on dietary sources or supplements. For other fat-soluble vitamins the author has carried out a similar in-depth study.

In the case of water soluble vitamins, Nath has covered vitamers and nomenclature, functions, dietary source, factors affecting absorption and utilisation, assessment of nutrient status, and recommended dietary allowances for each one of the vitamins. Vitamin B1, thiamin, was the first of the vitamins to be demonstrated to have a clearly defined metabolic function as a coenzyme. Thiamin deficiency is associated with abnormalities of carbohydrate metabolism related to a decrease in oxidative decarboxylation.

During severe deficiencies, plasma and tissue levels increase; deficiency of thiamin affects the nervous and cardiovascular systems. The characteristic signs include mental confusion, anorexia, muscular weakness, ataxia, peripheral paralysis, ophthalmoplegia, edema, muscle wasting, techycardia and enlarged heart.

The author has analysed Vitamin B12 in detail. He explains that the deficiency of this vitamin results in macrocytic anaemia, in neurological symptoms due to demyelination of the spinal cord and brain and the optic and the peripheral nerves, and in other less specific symptoms (like sore tongue, weakness). Neuropsychiatric manifestations of Vitamin B12 deficiency are seen in the absence of anaemia, particularly in the elderly. Deficiency of Vitamin B12 is rare; more than 95 per cent of Vitamin B12 deficiency in the USA is due to inadequate absorption.

The author explains that Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble antioxidant that can be synthesised by many mammals, but not by humans. In the diet, it is also present to some extent in its oxidised form, which also has Vitamin C activity. Dietary deficiency leads to scurvy, a serious disease characterised by weakening of collagenous structures that results in widespread capillary haemorrhage.

One of the most important minerals identified by the author is calcium. Other minerals analysed are magnesium, phosphorus and iron. An adult body contains approximately 1200 gm of calcium, approximately 99 per cent of which is present in the skeleton. Bone minerals consist of two chemically and physically distinct calcium phosphate pools — an amorphous phase and a loosely crystallised phase. The skeleton contains two major forms of bone: trabecular (spongy) bone, exemplified by the vertebral bodies, and denser cortical bone, such as the femur. Bone is constantly turning over, a continuous process of resorption and formation. In children and adolescents, the rate of formation of bone mineral predominates over the resorption. In normal aging there is a gradual loss of bone.

Approximately 40 per cent of the 20 to 28 gm of magnesium in an adult human body is found in muscles and soft tissues. About 1 per cent in the extracellular fluid, and the remainder in the skeleton. The average plasma magnesium concentration is about 0.85 mM. This level is maintained remarkably constant in healthy individuals by poorly understood homeostatic mechanisms.

Phosphorus is an essential component of bone mineral, where it occurs in the mass ratio of 1 phosphorus to 2 calcium. About 85 per cent of phosphorus in an adult body is found in bone. Phosphorus also plays an important role in many and varied chemical reactions in the body. It is present in tissues as soluble phosphate ion, in lipid as proteins, carbohydrates, and nucleic acid in an ester or anhydride linkage; and in enzymes as a modulator of activities.

Iron is found in every living cell and the total body content is about 5 gm. The importance of iron for the maintenance of health has been recognised for centuries. In 4000 BC, the Persian physician Melampus gave iron supplements to sailors to compensate for iron lost from bleeding during battles. Now iron deficiency anaemia is common worldwide. In most developing nations about half of the children and women of the child-bearing age are estimated to suffer from iron deficiency, many of them have the more severe form of the disorder, iron deficiency anaemia. The author has given a detailed analysis of iron in the chapter with special reference to general signs of deficiency, dietary source, measuring iron status, toxicity of iron and future recommendations.

In the case of some trace elements, the author starts with zinc. He explains that zinc has been recognised as an essential nutrient in animals since the early 1900s. Zinc deficiency was first recognised in humans in the early 1960s in Egypt and Iran. The deficiency was determined to be the cause of growth retardation and inadequate sexual development in humans. Curiously, the zinc content was fairly high in their diets. However, the customary diet contained almost exclusively unleavened bread and little animal protein. Unleavened bread is high in phytic acid and other factors that decrease zinc bioavailability. Yeast fermentation in the preparation of bread dough reduces the effect of phytic acid by tenfold.

The author has concluded that many people are indeed at risk of zinc deficiency than enrichment/fortification of foods with zinc during processing, and techniques for increasing the zinc content of cereals and other plants through fertilisation and genetic changes are approaches for consideration.

Copper is widely distributed in biological tissues, where it occurs largely in the form of organic complexes, many of which are metalloproteins and function as enzymes. Copper enzymes are involved in a variety of metabolic reactions, such as the utilisation of oxygen during cell respiration and energy utilisation. They are also involved in the synthesis of essential compounds, such as complex proteins of connective tissues of the skeleton and blood vessels, and in a range of nueroactive compounds concerned in nervous tissue function. It has been established that an adult human body contains 80 mg of copper with a range of 50 to 120 mg.

Depending on the species studied, the author explains that copper can be absorbed in all segments of the gastrointestinal tract. Although sites in the small intestine appear to play a major role in copper absorption, a substantial absorptive activity has been demonstrated in the stomach and in the large intestines in sheep.

Another important trace element described by the author in detail is iodine which is an essential constituent of the thyroid hormones. The major role of iodine in nutrition arises from the important part played by thyroid hormones in the growth and development of humans and animals.

