Thursday, June 15, 2000,
Chandigarh, India






THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

Spurt in crime
CRIME is endemic to Punjab, and of late to some other states and regions of India. But the spurt in violence during the past few months is baffling, to say the least. The most horrifying has been the recent killing of two children in Jalandhar, allegedly by two neighbours.

Pakistan’s Kargil problem
THE reverberations of Pakistan's Kargil misadventure continue to rock that country. It was mainly the Kargil factor that led to the tussle between the then Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, and his army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, resulting in the former not only losing power but also finding himself in jail.

Loan recovery mela
AFTER what appears like an eternity, public sector banks have been told to crack the whip on those sitting on a pile of bad loans. Those who individually owe Rs 10 crore or less will have a good part of the interest written off if they clear the debt in one go. The government, the RBI and the banks themselves believe that this is an attractive enough incentive.


EARLIER ARTICLES
 
OPINION

Equations in New Economics
The price of representative democracy
by Sumer Kaul

ONCE upon a time not very long ago, subsidising certain basic necessities to make them affordable for the poorer people was considered the badge of a caring government. Now, thanks to the concise IMF dictionary, subsidy is a four-letter word which must be shunned in polite market society. And so, having embraced the economic morality laid down by the global preacher, four governments in a row in the last decade have gone after subsidies with the zeal of a new convert.

Course revision in universities
by Damodar Agrawal

DESPERATE attempts are being made at Delhi University and elsewhere to make the syllabi modern and useful. New subjects are being introduced, and old ones upgraded. Misplaced enthusiasm to make some courses “global” is also seen. One does not know if they will have any market value. Still one can see a lot of activity in the departments, and the scenario is colourful.

The home truths in debut novel
by Anisha Sodhi
VISITING author Jayshree Misra in her south Delhi home is like stepping right into her debut novel ‘Ancient Promises.’ So much so that meeting Misra is almost like coming face to face with Janu, the protagonist of her debut novel. ‘Ancient Promises,’ the fictionalised version of 38-year-old Misra’s life, reflects both the struggle and the fairytale magic of the author’s real life story.


OF LIFE SUBLIME

“Greater love than this no one has”
by K. F. Rustamji
I
FIND that the most impressive human quality is the ability to face death with courage and dignity. Jammu 1965: A Pakistani fighter missed the airport of Jammu and shot up the house of a retired officer a short distance away. When I reached the spot I found a mother weeping uncontrollably, and a girl shattered to pieces — one leg totally separated, bleeding to death.

SPIRITUAL NUGGETS



75 years ago

June 15, 1925
Ghatkopkar Humanitarian Association
AN appeal has just been issued by the Ghatkopkar Humanitarian Association of Bombay, for the protection of milch cattle against slaughter and torture, which gives figures showing the alarming rate at which these highly useful animals are being done to death to provide food for man.



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Spurt in crime

CRIME is endemic to Punjab, and of late to some other states and regions of India. But the spurt in violence during the past few months is baffling, to say the least. The most horrifying has been the recent killing of two children in Jalandhar, allegedly by two neighbours. There was a Rs 7.69 lakh daylight robbery in Ludhiana while a scooterist was relieved of Rs 9.30 lakh near Jalandhar. Two factory workers were done to death at the outskirts of Ludhiana. Reading all these reports almost simultaneously gives one an eerie feeling. These are, of course, isolated incidents. But they are a grim pointer to a rapidly worsening law and order situation. Ironically, a book released recently by the National Crime Records Bureau mentions that Punjab ranks last among 32 states and union territories of the country in terms of criminality. Delhi finished at the top while Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were ranked 15th and 17th respectively. But then, the figures mentioned in the book refer to 1998. Since then there seems to have been a sea change in the situation. While it will require a detailed analysis by social scientists to come up with the reasons for this sudden spurt, certain factors are obvious. The old belief that “crime does not pay” has been made to stand on its head in recent times. Too many people have gotten away with serious offences, encouraging others to emulate them. In a situation where top people, be they in politics, bureaucracy, police or business, employ questionable means to further their own interests, the common people tend to treat them as role models. Criminals are either not brought to book or get away so lightly that they treat the punishment as no deterrent.

