The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 16, 2000

Speed is not always good
Review by
Ramandeep Johl

Pop culture is king
Review  by
Shelley Walia

How NWFP was won and lost
Review  by
B.R. Nanda

Blame it on your genes
Review  by
Satya P. Gautam

India baiters: outsiders and insiders
Review  by
Akshaya Kumar

Osho goes Sufi and thrills you
Review by
M.L. Sharma


Speed is not always good
by Ramandeep Johl

Faster: The Acceleration of just about Everything by James Gleick. Little, Brown and Company, London. Distributed by Penguin India. Pages 231. £ 10.99.

THE pace of our life is getting faster. Speed and instantaneity characterise our lives. We see around us rapid technological, cultural and political changes. We live in the age of atomic clocks which can measure a billionth of a second with precision. It is surprising that as we are able to measure smaller and smaller time intervals, our own lives tend to become faster and faster.

"Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man," observes Czech novelist Milan Kundera. Time is no more a "gentle deity" as Sophocles claimed. In such times when we seem to be having too much of everything, when technology has compressed so many things into the same allotted time span we are losing grip over things, and impatience becomes our nature.

It is, therefore, quite relevant to ask how fast is fast enough. Are we trying to cross some speed limit, living below which is more natural for us and with which we can cope more effectively?

When the first locomotive engine was devised, it could run at a maximum speed of 30 km an hour. Many people refused to board it simply because they thought the speed was too much and can harm human health. Perhaps they thought riding galloping horses to be more natural. But thanks to the daring spirit of man, he didn’t stop there but has continued to make travel faster ever since.

The case of a fast car and a fast computer also needs to be distinguished. We actually see a car moving fast, but we cannot see a computer computing fast, say, performing billions of calculations a second. Is it more mind-boggling to see it or to imagine it working that fast? In the first instance, we are conscious by direct perception; while in the latter, we are conscious because of our understanding.

This knowledge has been made available to us by the achievements in science. As man has explored the world at a deeper and deeper level (ranging from interiors of the atom to the large-scale structure in the universe), we have found different objects possessing speeds of magnitudes much higher than seen in everyday life.

Thus the maximum speed of 300 million km a second that can be attained in our universe is of light travelling in vacuum. Thank God, we don’t see light directly. It is only a messenger. At the microscopic level, all elementary particles whiz around at speeds that can be close to that of light. Then, heavenly bodies like planets go round the sun at very high speed. The earth is travelling at 300 km per second. Galaxies which are groups of a large number of stars, move literally at a breakneck speed.

This book makes us aware of almost every aspect of our lives which has been swept by the technological storm. In contrast to the earlier book by the author, "Chaos: the Making of a New Science", here he concentrates on the "chaos" in our own lives. The author makes it clear how technological revolution has become insatiable, how quickly "new" things are becoming obsolete in the face of improved machines and gadgetry. But he also highlights the advantages of the old methods in terms of their comfortable speed which left people with more time to rethink their decisions.

Explaining the information overload brought about by the Internet, Gleick writes, "Connectedness has brought about a glut... The multiplication of information pathways leads to positive feedback effects in the nature of frenzies... Close packing and transmission speed are the two sides of the coin... No quills to sharpen, no ink to blot; just bits and more bits, at light speed."

Reacting to this information surplus, a "simplify your life" movement was born in the nineties. We see more and more books with recipies and advice on how to counter the threat of information overload or to stay in harmony with objects of desire. Some choices are: stop watching TV news, cancel half your magazine subscriptions, pretend that you have just three friends, cut back on the number of toys you buy for your child, and so on.

But the fact is that we are not shutting down our e-mail addresses or stop buying pocket computers or cellular phones which could connect us from any corner of the earth. Without these information sources, we would feel a sensory deprivation as if stripped of our hearing aids and corrective lenses. These have become extensions of our sensory-motor system.

Given this, the author asks if our need for information on demand is a primitive instinct? That may be the argument of companies who want to sell their products but more than this, it seems to be our deep-seated need to feel connected as well as feel important in the crowd, as we experience insecurity in the changing technological world.

We are bumping into a speed limit and our intelligence is tied to the speed in which we think. We sleep less and less. The average sleep time has fallen by 20 per cent over the past century, says a study done in the USA. The technologically advanced nations are also making zombies.