The effects of iodine deficiency on growth and development are now denoted by the term iodine-deficiency disorders (IDD). These effects are seen at all stages of development particularly in the feotus, the neonate and the infant. Foetal survival and development are both sensitive to iodine deficiency. They result from the influence of a low maternal thyroxin on the foetus and are associated with levels of intake of iodine less than 25 per cent of the normal. Levels less than 50 per cent of normal are associated with goitre.

The author has carried out a detailed evaluation of other trace elements by a discussion of their requirement estimates and influence of physiological and dietary variables on bioavailability and deficiency disorders.Top

 

Green nod to final exit
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Indebtedness, Impoverishment and Sui-cides in Rural Punjab by K.G. Iyer and M.S. Manick. Indian Publishers’ Distri-butors, Delhi. Pages 114+Appendix II. Price 325.

PUNJAB has for long been known for its vibrant agrarian economy. It was here that the idea of the green revolution was first translated into a reality in India. The success of the green revolution in the region ended the chronic food scarcity of the country. Though occupying only a tiny portion of the total geographical space, it began to provide nearly half the foodgrain buffer requirements of the whole of India. Punjab justifiably came to be known as the most dynamic and prosperous state, the food basket of India.

It was not only to the new agrarian technologies and high yielding varieties of seeds that the success of the green revolution was attributed. Credit was also given to the enterprising, rugged farmers of the region and their hard work. Their love for land, high values attached to self-cultivation (khudkasht) and the pride they took in identifying with the rural life played an important role in making the green revolution a success in the region much before it spread to the other parts of India.

However, over the past two decades, the story of Punjab seems to have changed a lot. While in terms of the statistical indicators of economic and social development, Punjab still occupies a leading position in the country, the terms of popular discourses on Punjab economy seem to have undergone a complete change over the years. From a region known for its economic vibrancy, the popular image of Punjab today is more often articulated in the media and in academic writings is one of perpetual crises.

From the militant movements of the 1980s to the successive failures of cotton crops later, there are crises all the way. Even when there is a bumper crop of wheat or paddy, it rarely becomes an event to celebrate. The media reports tend to highlight — and the farmers’ unions complain about — the problems of procurement and the accumulating stocks of foodgrains in the state. This, when a neighbouring state could be experiencing a drought and famine!

Iyer and Manick try to highlight one such crisis that recently made headlines in the newspapers — that is the spurt is suicides in certain parts of rural Punjab. These suicides, for them, are not psychological, arising out of peculiarly personal problems. They argue that there was a direct relationship between the economic crisis being experienced by Punjab agriculture and a sudden increase in suicides.

It was the growing impoverishment and indebtedness of the Punjab farmer that was leading many to desperation. By using the case study method, they provide a vivid account of such a process where individual farmers and agricultural labourers were being driven to a state of despair and gloom by the creeping economic crisis. The book is an outcome of a broader comparative project being carried out by Professor Iyer for Action Aid, Bangalore, on the farmers’ suicides in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab.

Though an increase in the incidence of suicide in rural Punjab was first reported in the media in the early 1990s, the prevailing political scenario overshadowed them. It was in 1997-98 that the problem of suicides began to be highlighted by the media again. Interestingly, more or less, similar cases of suicides were also being simultaneously reported from some other parts of India, particularly the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Even the explanations offered of these suicides in different parts of India have mostly been on similar lines.

Commentators on the subject have mostly tended to see a close link between these rural suicides and growing indebtedness of farmers, caused in most cases by successive crop failures. The modern commercialised farming had made the farmers, particularly those with smaller holdings, much more vulnerable to such "debt traps". The new agricultural practices had considerably enhanced the market orientation of the cultivators.

All inputs required for cultivation needed to be bought from the market. Since smaller cultivators rarely have surpluses of their own, they invariably need to borrow for the fulfilment of such requirements. Their sources are also mostly informal. At times, they have to also borrow for consumption needs and allied requirements, such as weddings and major illness in the family. The only source of income being from the agriculture, a crop failure could easily lead to a difficult situation for such cultivators.

It is broadly in this kind of a framework that the study carried out by Iyer and Manick explores the problem of suicides in rural Punjab. Rural suicides in Punjab have mostly been localised in certain pockets of the state like Sangrur, Bhatinda and Mansa districts. Of these Sangrur reported the largest number of cases. Within Sangrur also, it was from certain blocks that most cases were reported.

It was for this reason that the authors chose to carry out their field study in 12 "suicide prone" villages of the Lehragaga, Andana and Barnala blocks of Sangrur district. A total of 80 such cases were identified and cases where some information could be gathered were studied by the field team. They could not study all cases in detail because in some instances the entire family had committed suicide and there was hardly anyone left to provide reliable information about the "victims".

There were some clear patterns in these suicides. Most of those who committed suicides were from the younger age group. Out of the 80 cases as many as 55 (about 69 per cent) were below 30 years of age. Similarly, in terms of class, a large majority belonged to the poorer strata of the rural population. As many as 50 out of the 80 were either landless labourers (25) or marginal farmers (25) with a holding of up to 2.5 acres. Only two of those who committed suicide in these villages came from families with more than 10 acres of land.

A large majority of them were either illiterate (53) or had studied only up to the primary level (11). Though not mentioned explicitly, with the exception of one or two cases, they were all males mostly belonging to the Jat caste (59). Another important pattern identified in the study is regarding the mode of committing suicide. As many as 61 (76 per cent) of the 80 had killed themselves by consuming pesticides or poison.