Another factor could be the peace that dawned on Punjab in the post-militancy years. The police was so dog-tired fighting the terrorists that once the back of militancy was broken, it returned to its bad old ways with a vengeance. There are instances where police constables themselves have acted as contract killers. Singling out the police would be an over-simplification but the fact remains that when the disciplined force stops evoking fear and respect, the criminals are bound to feel free. There is no denying the fact that inimical neighbouring countries play a role in the criminal activity. Smuggling of fake currency, narcotics and sophisticated arms has been on the rise. The Dawood Ibrahim gang is reported to have blessed an organised group of the underworld indulging in kidnappings in the state. But the enemies of the country are only fishing in troubled waters. The trouble itself is of local origin. If we set our house in order, they would be unable to play their dirty games here. Now that the state of Punjab has attracted the malevolent attention of the underworld, it is time for the intelligence agencies to nip the evil at the earliest. The geographical situation of the state is such that if organised crime takes roots here, as it is doing fast, it will be more difficult to eliminate it from here than it is from, say, Bihar.
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Pakistan’s Kargil problem

THE reverberations of Pakistan's Kargil misadventure continue to rock that country. It was mainly the Kargil factor that led to the tussle between the then Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, and his army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, resulting in the former not only losing power but also finding himself in jail. Ever since General Musharraf declared himself the Chief Executive of Pakistan after the bloodless military coup in October last year he has been making all efforts to prove that his country had to cut a sorry figure in the comity of nations because of the wrong policy decisions of Mr Nawaz Sharif. It is a different matter that had Mr Sharif not asked the Pakistan army-backed infiltrators to withdraw from the Kargil heights after his meeting with US President Bill Clinton, the situation could have taken a turn for the worse for his country. Mr Sharif seems to have made up his mind to pay the ruling General in the same coin. The deposed Prime Minister disclosed in Karachi on Tuesday that the military had planned the Kargil (fiasco) operations without his knowledge and he came to know of it only when the fighting erupted in May, 1999. He is prepared to divulge devastating details he has — as he claims — before a military commission or a panel of judges if it is constituted to get to the bottom of the Kargil conflict.

That is alright, but who will believe that such a powerful Prime Minister as he was had no idea of the military engagement of such a vast scale? The disastrous idea might have originated at Pakistan's army headquarters as the armed forces have their own interest to keep the Kashmir pot boiling. But Mr Nawaz Sharif would have contributed to it in his own way keeping in view his calculations that any success in Kargil for Pakistan would have brought rich dividends for the then Head of Government. Neither Mr Sharif nor General Musharraf would have thought that India would give Pakistan such a bloody nose on the heights of Kargil as it ultimately got and that Islamabad would have no face to show to the world. It got humiliated on both military and diplomatic fronts. Mr Sharif is right when he says that for Islamabad "Kargil was the biggest debacle after the 1971 war with India" leading to Pakistan's dismemberment. Of course, General Musharraf has to share a greater guilt for the Kargil episode as all available facts go to prove that he was the real author of the operations. This is not surprising, going by the dominance of the army in the power structure in Pakistan even if it is under civilian rule. But he emerged smarter than Mr Sharif and put the Kargil noose around the former Prime Minister's neck. Only time will tell whether Mr Sharif succeeds in placing the wily General where he finds himself today. One hopes the Defence Minister of India, Mr George Fernandes, will not repeat the kind of embarrassing statement he made that Pakistan's former Prime Minister did not know what General Musharraf-led army was planning to execute now that Mr Sharif has started spilling the Kargil beans.
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Loan recovery mela