The effects of speed in life are all there before us as this book shows very clearly. While the reversal of this trend seems unlikely and adopting an altruistic life-style may not be within the capability of most of us, we can at least be aware as well as cautious of various traps of the speedy way of life. One may perhaps end with this extract from the book "The Bridge on the Drina" by Ivo Andric, " those who boasted of the speed with which they could now finish their business and reckoned how much time, money and effort they had saved, Alihodja replied ill-humouredly that it was not important how much time a man saved, but what he did with it... He tried to prove that the main thing was not that a man went swiftly, but where he went and for what purpose... therefore, speed was not always an advantage. ‘If you are going to hell, then it is better that you should go slowly,’ he said curtly to a young merchant."


Pop culture is king
Review  by Shelley Walia

Popular Culture and Everyday Life by Toby Miller and Alec McHoul Sage, London. Pages 224. £14.99.

Introducing Cultural Studies by Ziauddin Sardar and Borin Van Loon. Icon, Cambridge. Pages 176. £8.99.

WITH increasing interdisciplinary approach to scholarship, is it possible to speak of discrete fields of study? When one teaches "Dr Faustus", is it possible to ignore the relevance of the age of the Renaissance and the history of the attainment of self-conscious freedom by the human spirit manifested in the European races? Chinua Achebe’s "Arrow of God" is an anthropological study of the Ibo tribe in one of the villages in southern Nigeria and not merely a work of fiction to be handled in the traditional ways of literary criticism. Jean Rhys’ "Wide Sargasso Sea" or Saadat Hasan Monto’s "Toba Tek Singh" cannot be approached without a Foucauldian consideration of the politics of madness in the entire cultural history that goes into the construction of the discourse of insanity.

This inclusion of "cultural studies" in various disciplines suggests a collapsing of difference as well as the hybridisation and crossing over between disciplines such as linguistics, psychoanalysis, literary criticism, history, social theory, anthropology and philosophy. Recently we have seen incompatible figures like Saussure and Freud, or Marx and Heideggar come together — a theoretical linkage which is challenging and wide in scope. Violations of rigid compartmentalisation are certainly positive and must be viewed as liberating insofar as they produce theoretical advances that would become fundamental for generations to come.

Combining critical theory with cultural studies is to clearly consider the cross-section of the current "dissensus" on the shape of the post-disciplinary university, including the positive aspects of cultural studies as the new organising principle of academic work. This method offers a new understanding of the way literary studies shape and define culture as well as popular culture, and the way that teaching and research institutions are changing in response to international movements, social forces, and the increasing importance of the historical specificity and character of popular culture and everyday life. Investigating how "high" culture (literature, liberal education) and popular culture (fashion, film, advertisement and discourse analysis) are dealt with in the classroom, shows that the culture wars of the 1980s and the 1990s are by no means over; they have simply warped into new visible struggles of educational funding, curricula, academic standards, and pedagogical authority.

Toby Miller and Alec McHoul have clearly rethought the study of popular culture in their recent book "Popular Culture and Everyday Life," while also explaining key ideas in everyday practice, such as "eating" or "talking" or sports and the discourses that construct these practices; the way we dress or talk, what we eat and how we socialise, communicate things about ourselves, and thus can be studied as signs. Ideologies, for instance, are all related to class positions and therefore to the primacy of material living conditions rather than to ideas or beliefs in the life of human beings. History is the struggle for the control of material conditions on which life rests.

Therefore, when we look at a sport like golf, is it possible to see beyond the accepted or conventional attitudes and beliefs which go with the game? A determining and defining authority is created through the social discourse of this game. It is performed most effectively by making the system seem natural, God-given or ideal so that other classes accept it without asking any questions. The golfer becomes part of something larger than himself and surrenders to the power of the game, its hysteria and, to use Walter Benjamin’s negative term, its aura.

The cultural imperialism of the game is akin to baseball or cricket, which links these games to a modernist sensibility of western exceptionalism. In the world of golf the ludicrous enthusiasts experience a sense of transcendence, a trip to the realm of the timeless and universal.

The phallocentrism of the game where males dominate the different committees that run the show, is an indicator of the cultural construction of a patriarchal power which underpins the domination of one gender by the other. The links between beliefs, the pro-golf lobby’s self-image, the production of meaning and the process of constituting the so-called lovers of the game, even if they have never played another game in their lives, are not immediately apparent.