The authors make a crucial distinction between the "causative" and "precipitant" factors while explaining these suicides. The causative factors are the ones that produce those social conditions under which an individual begins to feel insecure and helpless. They identify economic factors as the leading "causative" factor that explains these suicides. Nearly 80 per cent of them had experienced poverty, unemployment and marginalisation in the agrarian economy due to the shrinking size of land holding. Only around 6 per cent of those who committed suicide were free from debts and in most cases money had been borrowed from informal sources, generally from arhtias (commission agents in grain markets). In some cases, drug addiction and marital disputes also became the causative factors.

Though, in most cases it worked as a determining factor, by itself indebtedness could not be a sufficient cause for committing suicide. In most cases, it was the loss of honour and constant humiliation at the hands of lenders that seemed to have provoked them to take such an extreme step. The capitalist and commercial farming has also taken its toll on the traditional support structure which people had in the "rural communities". The most crucial of these highlighted by the authors is the decline of the joint family and solidarity of the extended kinship network.

The effect of a suicide is not confined only to the person who dies. it also leaves the surviving family members in a state of helplessness. The authors call upon official agencies to undertake measures that would provide some support to these families. While in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, voluntary agencies (NGOs) had come forward to help, no one had taken such an initiative in Punjab.

More importantly, the authors emphasise the need to address the problems of the agrarian crisis. The currently popular economic philosophy of liberalisation and a complete trust in market forces would certainly not be able to redeem the agrarian economy of the region. Top

 

Pep talk as real life accounts
Review by Bimal Bhatia

There’s So Much More to Life than Sex & Money compiled by Sue Calwell and Daniel Johnson. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 345. Rs 295.

DID something dramatic happen in your life to change its course and your outlook towards life itself? It happens to most of us, but either we fail to acknowledge the gravity of an incident or refuse to see how it could refine our attitude and make us live a fuller life.

In this sequel to the popular "There’s More to Life Than Sex and Money", a wide range of people talk of the turning point in their lives. From police officers and teachers to footballers and well-known authors, the contributors in this volume offer words of warmth and courage to put the sparkle back in your life. These messages, the writers hope, will touch you with their honesty, fill you with hope, and inspire you to live your life the way you always wanted to.

Sue Calwell spent long years in the tourism industry and Daniel Johnson is a well-known speaker and author. Both are from Australia as are most contributors of these real life stories which will touch your heart. The stories do not run into more than two or three pages with a message at the end that sets you thinking. Which is what makes this a light read, letting you flip from one story to another at random.

Sample these. A man enters a plane with $1,000 in his pocket. That is all he has now, but a few months back he was a thriving businessman and lived in a beautiful home in an elegant suburb. Ditched by an unscrupulous business partner, his marriage in tatters (it mostly happens when the chips are down), he was heading for Melbourne to build a new life. He felt excited. Boarding the plane, he eyed a passenger settled in his luxury first-class seat and looking him straight said, "I’ll be there soon." With a quizzical face the man replied, "Yeah sure."

Our man moves to the back of the plane, looking for his seat. The air-hostess comes to help and on seeing his boarding pass asks him for a favour. She points to an Australian man dressed in orange Tibetan Buddhist robes. "This gentleman would like his friend to sit next to him and has asked if your would change seats."

No problem, our man agrees. Moving aside, the air-hostess reveals that man’s friend waiting behind her — he was the Dalai Lama. "Thank you very much," she says. "And by the way, the gentleman’s seat is in the first-class section." Message at the end: cultivate a positive and expectant attitude.

Another contributor talks about his father whom the whole family loved and admired. With six children to support, he was always busy. Between jobs, the father helped his two sons to work on a weather-beaten row-boat given to them by a well-wisher. They stripped, repaired and repainted it. (It was the paint more than their woodworking skills that held it together.) As the three of them talked and laughed, this man realised that his father was an interesting man. This brief window into his father’s psyche closed all too quickly when the pressure of work and mounting bills once again consumed all his time.

When this man married and moved into his own home his father was still working two jobs a year. Later, he returned home from Canada to be told that his father had cirrhosis of the liver, a cruel irony for a man who had been a non-drinker all his life. The need to really know his father took on more urgency and he resolved to spend more time with him. Never again, he vows, will he leave those he loves until he has "time" for them. It could be too late. Message at end: never leave for tomorrow a loving comment that could be made today.

Each story has its own moral. After an accident turned her paraplegic, this young lady felt so depressed that she felt she was "leaning" on everything. But she agreed with her mother that she may never have had true faith that she would recover. Just then her toe moved. Within five minutes all her toes were moving. Inside of ten minutes she was on her feet and in her parents’ arms. And within fifteen minutes she was walking. Message: empty your mind of disbelief and you will allow room for true faith.

Over 80 stories in six chapters concerning different values in life — being open, understanding, believing, giving, changing and learning — you will find such meaningful and reassuring messages as when you do what you love, you need never work another day; we usually teach what we most need to learn; self-respect and self-love can only come from within; devote your time to what matters most in your life.

While this paperback will certainly help you to get a true feel of life, at the end of the day money matters — remember, this book is a sequel to an earlier money-spinner. And sex does count, even if it can be squeezed into a book’s title.Top

 

It is about human tragedy
Review by Manju Jaidka

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Secker and Warburg, London. Pages 220. 14.99.

JOHN COETZEE'S success has been slow, steady, and by now substantial. His literary awards include the CNA Priza (South Africa’s premier literary award), the Prix Entrager Femina, the Jerusalem Prize, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, two Bookers and now the Commonwealth Prize. "He has the knack of winning by not showing up," says a chagrined Salman Rushdie at a recent award ceremony after Coetzee got the coveted prize and Rushdie was bypassed yet again.