AFTER what appears like an eternity, public sector banks have been told to crack the whip on those sitting on a pile of bad loans. Those who individually owe Rs 10 crore or less will have a good part of the interest written off if they clear the debt in one go. The government, the RBI and the banks themselves believe that this is an attractive enough incentive. Loans of this category account for about 80 per cent of the bad debt or about Rs 40,000 crore. The rest of the money — Rs 11,000 crore — is owed by big sharks with close contacts at the highest political and bureaucratic levels. In their case the game plan is to first publish their names and take the case to the debt recovery tribunal. These tribunals have recently been given extra power to decide the cases urgently, confiscate the assets of both the company and the promoters, sell them in an auction and pass on the money to the banks in the discharge of the loan. This is tough talking and given the government’s and the RBI’s known soft spot for big business, it will be a big change of heart if there is corresponding tough action. Until now banks have been treading warily fearing retaliation by the defaulters. If one bank initiates legal action to recover the money, two things will simultaneously happen. The affected company will immediately close its account and persuade sympathetic fellow defaulters to follow suit. More menacingly, there will be a gang up of influential industrialists to seek punishment of the top brass of the erring bank. It is an open secret that these big loans were sanctioned in the first place because of political and bureaucratic pressure and the loans turned bad and remained unrecovered for the same reason. It would be a reckless gesture on the part of any top manager to molest these borrowers and, no doubt, they were not molested.

Now the Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, is under attack for being extra courteous to big money and harsh on such helpless persons as those who draw foodgrains and sugar from fair price shops. And these bad loans, euphemistically called non-performing assets, have become a scandal, particularly after the CII suggested the closure of three weak banks. These two factors have converged at this point of time leading to the hard decision. The strategy too has changed. All banks will first prepare a list of big defaulters and submit it to the Finance Ministry. The Ministry will publish the names and order filing of cases before the debt recovery tribunals. It will thus take the responsibility for the harsh measure and any collective anger has to be directed at the Minister himself. Mr Sinha has thus taken a big risk and deserves all support from the political establishment, especially the Prime Minister. The waiver of interest on the long-pending loans of Rs 10 crore or less is a controversial one. Even at a rate of 15 per cent, the annual accretion of interest payment on this type of loan will come to Rs 6,000 crore and since a loan turns sour only when interest is not paid for three years, the interest arrears could be as high as 20,000 crore. Of course, the banks will not forgo the entire arrear but even a percentage of it will still mean an unacceptably large outgo. Maybe the banks will examine individual cases and first try to salvage the situation by rehabilitating the borrowing unit. This too can turn out to be a gamble but it is a lesser evil than giving up claim to the interest.
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Equations in New Economics
The price of representative democracy
by Sumer Kaul

ONCE upon a time not very long ago, subsidising certain basic necessities to make them affordable for the poorer people was considered the badge of a caring government. Now, thanks to the concise IMF dictionary, subsidy is a four-letter word which must be shunned in polite market society. And so, having embraced the economic morality laid down by the global preacher, four governments in a row in the last decade have gone after subsidies with the zeal of a new convert. Never mind if every third Indian still lives in “absolute poverty” and one of the other two still lacks the purchasing power to give himself two adequate meals a day, nobody but nobody in the ruling classes now defends subsidies; these simply have to go — because the preacher says so, and the preacher is right because we have a fiscal deficit and this must be eliminated. And the prescribed way to do that is by slashing pro-poor subsidies. This is the reigning economic thinking.

As in the case of individuals and families so in the case of governments, expenditure in excess of income/revenue leads to bankruptcy or crippling debts. There is no denying this. But there is no denying some other facts too. Fiscal deficit is not a function of expenditure alone; it is equally a result of the levels of realised and unrealised revenues. Why then do governments and in particular finance ministers view the problem from the expenditure side only and, worse, within that blinkered view, even as they profess to work for the betterment of the common man, choose to reduce expenditure by withdrawing or slashing subsidies that help the common man? Is there a class interest and class influence at work here? After all, there are other expenditures and other subsidies — direct and indirect, visible and invisible — and they all contribute to the deficit. Why are these left untouched and in fact increased constantly?