The ideology that goes with the game is essentially a contested concept, a discourse that renders it almost invulnerable and much appreciated in many circles, but there is a fundamental rejection of it by people who realise its worth and its elitist aura that suffers from inherent complexes, though there are exceptions of those who are genuinely in love with the game and play it without making a show of it.

Its popularity is based on the production and dissemination of erroneous beliefs whose inadequacies are socially engineered. The ideas that rule this game are the ideas of the ruling material forces of society. Therefore, the institution of golf is as much ideological as any other state institution.

The book thus offers a wide-ranging survey of social and cultural theory, while issuing a challenge to the emphasis on speculation rather than observation which is inherent in contemporary cultural studies. The authors try to show that everyday popular culture is too important a social phenomenon to be dealt with speculatively as the spectacular, and always as a representation of something else. Instead, they want to show how (first, using a historical or geneological approach) everyday cultural objects arise out of local conditions — conditions which are highly specific and far from spectacular. And then (second, using some variations on conversation analysis) they demonstrate what these objects actually look like in their places situated everyday.

In last few years, as is the practice in the humanities, many departments have introduced courses in both dominant and sub-cultural practices backed by a study of literary criticism and theory which takes into consideration the diversity and range of cultural studies and providing perspectives on everyday life through ethnography, textual reading, discourse analysis and political economy. For 50 years the model or paradigm of university studies has relied on an opposition between the established canon and its "other", or popular culture. The theory wars of the 1980s changed that. The canon has been overwhelmed by world literature and popular culture. As Aijaz Ahmed argues, "There is no exclusionary pleasures of dominant taste" but only an inclusive sense of heterogenity that coutners the "cultural myopia" of western humanities curriculum. No unitary idea of world literature is possible.

With the advent of post-structuralism and the decline of literature, the opposition between high and popular became untenable, transforming the concentration of inquiry from the canonical into cultural studies. This shows how we might think about the humanities — and how we might act as humanists — as the world changes around, about and under us. We have to realise that the role that theory and cultural studies has played and will play in the various conceptual mutations in contemporary times is not slight. Such developments suggest changes in teaching and the pursuit of interdisciplinary areas such an anthropology, film studies, liteature, American or African or Asian studies, and history, which range widely over a diverse terrain.

The discipline of cultural studies must have a new paradigm for the common analysis of canonical as well as non-canonical texts. Z. Sardar and Borin Van Loon in their recent book "Introducing Cultural Studies" have tried to show the presence of this exciting field of study in academic work within the arts, the humanities, the social sciences and even science and technology. They take a fleeting, though rather interesting, view of the contribution of Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall and E.P. Thompson to the whole enterprise of cultural studies. Interestingly all these pioneers came from a working-class background and tried to understand the role of culture at a critical point in a deeply class-ridden English society. Culture to them was more of a commodity that is constructed with the sole purpose of struggle for cultural domination, a war for legitimacy and social status waged by the elites.

Many departments have already undertaken to radically change the methodology and approach to popular culture. Through a detailed criticism of competing theories, including cultural studies, new historicism and cultural materialism, social and literary critics like Miller and McHoul in the past few years have demonstrated how this new study should — and should not — be done. We are at a juncture where it is important to alter the specialised intellectual work in the academia because, as Edward Said has also argued, it speaks increasingly to itself rather than the world of everyday life and ordinary need.

Such specialisation and methodology has a tendencey towards a doctrinaire set of assumptions and a language of professionalisation allied with cultural dogma and a "surprisingly insistent quietism". Our consistently advocated preference is for a form of criticism and a teaching methodology that dispenses with all this obscurity and instead contests at every point the confined and limited specialisation of much academic discourse. For a teacher the text must be a vast web of affiliations with the world, not simply located in a canonical line of books called "English literature" but something that has its roots and connections with many other aspects of the world — political, social, cultural — all of which go to make up its relevance to our day-to-day life.

It is well known that there is complacency in the obsession with the status quo. Academics who have devious and short-sighted agendas are not prepared to consider one of the central battlefields of the culture wars in the universities where liberals and conservatives have fought over questions of diversity, tradition, and current innovations in pedagogy. The battles have been fierce in many universities around the world, complicated by the university’s unsettled, ever-changing nature, whereas here in many of India’s so-called forward-looking universities senior faculty members feel threatened to hear or are afraid to put across radical views exploring the university’s engagement with "culture" and its vast number of different as well as competing representations.