Coetzee, whose books include "Boyhood", "Dusklands", "In the Heart of the Country", "Waiting for the Barbarians", "Life & Times of Michael K. Foe" and "The Master of Petersburg" does not ask for attention, he simply gets it. Gets it because he more than deserves it with the apparent simplicity of his novels belying the fire within, the controlled voice effectively camouflaging the fury bottled within the words and the power that flows from the author’s pen.

"Disgrace", Coetzee’s prize-winning offering to the literary world, is a disturbing book, which is a very mild way of saying that it jolts you out of your complacencies, sends a chill down your spine and keeps coming back to haunt you even when you put it away. It places scenes before you that you would rather turn your eyes away from. And it unwraps matters that would generally be swept under the carpet in polite society.

David Lurie, a professor of English at the University of Cape Town, teaches what is called Communications 101. Closer to his heart, he also teaches romantic poetry, a subject he is so absorbed in that it invades his life, making him a dreamer, a lost soul unable to see the dividing line between imagination and reality. At the same time, he is engaged in composing a soap opera on Byron in Italy which is going to be meditation on love between the sexes. Themes that he has written on earlier are the Faust legend, on vision as Eros, and on Wordsworth and history.

Each of his projects has contributed towards the making of Lurie, leaving their stamp indelibly etched on his psyche. His prolonged dabbling in romantic literature makes him glamorise his role as a servant of Eros, giving him an arrogant, Byronic, homme fatale touch, self-destructive and unrepentant. There is something Faustian about Lurie, something Byronic, something eternally naive and romantic. His problem, however, is loneliness — the loneliness of a man who needs the company of women. The opening sentence, states the crux of the matter: "For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well...." Sex, desire, or Eros is the problem, the fulcrum of his story.

David Lurie is driven by the demons of desire. His solution to the problem comprises weekly visits to an "exotic" Muslim prostitute called Soraya who offers him sexual gratification with a semblance of affection. A solution that is amazingly simple — ninety minutes of a woman’s company every Thursday are enough to make him a happy man, enough to keep him going. This is just what he needs.

Suddenly the arrangement comes to an end. Those Thursday interludes cease abruptly and Lurie must now look for an alternative arrangement. How does he handle those irrepressible drives? At this point fate takes him into the uncertain arms of a young female student, which marks the beginning of the end of his academic career. He loses his job following a scandal, a humiliating inquiry, and disgrace. But, in true Byronic fashion, he has no regrets; he even claims to the "enriched" by the experience, a statement that certainly does not endear him to his persecutors.

Hounded by dishonour, Lurie seeks refuge in the countryside with his daughter Lucy who lives the life of a recluse on an isolated farm, runs a doghouse, grows flowers and vegetables, and is very much in rhythm with the natural elements. Here he tries to relocate himself, lending a hand to Lucy and her friend, Bev Shaw, who runs a mercy-killing clinic for unwanted dogs — pariahs, diseased, terminally ill and hopeless specimen of the canine species which find a few moments of compassion with Bev before they are put to eternal sleep. Lurie’s job is to gather the dead bodies animals and take them to the incinerator — a job as far removed as can be from Communication 101. But this is the best he can get in this back of beyond.

Gradually Lurie forms a kinship with the dogs, can empathise with them, and comes close to Bev, the lone woman who extends kindness to the unwanted beasts. Perhaps it is a similar kindness towards Lurie that makes her enter into a physical relationship with him — a relationship that offers just the animal comfort of togetherness, a physical proximity devoid of any spiritual or emotional depths.

Having snapped ties with the past, Lurie thinks that perhaps this new-found serenity will heal the scars of his humiliation. But this is not to be. Misfortune dogs him here, too. The daughter, Lucy, whose life had been so contented earlier, suffers a violent intrusion by malcontent black youths who shatter the peace of her surroundings, kill her beloved dogs, assault and rape her, leaving her a physical and psychological wreck, even as her father watches in helpless despair.

The pattern of shame and disgrace is thus repeated. This time the sufferer is Lurie’s daughter, almost as though she were paying back for the sins of her father. She bears all in silence, refusing to complain. She takes it as the price that she, being white, must pay for living in a black country. Personal relationships thus get meshed with local and national politics and with racial history. It is no longer the story of individuals but of two races split by a colour divide.

As the father-daughter relationship creaks and groans in the changed circumstances, Lurie goes back to Cape Town, trying to resume work on his opera on Byron’s love affair in Italy. Filthy, unwanted, hissed at and spurned by society, by the end of the novel he again returns to Bev Shaw’s clinic to help her administer euthanasia to animals which have no room left in the world.

"Disgrace" is heavy with symbolism, drawing constant parallels between the human and the bestial, making the reader wonder which of the two species is more humane. It is a novel that focuses attention on the sorrows of being human in a world that is essentially inhuman, a world that is unable to understand and reach out to individuals caught up in an existential web of loneliness and pride.

As he narrates the story of main protagonist, the writer, John Coetzee, interweaves it with the story of a nation coming into its own, throwing off age-old shackles of apartheid. This, in different hands, would probably be an optimistic theme, welcoming the dawn of a new era. But Coetzee is aware of the Savage God that takes birth, replacing one chaos with another "Disgrace", which begins as the story of a professor of English driven by Eros, ultimately turns out to be the tale of the white man in South Africa. What happens when the reigning majority is reduced to a minority, a hounded, unwanted minority? What price does it have to pay for the sins of the past?