The tax regime is a good index of a government’s concerns and biases. It also reveals lost or abandoned or ignored opportunities for enlarging revenue. Take income tax. An assessee on the very first rung is required to pay 10 per cent of his income as tax, and someone earning a hundred times as much has to pay at a rate just three times more. This is not to plead for a return to the 97 per cent tax rate we once had at the highest slab, but if a cash-strapped government does not take into account the capacity to pay, isn’t it consciously foregoing revenue? The most brazen example of foregoing revenue on this count is the continuing refusal to tax agricultural income. The factors that went into this decision decades ago no longer obtain, and yet this vast potential remains untapped. A guaranteed and ever rising procurement price on the one hand and no income tax on the other, not even when the income runs into many lakhs of rupees! Not only is this exemption a gross violation of the first cannon of taxation, it provides a sanctuary to tax-evaders whose incomes otherwise are taxable.

Revenue is similarly lost in indirect taxes when these are not imposed where they should be or are reduced or withdrawn. This is particularly questionable when the goods are of class and to mass consumption, like modern electronic gadgets and fancy gizmos, in fact the whole range of “white goods”, and, of course, the entire breed of foreign-brand automobiles, all of which are, in this country of profuse poverty, luxury goods and, therefore, eminently taxable at condign rates. When such luxuries are not taxed or are taxed at low levels, or when taxes are reduced or withdrawn, not only is the government foregoing revenue, it is also providing a sort of subsidy to both manufacturers and consumers of these goods.

A major domain of hidden subsidies are the ministerial mansions (and bureaucratic bungalows) in the Capital and similar residences of their counterparts in state capitals, each one of which would fetch tens of lakhs of rupees and more if they were put on rent, and hundreds of crores if used commercially. Alternatively, each of these sprawling premises could provide land to house over a hundred families. Mind you, involved here are not just a few bungalows; we are talking about thousands of acres of prime land occupied by ministerial personages alone, at the latest count 73 of them at the Centre, nearly a hundred each in UP and Bihar, and not all that much fewer in other states. Not even in affluent, surplus-budget countries is such a potentially lucrative public asset so wastefully used!

Such massive subsidies on the one hand and extravagant spending from the public exchequer on the other. It would come as a goodly shock, perhaps even to the ministers themselves, if someone were to add up what is spent on their upkeep, comfort and pleasure. And there is no ceiling on their numbers and these are progressively going up with every twist in the permutation and combination of Indian politics. Needless to say, the size of the ministries has nothing to do with the requirements of governance — why, some ministers, especially in states, don’t even get a portfolio for days after they are inducted. What they do get from the moment they are sworn are a plethora of perks, including an entitlement worth lakhs of rupees each for renovating and re-furnishing their official habitat in order at once to enable them “to serve the people”. And in doing so they demand and get elaborate and ostentatious personal security — to protect them from the same people! It is almost a blanket provision and covers ex-Prime Ministers (and their children and grandchildren) and ex-ministers and even ex-legislators, and also the government’s friends and favourites outside the government. In UP, for instance, more than 1300 persons have been given personal security, including all 92 ministers and 425 legislators plus 20 former ministers and 98 former legislators — all at public expense.

Forming the base of this solid pyramid of government and political profligacy are the ultimate tribunes of Indian democracy, the humble members of Parliament. Not only do these honourable worthies periodically give themselves handsome hikes in salaries and allowances, they also demand and get perks and concessions and freebies that would make members of Emperor Akbar’s court look like lower division clerks!

They get official accommodation in Delhi throughout their tenure because they have to attend Parliament which, be it noted, is in session for just about four months a year. They can consume 25,000 units of power and 2,000 kilolitres of water every year without having to pay a single paisa, and they can do so even if the Lok Sabha is dissolved and right until a new House is constituted, that is, for months together even without being MPs. They get two telephones and can make one lakh calls a year, or 274 calls a day, free of cost. (So strong is this old boys network that a committee of MPs has decided to allow members of the short-circuited 12th Lok Sabha to utilise the balance of their one lakh free phone calls!)