How NWFP was won and lost
Review  by B.R. Nanda

The North West Frontier Drama 1945-1947 — A Re-assessment by Parshotam Mehra. Manohar, Delhi. Pages 262. Rs 400.

PROFESSOR Parshotam Mehra has written extensively and authoriatively on the history of India’s North-Eastern frontiers. He has now given us a meticulously researched and documented and highly readable book on the tumultuous two years in the North-West Frontier Province preceding the partition of India. He has had access to some untapped material in the UK, including the papers of two former Governors and some members of the ICS who held senior positions in the provincial administration during that critical period.

What happened in the North-West Frontier Province in 1945-47 can only be understood in a historical perspective. The province was regarded by the British as the most vulnerable part of their empire. They had constant fears of incursions not only from the unruly trans-border tribes, but from Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.

The colonial regime tried with a great measure of success to insulate the province from the nationalist ferment in the rest of India.

The political scene, however, changed almost overnight with the emergence in 1929 of a remarkable man, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who blended, like Gandhi, a charismatic leadership with a genius for organisation. He brought his Pathan (or, to be more precise, Pakhtun) followers into the forefront of Gandhi’s nonviolent satyagraha struggles which astonished friends and foes alike. His Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God) set an example of discipline and sacrifice which put the other Indian provinces in the shade.

According to an official record of convictions for civil disobedience between January and September, 1932, the NWFP with a population of just three million accounted for 5557 convictions compared with 1620 in Punjab which had five times the population of the Frontier Province. Even Bengal, politically one of the most active provinces, recorded no more than 10,952 convictions with a population of 62 million.

In 1929 the Congress Working Committee adopted the Khudai Khidmatgars organisation and the alliance continued till the very end. In successive civil disobedience campaigns, the Khudai Khidmatgars were subjected to fierce repression, more severe than what the Congress faced in other provinces. Abdul Ghaffar Khan himself returned to NWFP in 1937 after six years of imprisonment and exile, but the Congress (read the Khudai Khidmatgars) made a good showing in the general election and a Congress Ministry was sworn in with Dr Khan Sahib as Chief Minister.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to the resignation of the Congress Ministers, a clash with the British Raj and the quit India movement. The Congress and the Khudai Khidmatgars were banned and Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his followers again imprisoned. The field thus became clear during the war time for the growth of the Muslim League with the full backing of British officials. It was alleged that Abdul Ghaffar Khan was propagating nonviolence to emasculate the brave and war-like people of the Frontier and the Congress was trying to bring about a Hindu Raj in collusion with the Axis powers.

The Muslim League fought the general election in 1946 on the issue of Pakistan and tried to polarise it on communal lines, but the Congress still managed to win 21 out of 38 Muslim seats and all the non-Muslim seats. The Muslim League won 17 seats, but 11 of them were from the non-Pakhtun districts of the NWFP. The Congress again formed a ministry in March, 1946, but was not able to settle down to work.

Parshotam Mehra documents in meticulous detail the events immediately preceding and following the general election. We learn from a diary entry by Governor Cunningham on October 17 that a Sikh politician told him that no Muslim believed in Pakistan "as a dismemberment of India". On November 3 the Governor noted that a Muslim visitor, Pir Baksh, was of the view that the Pakistan cry was unreal and that for "the average Pathan villager, a suggestion of Hindu domination was only laughable".

How this unreal cry became a political reality in less than two years comes out from the narrative of events in this book: the arrival of a new Governor Olaf Caroe in March, 1946, the installation of the Congress Ministry in Peshawar, tensions between the Governor and the Congress Ministers, Nehru’s visit to the Frontier in October, 1946, demonstrations by the tribes and the fanning of religious sentiments by the Muslim League with the help of the mullahs, officials and students.

After the statement of Prime Minister Attlee in February, 1947, setting June, 1948, as the deadline for winding up of the Raj, the Muslim League decided to dislodge non-League Ministries in Punjab and the NWFPat any cost. Mehra succinctly sumns up: "A largely violent and unprincipled campaign, the so-called civil disobedience movement, enabled the League to wrest political initiative and power from a popularly elected government in the last few months preceding the birth of Pakistan."