To put it differently, what happens to the master when he is overthrown? What is the retribution? How do the erstwhile slaves take revenge? The history of the country thus becomes metaphorically entwined with that of individual characters. Racial hatred is laid bare and the harsh, ugly realities of post-apartheid South Africa, horrifying and frightening, are foregrounded.

So the novel is about the aftermath of majority rule as much as it is about the aftermath of desire. In electing an anti-hero as the main protagonist, Coetzee draws our attention to what human beings really are. Like Lurie, they go wrong and fall from their pedestal simply because they are human, fallible, flawed creatures: ".... how are the mighty fallen!" says a character in "Disgrace". But, through sacrifice, love and compassion there is the hope of redemption, at least partial. This is the underlying Christian theme, the saving grace that lifts ordinary mortals to a higher plane, enabling them to have intimations of immortality in a world that is undeniably mortal.

Narrated in a minimalist style, spare and precise almost to a fault, the story does not falter or linger over superfluous words or emotions. There is no moralising, no sentimentality or gimmickry. The author believes in understatement: his symbols are loaded, the power of suggestion is strong and unignorable. Indeed, Coetzee knows how to hold his reader’s attention, how to write an award winning book, how to produce a masterpiece. We love it, even if the masterpiece is one that niggles at our conscience and makes us uncomfortable!Top

 

Swadeshi stress control
Review by H. P. Sah

Hindu Techniques of Mental Health by Rachna Sharma. Shubhi Publications, Delhi. Pages 230. Rs 495.

MORE than a hundred years ago Sigmund Freud had shown in his book "Civilisation and its discontents" that civilisational constraints make people suppress their natural feelings and lead them to a stage of neurosis. In the past 100 years the situation has worsened rapidly. New technology and dehumanising competition in a highly ambitious society have made most people mentally sick in various degrees. One may not easily recognise this fact because one lives amidst the people who are equally disturbed and restless. However, the record of increase in the incidence of suicide and family violence over the past few decades reveals beyond doubt that a l

arge number of people are heading towards a partial loss of mental balance. The techniques of preventing this and to restore mental health, therefore, is the need of the time. Rachna Sharma’s "Hindu Techniques of Mental Health" is an attempt at catering to this need.

Nowadays books on yoga, meditation and Reiki are on display in almost every book shop, big and small. But Rachna Sharma’s book is slightly different. It is, in fact, not a book of techniques for regaining mental health. It provides the reader with the philosophical and psychological outlook behind these techniques.

The book tackles the theme in an academic fashion. First, it explains the western and Indian concepts of mental health and after elaborating the basic Indian values and beliefs, it approaches Indian psychology. Anxiety, fear, mental conflicts, frustration and other causes of tension have been dealt with from the points of view of both western and Indian psychology and the remedy is suggested through the techniques of yoga and meditation.

Although the suggestion to develop the attitude of desirelessness as a remedy for anxiety or to have faith in God and destiny for overcoming fear are well known, many of her ideas will appear somewhat unusual and even preposterous to someone trained in western psychology. One can find sound reasons behind them. In fact, there is a whole worldview as their backdrop in which the "being" is regarded as pure consciousness which gets birth and rebirth due to samskaras in this life and the previous ones. Mental health can be gained only by bringing about a harmony between the body and the mind with a view to achieving an unperturbable and pure state of consciousness. Mental health is a natural result of self-realisation and without realishing one’s self, attempts to gain mental health are only ways of stress management. This is the basic thesis of the book.

It is a common misgiving that the path of self-realisation is the path of asceticism. While explaining the Hindu techniques of mental health, Ranchna Sharma makes it clear that Indian philosophy and Hindu religion are not opposed to enjoyment; it is opposed only to the life of unbridled carnal pleasure without any spiritual goal. Techniques of mental health consist of adopting a way of life in which old samaskaras are re-examined and good samaskaras are acquired to gain complete control over the body and mind.

This control is impossible to achieve by merely suppressing natural urges. Bodily urges are to be satisfied so that they do not come in the way of self-realisation. But one has to ensure that these desires do not overpower one’s life, that they don’t become one’s master or guide. They have to be brought under the control of the higher principles of life, which lead to the goal of self-realisation. Sharma has underlined the unique features of Indian psychology which explain and control the lower principle through a higher principle as contrasted with western psychology which does the opposite.

A self-help key is appended to help the reader look at his own life style and mend his ways if necessary. No reason, however, is given why the questionnaire is in Hindi when the book is in English.

After reading the book one wonders as to what made the author title the book as "The Hindu Techniques..." and attract unwarranted comments and criticism. She could have called it "The Indian Techniques of Mental Health" which is more justified. The term "Hindu" is of very recent origin. Classical philosophical and religious literature, which the author has referred to in her work, never used this term. Many followers of non-Hindu spiritual tradition like. Sufism, which pay great respect to "yoga sutra" of Patanjali or to Vedanta, may not accept the book because of its title.

Although the author finds it necessary to discuss the importance of controversial issues of Varnashrama and swadharma; she does not seem to stick to any dogmatic interpretation of these; rather she talks about the scientific basis for such classification. Thus there is no clear reason to choose such a controversial title.

The preface seems to be written in a hurry and no steps have been taken to correct some of the blunders. There are such errors in other parts of the book also, which must be corrected in the next edition.Top

 

BOOK EXTRACT
Foreign policy: from ambivalence to disorientation

This is an abridged chapter from "Fifty Years of Independence’’ authored by Bhupinder Brar of Panjab University, Chandigarh.