Then, each MP gets 36 free air tickets a year, which means they can be airborne once every 10 days (and occasionally while up there, some of them feel free to divert the plane to where they wish, and to hell with the flight schedule and the plight of the other passengers). They are also entitled to free AC-class train travel, with an attendant in tow, and this freebie is lifelong! All this plus foreign jaunts. The reasons for these pleasure excursions, which come more easily to ministers but are not unknown to MPs, can be any of many — including such critical missions as studying the use of Hindi typewriters in Indian missions or the working of the sewage system in New York or seeing first-hand how the bullet train runs in Japan!

The list is virtually endless. A pistol costing one lakh is theirs for Rs 10,000, a meal costing Rs 100 is theirs for one-fifth that price, the choicest Indian tea meant only for export is theirs for the asking.... And now, in this dotcom era, Rs 1.5 lakh for a computer, a fax machine and an electronic typewriter. Everything at public expense. If the revenue lost and the actual spending on all the perks and freebies are added up, the amount will make the food subsidy look like small change, and yet while the subsidies are axed, this parasitical dispensation, this daylight plunder, continues unabated and unquestioned.

The argument in defence of the freebies is that these are necessary to enable the MPs to perform their duties efficiently and conscientiously. But, pray, were their predecessors who had none of these exorbitant privileges less efficient and conscientious? The facts are the other way round. In the just concluded 85-day-long budget session, official business was conducted for just 55 hours. No prizes for guessing what the rest of the time was spent on. It costs Rs 8 lakh per hour to keep Parliament in session, and the public exchequer was reportedly set back by Rs 8 crore due to din and disruption in the budget session. As for participation in debate and discussion, presumably but actually rarely on matters of public interest and national import, which is what Parliament is all about, one escalating fact says it all: In the first Lok Sabha, there were 180 MPs who never spoke; in the last Lok Sabha as many as 402 honourable members did not take part in any debate whatsoever! Prime Minister Vajpayee himself rued this state of affairs just the other day. In Parliament today, there is less bahas (discussion) and more shor-sharaba (din), he said, and when there is discussion “there is nobody around”!

And to think how much these representatives of the people of India cost the people of India! The old democratic dictum “no taxation without representation” has been turned on its head — no representation without taxation! Three cheers for Indian democracy, and a hurrah for the new economics which hurts the poor in the name of progress!
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Course revision in universities
by Damodar Agrawal

DESPERATE attempts are being made at Delhi University and elsewhere to make the syllabi modern and useful. New subjects are being introduced, and old ones upgraded. Misplaced enthusiasm to make some courses “global” is also seen. One does not know if they will have any market value. Still one can see a lot of activity in the departments, and the scenario is colourful.

This has perhaps been a permanent trait of this prestigious university. When years ago it introduced business economics, it was heralded as the beginning of a new era in business and commerce education. Some other universities were also inspired by it. But when it was found that the course was only a poor relation of the university’s own MBA, the enthusiasm waned. In campus placements, the salaries offered are very low.

Soon after, the university introduced a two-year master’s course in finance and control. But despite the fact that the course was attractive, it failed to catch the imagination. The reason was the conspicuous absence of industry participation in syllabus-making. Those who went in for the course were soon disillusioned. In job opportunities they were treated just slightly above first class commerce graduates.

These examples will suffice to prove that when a university makes a hurried and ill-conceived attempt to keep pace with the times, it may fumble and fault. To begin with, they were not meant to strike a vocational instance. They were self-satisfyingly preoccupied with the theoretical duty of imparting education in arts and pure sciences. They made no attempt to perceive the changes taking place in the practical world. Now that they are called upon to meet the new challenge they find themselves to be highly inadequate.

And though some universities were alive to change they were unprepared to respond properly. For example, when the computers were introduced, they first turned a blind eye to this new phenomenon, but when the pressure mounted they hurriedly introduced the subject and hired the teachers. But they offered lower salaries, and could not command the services of good teachers. Their degrees failed to acquire the sheen the course demanded.