After the arrival of Mountbatten, events moved fast; Jinnah did not budge from his demand for Pakistan. The June 3 plan, which decreed the partition of the country, was accepted by the Congress as a "lesser evil", when the alternative seemed to be a looming threat of civil war and a drift to anarchy.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his followers felt badly let down by the Congress. He was totally opposed to partition, but if it was inevitable, he said, he would prefer the option of an independent Pakhtun state. Nehru had rejected an earlier draft of a Mountbatten plan granting the option of independence to any province or princely state on the ground that it would lead to the balkanisation of the country. Having done that, Nehru — and the Congress — could hardly ask for an exception in the case of the NWFP.

The Congress leadership sympathised with Abdul Ghaffar Khan in his predicament but felt helpless. Abdul Ghaffar Khan sensed that a referendum in the NWFP which was imposed by the government in a surcharged communal atmosphere was not conducive to a sane verdict and he boycotted it. Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s cherished goal had always been autonomy for the NWFP, as for other Indian provinces, with freedom to manage the internal affairs of the province within the framework of a federal Indian polity.

It seems he raised the demand for Pakhtunistan as a bargaining counter in the desperate situation of 1947. However, he soon retraced his steps. Even though the Khan Sahib Ministry had been dismissed soon after the inauguration of Pakistan, while still enjoying a majority in the provincial Assembly, the Khudai Khidmatgars and their allied organisations declared that they accepted Pakistan as their country and pledged to serve it loyally.

They redefined their demand of Pakhtunistan to mean full freedom of the Pakhtuns to manage their own affairs as a unit within the Pakistan state. This was a deliberate gesture for reconciliation, but it was lost on the Pakistani leadership.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan could have remained in India but chose to stand by his people. He attended the first session of the Pakistan Parliament at Karachi in February, 1948, and took the oath of allegiance to Pakistan. In June he was arrested and charged with sedition and sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment. Between 1948 and 1965 he spent 15 years in Pakistan jails.

In his autobiography he recounted the savage repression to which his followers were subjected. He contrasted the attitude of the government of Pakistan with that of the British rulers before 1947. "The British had never looted our homes but the Islamic government of Pakistan did. The British never stopped us from holding public meetings or publishing newspapers, but the Islamic government of Pakistan did both. The British never treated Pakhtun women disrespectfully but the Islamic government of Pakistan did."

This book deals at great length with Nehru’s visit to the NWFP as the vice-chairman of the Interim government in October, 1946, and how he and the Khan brothers met with hostile demonstrations. Nehru suspected the hand of the Governor in these demonstrations and on his insistence Caroe was sent home on leave, while the plans for the transfer of power, including a referendum in the NWFP, were under way.

Of Caroe’s hostility to the Congress, Nehru and the Khan Sahib ministry there is little doubt. In March, 1946, on the very day Khan Sahib and his colleagues were sworn in, Caroe wrote to the Viceroy complaining about the excesses of the Congress Ministers!

Mehra gives a lot of space to the laments of these retired British Governors and civil servants whose careers were suddenly cut off. Their diaries and correspondence show that they did not understand the uniqueness of the Indian revolution; if they had been in France in 1689 or in Russia in 1917, they would have lost not only their jobs but their heads also.



Blame it on your genes
Review  by Satya P. Gautam

DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behaviour by R. Grant Steen. Plenum Press, New York & London. Pages 294. Born That Way: Genes Behaviour and Personality by William Wright. Routledge, New York & London. Pages 303.

THE Human Genome Project report can be seen as a significant landmark in the rapidly advancing new field of molecular biology and biotechnology. The Human Genome Project Initiative, aimed at analysing all the codes of 50,000-70,000 different proteins of all the human genes, was based on the assumption that to know the DNA code is, at least in part, to know the bearer of the code.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is, from a molecular biological approach to the understanding of the human condition, the blueprint of our being. The founders of the Genome Project believe that the sequencing of every human gene (the entire human complement of DNA) will enable the scientists "to identify genes for manic depression, schizophrenia, drug addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and various other human scourges".

Without specifying the extent of the prevalent gap between knowing the sequence of the human genome and understanding the various ramification of that sequence, many scientists assure us that our future is written in our genes. Each cell of the human body is thought to contain a complete copy of the genetic information required to "construct, not just the cell, but the entire body."

As biological organisms, each one of us is a "unique collection of proteins, coded for by a unique collection of genes carried on the DNA molecule". Each cell of the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes which together can specify the structures and functions of all the cells in our body.