THIS paper seeks to reconsider and reconceptualise some of the principal categories in which India’s foreign policy has been conceived, articulated and justified over last 50 years. The more immediate impulse for doing such an exercise comes from two recent instances of India’s total isolation in the UN General Assembly, first over the issue of signing the CTBT and then over seeking a Security Council seat, but it is motivated in the last instance by a greater concern. It is my conviction that complete disorientation has come to mark Indian foreign policy discourse. This is not as readily recognised as it should be. While most commentators would acknowledge that there has been a steep decline in "India’s position in the world", not many seem to recognise a much greater problem: even if some fortuitous global changes were to put India in such a position that it could attain whatever it wanted, it might not know what it really wants. One is not referring here to the basic desires of wealth and power: one is referring instead to the reflective and normative ideas which inform a people of their location in the world and their moral destiny.

Irrespective of whether it gets constructed at the level of the Ministry of External Affairs, scholars of international relations, or the media editors and commentators, the Indian foreign policy discourse is remarkable for an inconsistency it has constantly displayed. The picture it constructs of the "other" is informed entirely by the power-political paradigm of realism whereas the picture it construct of the "self" is deeply embedded in moral concerns. Rather than dismissing this oddity as sheer duplicity, I suggest that we should try to unravel this paradox and see if we can derive some useful insights while doing so. The starting point in doing this exercise would be to assume that what we have on our hands is not a case of deliberate ambiguity but of genuine ambivalence. At one level, it might appear that this ambivalence results from what might be called reluctant radicalism, emanating on the one hand from a deeply felt desire to see the world fundamentally transformed and, on the other, from the fact that this desire is held constantly in check by the urge to succeed even in the world such as it is. I believe that while the notion of "reluctant radicalism" offers a good explanation as far as it goes, there is something more to the ambivalence.

Let me try to argue my case in some detail.

The first leg of my argument must cover a rather familiar territory. There is no question that the world which independent India was ushered into was anarchic, marked as it was by tensions and conflicts among states which competed to maximise their individual powers. Always unequal, always unjust to the weak, it attained semblance of peace and stability only through balance of power. Apparently this world was in a flux: formed for centuries by a small number of great powers and their numerous colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, it was now heading towards bipolarisation under the pressure of two super powers. Yet its organising principles remained the same: superiority of military and economic power. It was a static world despite its apparent dynamism. The rise and fall of powers meant only the shuffling of pawns on the chessboard but the game and its rules remained the same. New military alliances were replacing the older ones. Neo-colonialism was supplanting classical colonialism even while the process of decolonisation remained incomplete.

Naturally, such an anarchic world was anathema to the leaders of a newly independent India. Historically, the anarchy had produced imperialism, militarism, fascism, Stalinism and two world wars. There was no guarantee it would not do the same in future. How could India either feel safe or hope to develop in such a world? The world India would want to live in must be consistent with the ideals of its own freedom struggle. It had to be a democratic order which recognised the autonomy and equality of its constituents and strove to establish justice, harmony and peace among them.

The framework which India’s foreign policy makers evolved, and which they continued to follow over the next four decades, was nonalignment. With ever increasing membership, it soon became a worldwide movement, intervening effectively in several areas of world politics, articulating its opposition to colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, military alliances, arms race and economic disparities.

What I have summarised in the preceding three paragraphs could read like the "official history" of Indian foreign policy. But it is not merely that. It is also a reading of the past 50 years which is widely shared. During that entire period, the framework was backed by tremendous consensus within the country. Discussion on its details never descended to the level of doubts about its basic principles and parameters. Policy makers and practitioners, political parties, press, public opinion, theoreticians, scholars and students all agreed that the nonaligned framework was intrinsically moral as well as enduringly advantageous.

Even though this reading is still being constantly reproduced, the consensus may not last much longer. Indian governments of the past decade have, of course, repeatedly asserted that nonalignment has lost neither its value nor its viability, but many others argue that it has lost all meaning. It is in this context that the two instances of India’s isolation, mentioned in the beginning, are particularly noteworthy. India was isolated not merely by the great powers, it stood isolated because members of the nonaligned movement did not vote for it either. One explanation of this may be that even though these states still profess to be nonaligned, they do not attach much significance to being nonaligned, and vote for reasons they consider more significant. The second explanation, not very salutary to India, could be that although the nonaligned states are still convinced of the validity of nonalignment, for some reason they are no longer convinced of India’s credentials to continue as its leader.

My argument accepts both these explanations but finds them still inadequate. I wish to argue that nonalignment owed its initial success and ultimate failure to the same factor. This factor was the state-centered nature of its framework. India began by accepting that sovereign states were the only legitimate participants and negotiators in world politics. Consequently, it sought equality and justice, but only among states. It opposed military alliances because these threatened the sovereignty and autonomy of smaller and weaker states. Its vision of order, peace and stability was one in which states did not interfere in one another’s "internal affairs".

State-centricity immediately had two opposite consequences for the nonaligned movement. On the one hand, the number of states which joined its ranks swelled, leading to the emergence of what looked like a strong Afro-Asian bloc. The NAM could, then, function as a front of the newly independent but poor Third World states, and articulate their collective opposition to the divisive and hegemonic policies of the two blocs. On the other hand, though, acceptance of the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference meant that the movement had virtually no "inner" control over which states could become its members. All kinds of Third World regimes — many of them extremely undemocratic, oppressive and exploitative within their territories — were able to not only join the movement but also perpetuate themselves by taking shelter under it, terming even mild criticism of their domestic practices as interference. What the movement gained in terms of size, it lost in terms of cohesion and radicalism.