In colleges they tried to fill the gap with part-time tutors much below the mark, and the university’s dream to make its Bachelor in Computer Science and Bachelor in Computer Applications courses market savvy was shattered. According to a report, the university’s computer science graduates are placed no better than computer clerks.

To revise and upgrade a course is not an easy job. The process has to pass through a number of stumbling blocks, teachers themselves being the hardest mainly due to their conservative and stubborn attitudes. Some of them are so principled and egoistic that they spurn even the best changes in their own curriculum.

Their own ideological predilections are also so strong that they fail to appreciate anything not conforming to their own views. This is true particularly in subjects like history and geography, English and Hindi, commerce and economics. This reflects their own lack of information about the latest in their own field even in this age of information explosion. One will see how different it is to change the syllabus.

The channels through which even a minor syllabus change has to pass through are not easy to negotiate. One has to pass through a number of narrow lanes of various committees, the subject committees being the main. No less slow and procrastinating are the Boards of Studies meant to screen the recommendations. As they are dominated by Heads of Departments doing no undergraduate teaching, their decisions become irrelevant. The real ideological warfare takes place in academic councils, where when the learned gentry starts reading commercial motives behind each proposal, the battle is bugged.

What may irk one most in the whole drama is the lack of student participation. The two or three students representatives are so awed by the presence of their own professors that they cannot so much as even open their lips, and the remote control of all this continuous to remain in the hands of publishers. They have a vested interest in the whole business.

Professional viability has become one of the latest platitudes of every course revision. So much so that even subjects like Hindi and English are being made market-savvy. The Hindi Department of Delhi University seems to be setting a trend in this. From this year the department is introducing journalism, translation, script writing, banking, language and office management in its B.A. (Hons) courses. The basic use of computers and office work will also have to be learned by those who have till now been reading only their poetry and drama.

The change is expected not only to provide comic relief to the learners of a tragic subject but may also improve their job prospects. The lovers of Prasad, Pant and Premchand will now become market friendly. After about 11 years of dilly-dallying, the university has now decided to teach them how to do a copy for a newspaper or television advertising.

The English Department has reacted to it with a bang. It has revised its 25-year-old course, almost about the same number of years of bickerings. They are now going to teach global literature. They will now not only teach (in their own English) the Shakunthalam of Kalidasa and Vyasa’s Mahabharata but also Tagore, Premchand, R.K. Narayan and Vijay Tendulkar. To avoid any subcontinental bias, they are including in their syllabus the works of Dostoevsky, Flaubert and Balzac. And to look really global, they are going to teach Isac Asimov, Ian Fleming, Pablo Neruda and Marquez and Walcott.

This may beyond any doubt appear to be an encouraging development. Yet, if this is a side-effect of some vocationalisation syndrome, then the universities must beware. While they must introduce courses in vocational studies, they must not attempt to commercialise subjects of eternal values. If they teach book-keeping in Hindi literature and banking in philosophy, they are being defensive and overactive.
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“Greater love than this no one has”
by K. F. Rustamji

I FIND that the most impressive human quality is the ability to face death with courage and dignity.

Jammu 1965: A Pakistani fighter missed the airport of Jammu and shot up the house of a retired officer a short distance away. When I reached the spot I found a mother weeping uncontrollably, and a girl shattered to pieces — one leg totally separated, bleeding to death.

She said, "Don't cry, Mummy. All will be well."

The look of calm acceptance of death on that beautiful face, brave-heart to the end, I can never forget; nor will Jammu, I hope.

***

August 4, 1941: In the hell of Auschwitz death camp a Polish priest named Maxmillan Kolbe offered to die in place of a young soldier selected at random for being shot because one of the prisoners had escaped.

"He is young and has a family. I am a Catholic priest. I am alone. I will die in his place."

The soldier said later:"Our farewell was nothing. We could not speak to each other. We just looked into one another's eyes for a long moment,"

Exactly 41 years after his death Kolbe was canonised by the Pope.

"Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends." (Gospel of St. John)

***

13 September, 1929: Jatin Das arrested with Bhagat Singh and Bakuteshwar Dutt died on the 63rd day of a hunger strike. The arrival of Jatin Das's ashes in Allahabad for immersion was a memorable occasion. As the train steamed on to the platform packed with mourners, the people slowly began to sing in a chorus of defiance:

Sarfaroashee kee tumanna ab hamaaray dil mein hai

Dekhna hai zoar kitna baazuey qaatil mein hai

On that day a cable came to Jatin's mother: "Family Tarence Mcswiney unites patriotic Indians in grief and pride on the death of Jatindra Nath Das. Freedom will come. Mary McSwiney."

India and Ireland were united for a moment in a bond of martyrdom. Tarence McSwiney, Mayor of Cork, died in Brixton prison on October 20, 1920. His hunger strike lasted 74 days.

***

The final scene of "A streetcar named desire" by Trueman Capote:

Blanche Du Bois reaching out in the final scene for the guiding hands of a nurse and a doctor, whispered: "Whoever you are — I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

A thrilling silence overwhelmed the audience. Terror and beauty had stopped their hearts... then the magnificent applause, the momentous rising of the audience to its feet was as sudden and breath-taking as a cyclone.

***

April 1949: I went to the jail in Akola to see a hanging. A Muslim youth had been sentenced to death for murder. Unlike others who had to be dragged to the scaffold, crying and protesting, this youth walked up steadily on his own. When they put the hood on his head he gave a loud shout, 'Allah-O-Akbar', which echoed throughout the jail, and the next minute there was only a dangling corpse left. In a strange way I felt uplifted: that a human-being could face death with such all-conquering dignity.

***

1961: Jabalpur was engulfed in a bad communal riot. As IG I was going round a jeep to check the city. In one Muslim mohalla I found a lone sub-inspector standing guard with a rifle. The people came out to meet me — all Muslims. They said, "We are alive because of this man's courage. Several times he beat back attacks on us." "Shabash," I said and saluted him as a true Hindu.

***

Two World Wars: The whole world was swept with waves of courage in all countries engaged in the two world wars. In India too there was an explosion. Men and women were racked with only one idea — freedom.

How can I tell the Indians of today about the emotions that swept over the land in the years 1920 to 1942. How many Bengalis, Sikhs, Muslims, people of all shades and classes, walked bravely to the scaffold leaving behind their names in the Cellular jail in the Andamans. How many Bengali girls shot at Governors in convocations, joined conspiracies to capture weapons.

Then came the civil disobedience movements of Gandhiji. Millions came out in processions bravely facing the police. What was it that suddenly changed the whole character of the Indian people?

What is happening today in India is essentially a part of that fight for freedom which began years ago.

The writer, a well-known commentator, is a former member of the Police Commission.
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The home truths in debut novel
by Anisha Sodhi

VISITING author Jayshree Misra in her south Delhi home is like stepping right into her debut novel ‘Ancient Promises.’

So much so that meeting Misra is almost like coming face to face with Janu, the protagonist of her debut novel. ‘Ancient Promises,’ the fictionalised version of 38-year-old Misra’s life, reflects both the struggle and the fairytale magic of the author’s real life story.

Like Misra, Janu starts off as a precocious young girl from Kerala who grows up in Delhi. Life changes for Janu when she falls in love with Arjun. But her father finds out about their clandestine meetings and before she can apply to college, Janu finds herself back in Kerala caught in an arranged marriage that is disastrous from the start.

Janu, who has cut ties with Arjun, finds herself moulded into a demure woman who accepts the dreaded order of things. She dismisses it all as: “There has to be a reason...nothing, as they say, filled with faith and awe... nothing happens without a reason.”

Guided by that philosophy, she brings up a daughter with a learning disability single-handedly with little help from her inattentive husband and horrid in-laws who never stop ostracising her. In the end she defies tradition and starts chalking out her own path. She gets her daughter back, is granted a divorce and marries her true love, Arjun.

Janu says in the book, “It felt as though I had been away a whole lifetime and travelled through another universe to return and find that no one else had moved on at all.”