Once we acquire sufficient knowledge of the ways in which genes control and determine the structure and function of our bodies, scientists are confident that a direct medical intervention will be possible to correct or eliminate the genetic flaws which cause obesity, depression, imbecility and other psychic and sexual disorders. Such claims cause both hope and concern about the future role of technology and science in the planning and controlling of human affairs.

These two books, published in 1998 and 1999 respectively, offer very comprehensive, lucid and insightful surveys of the most recent researches in molecular biology, genetics, evolutionary psychology and socio-biology. The books do not require any specialised knowledge or training in the highly technical areas of life sciences and cybernetic technologies being used in these disciplines. These books provide a detailed summary of the background of the research work relating to the findings of the Minnesota Studies on the behaviour of separated twins, the Bell Curve on the inherited intelligence and the significant statistical correlation between the genetic inheritance and the personality and behavioural traits.

R. Grant Steen is a scientist at the University of California. William Wright has been a science writer with the New York Times. It is evident from the titles that these two books deal with the polemical issues that emerge from the results of experimental investigations in the most contested frontiers of knowledge (and ignorance) about human personality and behaviour. Investigations into the determinants of human personality and behaviour have always been the most challenging, fascinating and contested areas of studies. These books show that the results of recent experimental work can be selective, depending upon the author’s orientation, for proposing mutually conflicting interpretations of human behaviour.

Wright expresses a greater confidence in the claims for the genetic determination of human traits and behaviour in comparison to Steen. Steen repeatedly cautions us about the methodological and substantive limitations of the state of research in evolutionary genetics whereas Wright is extremely critical of the exclusive emphasis on environmental determination of human behaviour as expounded by behaviourists and Marxists.

Interestingly, neither of the books expresses any reservation about the received view that each human being is a unique individual. Both authors take pains to underline that human beings share a common threshold of minimal needs and environmental background for survival and development from conception through birth till death.

Yet these two books demand from us that we focus our attention in different directions to find why we are enormously different from one another in our temperaments, attitudes, beliefs, emotions, interests, skills and goals even when we hail from the same community.

Wright places a greater emphasis on genetic inheritance whereas Steen sees neither heredity nor environment as determining factors. Steen is of the view that both genes and environment influence human personality and behaviour but do not determine our activities. Scientist Steen is more modest in making claims for modern science in comparison to journalist Wright.

Everyday life experiences repeatedly show that individuals born in the same family, brought up in similar environment and educated in the same school often differ in their personalities and behaviour. We are never exactly the same. Notwithstanding the subtle differences that characterise our being human, we are equally amazed to find unbelievable sameness in tastes, inclinations and habits with strangers whom we may have never met before. Making sense of the sources of such fine variations and incredible parallels in human behaviour has always stirred human curiosity. This enigma has fascinated and encouraged human beings to speculate, debate and investigate the human condition from diverse perspectives.

The quest for coming to terms with differences among human beings is as old as humanity itself. Living with differences, the sources of which we can neither understand nor regulate, has appeared both challenging and frightening. Placing human behaviour under some conventional and agreeable patterns, by controlling "undesirable" differences through enforced discipline, has been an integral part of socialisation of new generations in every human society, past and present. The ancient or pre-modern societies tried to achieve this goal by imparting instruction in moral norms, using the available methods of soft or hard persuasion and brutal coercion at their command. Every new generation gets its own chance to look back and draw lessons for itself from the darker or the glimmering side of our collective human past to meet its own concerns and perspectives.

With the application of modern scientific methods to the study of human affairs since mid-19th century onwards, question marks were put on the validity of traditional modes of interpretation and understanding of human behaviour, effectiveness of methods of persuasion and coercion for regulating human behaviour. The traditional methods were declared unscientific, unreliable, unwanted, and worth abandoning. A search for causal explanations, by discovering universal laws governing human behaviour and invention of new mechanisms of control based on such discoveries, became the foremost goals of the scientific investigation of human behaviour.

In such an environment, under the bewitching spell of the success of the methods of natural sciences, the dichotomy between nature and nurture, innate and acquired, heriditary and environmental factors became the major source of disagreement among scientists seeking causal explanation of differences in human traits and behaviour. A preference for explanation and regulation of differences exclusively in terms of the natural, side of this exclusionary dichotomy supported and legitimised the class biases within the modern European societies and their colonial and neo-colonial agendas in relation to the people outside the European world. The rise and popularity of eugenics and Nazi ideology can be seen in the light of such a partisan view of human nature.