The reason why nonaligned movement soon came to be accepted by power blocs as legitimate collective negotiator might well be that accommodating an essentially state-centered movement was relatively easy. After all, it was not a systemic threat. The movement could not have carried its demand for abolition of inter-state power hierarchies too far when its member regimes were unwilling to remove power hierarchies within their own boundaries. The demand for inter-state economic justice could not be convincingly sustained for long by regimes which dispensed little economic justice to their own peoples and regions. The demand for radical restructuring of the inter-state system could make little impact when raised by those who were often most conservative within their territories.

The gains of the nonaligned movement were, therefore, often no more than concessions which the two power blocs made out of their bipolar calculations and compulsions. These concessions were not very costly either, for often they were not made to the peoples of Third World but to their regimes. Now, we could of course emphasise that they were gains all the same, and see them as proof that the movement was successful. However, it is in the very nature of concessions that they can be withdrawn when compulsions no longer exist or when calculations become different. This seems to be already happening, and there is precious little the nonaligned movement of today can do about it.

In order to be effective, movements of the poor and the deprived must be movements of the people, and in order to be that, they must shun state-centred character. They must recognise that the hierarchies, injustice and anarchy, which movements like the NAM profess to fight, derive their sustenance from the theoretic primacy and supremacy of state as the organising principle. Once the state is granted, as an institution, monopoly of exercising legitimate force over its people and manipulating their economic as well as social-cultural resources, it cannot then be expected to control its urge to expand such control further by expanding the definition of what is a legitimate force. An institution which refuses to learn to coexist as an equal with other institutions, which does not even recognise that a people need plurality of institutions to satisfy their different needs and aspirations, cannot learn to coexist as an equal with institutions of its own kind. Only a democratic state that has made itself subservient to the needs of the civil society within its boundaries will accept the primacy of a global civil society and behave democratically within it.

I may now return to the explanation I promised for the present-day disorientation of Indian foreign policy. The explanation is that this policy has aspirations and demands which can be fulfilled only in a world that is organised as a civil society of civil societies, but it is itself structured in the state-centric mould which does not allow the vitality of civil societies to percolate into the global system. My explanation for the paradox in the Indian foreign policy discourse remains embedded in the ambivalence of its interlocutors, but this ambivalence is not so much a result of reluctant radicalism as of straddling what are in fact two parallel discourses: one of civil society and the other of state. Indian foreign policy discourse assumes that while the Indian state embodies the Indian civil society, other states imprison theirs. As a consequence, Indian foreign policy presumably reflects the morality of its civil society whereas the foreign policy of other states refract the morality of their civil societies.

My foregoing explanation of the paradoxes of Indian foreign policy as well as the foreign policy discourse solves one issue but raises two others. First, why should Indians have such a conceited opinion of their own state-civil society relationship, arrogating to themselves something they deny to all others. Second, what is intrinsically so moral and radical about civil societies that is not quite so about states. My attempt to answer these questions will take me to my other concern in this paper: the discourse of freedom in India.

Explicating my argument in this regard requires that I make a few conceptual clarifications about the three principal categories: state, civil society and nation. Everyone of them is singly capable of providing the organising principle for the modern collective self of a people, but it how the three get related which decides the direction a polity will take in its internal and external realisation. In this connection, it is important to see that even through historically their emergence or pursuit did overlap in Europe, the relationship among them is not one of necessary complementarity. Whenever and wherever complementarity came to exist, it was usually because the three emerged together as offshoots from the same source: the rise of industrial capitalism. This capitalism transformed ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundaries into integrated "national" reservoirs of labour, materials and capital. The economic domain had to be substantially separated from the political domain to facilitate unencumbered production and exchange of commodities in the "civil" society, and the "modern" (bourgeois) state emerged to perform the minimalist function of safeguarding national boundaries from external threats while preventing breakdown of law and order within it. However, this was not a universal process even within Europe. The complementarity did not exist wherever a modern nation-state had not emerged structurally but a modernising-nationalising state sought to introduce institutions from above, in the process prompting but modifying capitalism, and permitting but at the same time subverting civil society.

Without going into too many details, what we merely need to note at this stage is that there is no essential nature of the state-civil society-nation relationship; following different historical trajectories, it could appear as fairly different combinations. For a polity to hold, it is not sufficient, therefore, that the three merely relate; they must also relate in a definitive way. By that I mean that one of them should gain primacy and should be in a position to define how the other two will relate to it. If that does not happen, the three could pull a people in different directions, cause disorientation, and generate tensions and conflicts, as they indeed frequently did even in Europe.

Given this context, my argument would be that those who drew the blueprint of India’s polity on the eve of independence, did not sufficiently recognise the tensions possible within the civil society-state-nation relationship. It would seem that their reading of European history was both selective and eclectic, and they seem to have joined two distinct phases and forms of bourgeois nationalism into an apparently seamless whole. On the one hand, they were persuaded of the West European idea that civil society is integral to a democratic state and the former could only strengthen the latter; on the other, they seem to have incorporated the essentially Central and East European idea that institutions which were needed but did not exist could be created through a conscious plan. Believing that modern civil society was necessary for the success of Indian democracy, but knowing that modern civil society had not developed in India, they decided to build one. In many ways, free India was to be a designer project on the grandest scale. The designers were keen to borrow and combine the best from the world, and this applied not only to the making of the Indian Constitution but also to entirety of what Gramsci would call integral state.