And like the character in her novel, Misra makes her struggle sound quite simple. Rather than cynicism, she talks as if unburdened by the past and filled with the belief that things do work out.

And that is what makes the novel’s creator and character so endearing. The two in fact seem inseparable and it is no wonder that her editor Loiuse Moore continuously called her “Janu”.

The author herself says, “Janu is a bit of an alter ego but more focused than I was. In real life you just let days pass by, in novels you cannot. Yet we have the same mental make up, the sort of thing that I think is not unique but ingrained in every woman. It was a bit scary writing a story that was so recognisably my own. So I started to fictionalise it.

On the literary front, Misra knew she would have to bear the legacy of her granduncle Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, a renowned Malayalee writer. But rather than intimidate her, the association inspired her.

Thakazhi used to expand on local myths that fitted into society. For instance, his novel ‘Chemmeen’ describes a boatman drowning at sea because his wife committed adultery for which the ocean seeks revenge. But 50 years after ‘Chemmeen,’ ‘Ancient Promises’ is turning those myths around; with women like aunt Kamala, another character in Misra’s novel, saying, “Delhi girls with their Delhi ideas of divorce corrupting our Kerala ways!”

Misra is still grateful for the happy ending in her life. She still talks of gratitude for her present mother-in-law who greeted her with a warm response when she called their number in an effort to get in touch with her lost love.

“It is true that I never stopped thinking about him (her present day husband). The shared history and common memories were still there. Some first loves just fade away but ours miraculously did not,” says Misra.

India Abroad News Service
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SPIRITUAL NUGGETS

* Charity is the sweetest angel

* Heaven doth own.

* Chastity is the most profitable of all the virtues; for therefore doth a man retain his powers of virility.

* He that hath piety hath piece; and peace is the sanity of the soul.

* Virtue is its own reward.

* Do thou walk to heaven by the path of humility.

* Humility is the hinge upon which all the other virtues do freely move.

* Modest minds are sweet companions.

* The more divine the soul, the more humane the mind.

* Forbearance is the twin brother of mercy.

* The magnanimous are as fine mirrors that do everywhere reflect the light of benevolence and love.

* Soul awakened is life transformed.

* Frivolous life is to real life as the deceptive image is to the green oasis in the desert.

* Conscience is the voice of God calling down the avenues of the soul.

* Remember, the more you climb the spiritual mountains, the more will Satan seek to thrust you down; and the higher you go, the greater thy fall.

* Ungathered fruits soon rot.

* Idleness never found sufficient rest.

Excerpts from Herbert Porter,
The Philosophy of Life

***

The Lord’s joy manifests through the splendorous

Beauty and serenity of His creation.

The Supreme Bliss of this divine love

Is felt within the soul, that is pure and receptive

To the sanctity of God’s boundless love.

It kindles the innermost self of devotees.

— Atharva Veda, 20.137.4.

***

He who dies while living,

And lives again after dying,

Will not be born again.

Says Kabir: He who merges in the Name,

His attention remains absorbed

In the serene state of Void (sunn)

Guru Granth Sahib, Rag Maru, page 1103

 


75 years ago

June 15, 1925
Ghatkopkar Humanitarian Association

AN appeal has just been issued by the Ghatkopkar Humanitarian Association of Bombay, for the protection of milch cattle against slaughter and torture, which gives figures showing the alarming rate at which these highly useful animals are being done to death to provide food for man. From the Ist April, 1923 to the 31st March, 1924 in Bombay alone about 45 lacs of sheeps and goats were slaughtered. Figures for Lahore for the same period shows that 6,322 cows, 4,566 buffaloes, 549 bullocks and 1,98,949 sheep and goats were slaughtered to serve as human food. The Association is doing praiseworth work in saving a large number of cattle from this fate as well as from torture. It appeals to the public to support its useful activities with funds and by purchasing, or helping in the sale of animals for bona fide dairy farming purposes. We associate ourselves with the appeal and hope it will meet with a good response from the public.

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