Similarly, a strong support for the opposite side of the fallacious dichotomy, an exclusive emphasis on environment as the sole determining factor of human differences can be seen as rooted in a commitment for the radical egalitarian ideologies for social transformations as a solution to all human problems. Whether we like it or not, the processes which form human personality and behaviour function independently of our ideological or scientistic preferences.

The merit of these two books lies in providing very relevant and significant information about the ways in which divergent and conflicting assumptions, methods and techniques of research in contemporary human studies have gradually evolved in the western world. The authors provide vivid illustrations to caution the readers about the ways in which seemingly scientific methods of analysis have been adopted in the past to serve ideological interests and goals. However, both Steen and Wright share the confidence that it is possible to draw a sufficiently clear line of demarcation between questions of science and issues of social policy. They both share the conviction that dissemination of relevant information about ongoing scientific research is an essential condition for healthy democratic debate on policy matters and freedom of the scientists to pursue their academic research.

However, these narratives of the rise and decline of the fallacious dichotomy between nature and nurture in western culture provide a cautionary message, contrary to their optimism. Both these books, despite their serious disagreements on the determinants of human behaviour, are a testament to the fact that the shifts in research orientations and methods of analysis have not occurred in a vacuum. The problems were formulated and reformulated in response to the issues as they emerged in constant interaction between new ideas and real life situations.

In view of the growing disparities and commercialisation of the use of medical and other technologies by the MNCs in recent times, it is the responsibility of the people and the media to ensure that checks can be put on the misuse of this new technology against the underprivileged and disadvantaged people of the world.


India baiters: outsiders and insiders
Review  by Akshaya Kumar

Under Western Eyes: India from Milton to Macaulay by Balachandran Rajan. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages 267. Rs 545.

DISTINGUISHED more by commerce than by conquest, English imperialism was to begin with very tentative and unorganised. It took some time before the East India Company realised that mere trading was not enough, and that a foundation of a well-grounded English colony in India was a political necessity to safeguard and buttress its commercial ventures.

Balachandran Rajan’s well-researched book narrates the transition of British imperialism from being utterly defensive and apolitical to being expansive and dominating, through a close reading of a range of English literary texts which have hitherto enjoyed the reputation of discourses of universal aesthetics as well as ethics. Exploring these literary sites from a post-colonial vantage point, the author traces the slow and steady consolidation of British imperialism in India, a consolidation that belies its absentminded, fitful and ad hoc beginning.

Rajan begins his analysis of the rather "Orientalist" representation of India in colonial literature with Camoes’s "The Lusiads", an essentially Euro-centric epic poem that boasts of Portuguese victories in opulent India. Vijayanagar is more noted for its gold and precious stones than the valour of its people. Oriental opulence has been a persisting stereotype as is Third World poverty today. Far from being a poem of heroic journey, it is just a guidebook to the spice trade. India, the consummation of imperial quest, is hardly a site of resistance. The poem rather celebrates the infiltration. The gateway to India is adorned with scenes depicting previous conquerors of India from Bacchus to Alexander. India is condemned as a land of submission.

As an avid scholar of Milton, Rajan brings out the subtle cultural politics that goes into the making of his epic poem "Paradise Lost". Milton’s India too is a veritable inferno. "If references (to India) are taken together, their most conspicuous characteristic is that nearly all of them occur in infernal or post-lapsarian contexts. "India is consistently invoked first throughout the construction of pandemonium and later on while describing the devilish pursuits of Satan and his bee-like crew of fallen angels.

The choice of India as the last step before paradise and its association with serpent is strategic and has imperial underpinnings. India is depicted as the land where the vulture can "gorge the flesh of lambs or yearling kids", suggesting the helplessnesss and inexperience of India to the onslaught of imperial power and cruelty. Rajan’s telling phrases such as "Satanisation of the Orient" and "cumulative infernalisation of India" sum up Milton’s imperial outlook.