As a result, what we got to witness all through the Nehruvian era was a historically unique project; a modernizing state wanted to modernise a pre-modern society without demanding from that society what West European capitalism, or Central and Each European regimes, had extracted from it. In this top-down telescoping of modernisation process, the pre-modern society would get all privileges of being modern civil society first, and actually become one later. I will like to underline the word project used in the beginning of this paragraph. Social and political projects do not always succeed, but they should not be read in the light of their eventual failure. In order to grasp their spirit, it is essential that we empathise with the optimism with which they are launched.

The Nehruvian project has to be contextualised also in terms of the Indian historical experience, or rather in terms of its two alternative readings. The foremost lesson of one, essentially political, reading was that technological backwardness and political administrative disunity had subjected India repeatedly to aggression and colonial subjugation. Consolidation of the newly won freedom demanded, therefore, a modernising state: visionary, voluntarist, strong willed, and keen to intervene in economy and society. Several steps that the Nehruvian state took were in that direction: planning, nationalisation, public sector, land reforms, laws against caste and gender discriminations.

The second reading of Indian history, social and somewhat romantic, was in terms of religious-cultural traditions. This reading produced what is usually called composite culture. Once this reading was accepted, it could then be argued that since there was a pre-existing unity in the diversity of India, all that was required was the setting up an exemplary democratic polity which respected, promoted and brought civil society institutions centrestage. Pluralist in character, the state would decentralise and devolve powers to the federal and grassroots levels, and draw its legitimacy and sustenance from the people whose individual as well as community rights it considered sacrosanct. Some of the steps which the Nehruvian state took conformed to this vision. Reorganisation of provincial boundaries and the creation of new provinces to allow substantial autonomy and initiative for language based communities, special status for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, separate civil laws for religious communities, and the panchayat raj system could be counted among these.

If we combine the arguments I have made thus far, a composite picture begins to emerge. As the foreign policy framework, nonalignment was no more than an extension, or perhaps extrapolation, of the Nehruvian project at home: collapsing the ideals of modern democratic state and civil society into a vision for the modernizing states, and introducing this vision from above in world politics.

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REJOINDER
Time to move away from doxa
Paramjit S. Judge writes from Amritsar

THIS refers to Prof Bhupinder Singh’s comment on Surjit Hans’ "flattering review" of "Terrorism in Punjab" (The Tribune, May 7). At the outset, I may put on record (as one of the authors of the book) that neither Surjit Hans’ review (The Tribune, April 8) was flattering nor the book was a survey report as stated by Prof Bhupinder Singh in his opening sentence. However, I will come back to these issues a little later.

Prof Bhupinder Singh deserves appreciation for reiterating ancient Greek insight to draw a distinction between doxa (opinion) and epistme (knowledge). He forgets that he is not giving a lecture to undergraduate students; he is addressing his professional colleagues who are aware of such a basic distinction. However, I would like to caution Prof Bhupinder Singh that even in the realm of doxa informed opinion has to be preferred over uninformed opinion. It seems Surjit Hans’ review of the book, which we found subtle and sarcastic enough not to be responded to, has enthused him to spell out his own unconscious sympathies which may not stand scrutiny of "self-conscious reason". Dropping the names of big social scientists and philosophers apart, Prof Bhupinder Singh betrays himself by confessing at the end that he relies on secondary sources rather than reading the thinkers in original.

As a corollary to the above, I may suggest to him Marx’s Capital Vol. I rather than jumping to the third volume for otherwise a very well-known quotation. In this work Marx writes about the comments of the reviewer of his book "Critique of Political Economy". The reviewer had mentioned that whereas Marx was right in characterising modern society as determined by economic factors, he was wrong in his understanding of Roman society, because it was politics rather than economics which was the primary factor. Marx said that any reviewer — and here it is for Prof Bhupinder Singh — should know that somebody who is writing on an issue must have been aware of all these things. Prof Bhupinder Singh wants us to do something, from which we have moved a step further.

Therefore, the only request we can make to him is that our book is not that inaccessible as western books are. He should read our book and then he will out that we were not indulging in a casual survey as he has hastily concluded from the harsh review. We may inform Prof Bhupinder Singh that it took us three years to complete the process of data collection. One cannot play hockey without knowing the rules of the game. We have sufficient professional competence to make a distinction between opinion surveys and social research. The respondents were not casual spectators but from a cross-section of society which included militants too.

Maybe Prof Bhupinder Singh having been a Professor of sociology for too long, has been in the habit of professing rather than engaging in careful reading and conducting significant fieldwork. We do not have any pretension to the Platonic episteme because we were not studying the realm of eternal ideas but dealing with a phenomenal world about which, as the recent debates have shown, it is better to do a study of how the participants experience the world rather than construct essentialist ahistorical theories of which even Marx could not escape despite his best struggle to keep to the ground.

We are not suggesting to a scholar by quoting a couple of authorities to do either poetry or history. But it may be pointed out that without going to the field, it is possible to remain in harmony with one’s illusions. With the exception of one variable, whatever has been presented as data in our book is verifiable, and we invite any armchair scholar to go to those villages (or perhaps any village) to come out with contrary but verifiable data. Our job is to sort out issues without being pretenders to theory such as Prof Bhupinder Singh whose pretensions cause more confusion by raising dust rather than seeking clarity.

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