Dryden’s drama on Mughal Emperor "Aurengzebe" comes for post-colonial scrutiny in the next chapter. Rajan explains how cleverly Dryden’s fictional Aurangzeb reverses the historical one. The fictional king is not only a legitimate successor to the Mughal throne, he is magnanimous, tolerant of non-Muslims, very patient as well. There is vigorous feminisation of the Orient through the metaphor of Indamora, "a captive queen", Dryden’s Aurangzeb is "Englished" so blatantly that the author wonders whether Dryden could have shown same disrespect to the Greek or Roman past as he eventually shows to Mughal history.

British historians from Richard Orme to Alexander Dow defined India as a chronically subject nation. Even "more lettered" Oliver Goldsmith went on to describe Indians as "slothful, submissive and luxurious, satisfied with sensual happiness alone". James Mill, who visited India not even once, dismissed Indian civilisation with a barrage of derogatory epithets like "rude", "ignorant", "superstitious", "credulous", etc.

The Hindu religion is described as "gross, disgusting, incoherent, disordered, capricious, rife with passion, laden with portents and prodigies, violent, and deformed". The impression that Forster’s "A Passage to India" conveys of India is also of abasement and monotony, "some low but indestructible form of life". Rajan observes that the basic purpose of British historians has always been to devalue Indian past beyond the possibility of reinstatement.

Rajan reveals to us the cultural biases built in Hegel’s "Philosophy of History". Africa is condemned as "a site of consciousness that is totally unreflective". The "dark continent" is simply ineligible to enter history for it is "the land of childhood lying beyond the day of self-conscious history". In imperial writings, the Third World is invariably projected as an uncivilised brat who needs hard adult tutoring from the high West, the self-styled respository of civilisation and world culture.

The aside comments on India too are equally deprecatory. India stands for "wild tumult of excess", "wild extravagance of fancy" and "a monstrous, irrational imagination". Indian culture is no more than a "dumb, deedless expansion". Like Mills and other Europeans, Hegel does acknowledge the "wisdom of India", but the priority is always accorded to its pearls, diamonds, perfumes, rose-essences, elephants, lions, etc. While charting out the march of idea, Hegel finds the amorphous and structureless Oriental terrain simply incapable of attaining transcendence.

If India is people without a state. China is a state without people. Overlooking India’s claim to the concepts of "zero" and "whole", Hegel seems to prescribe that for a genuine transcendental redemption the Orient must come under the total tutelage, guardianship, wardship, trusteeship, paternal care of the imperial West.

Rajan explores yet another facet of the "feminine India in the writings of early British women writers on India. In Hamilton’s "Translation of the Letters of a Hindu Rajah", for a change, India is not represented as a weak, vicious, self-wounding civilisation, but as a site of "authentic femininity" with needs to be heard rather than sequestered. Hamilton sees Britain as masculine enough to liberate and protect feminine Hindus from the caprices of the Mughals. The novel is a fervent plea for raj-sponsored Indology. Owenson’s "Missionary" is also replete with misleading generalisations such as, "In all the religions of the East, woman has held a decided influence, either as a priestess or as a victim."

Southey’s "The Curse of Kehama" is another text that proclaims Hinduism to be "the most monstrous in its fables and the most fatal in its effects". Islamic tales may be "metaphorical rubbish", but Hindu metaphysics is simply grotesque and bestial. Southey openly advocates the two-fold colonial policy of conquest and conversion to chastise "unimprovable India". Kehama, the protagonist of the poem, is more ridiculous than monstrous.

Shelley’s "Prometheus Unbound" has its own cultural politics. The fact that Prometheus is exiled to Indian Caucasus to acquire wisdom is foregrounded in the contemporary viewing of Indian Caucasus as a place of origins. India is important to Shelley, but as Rajan puts it, "only as a territory of imagination" and not a place of actual human living.

Presumably a study of Macaulay’s infamous minutes constitutes the last chapter, but Rajan’s accent falls on Macaulay’s rather polemical "The History of England". Macaulay’s account of British colonial India as recounted in the essays on Clive and Hastings are full of Bengali bashing: "The physical organisation of Bengalee is feeble even to effiminacy .... His pursuits are sedentary, his limbs delicate, his movements languid." The essay contains some significant insight on Rammohun Roy’s complicity with the British.

Rajan’s observation that "Roy can seem like a preliminary advertisement for Macaulay" has the potential of problematising the credo of Indian Renaissance. Comments on Roy underline the predicament of Indian Renaissance as a reform movement implementing only "the donor’s agenda" — the donor is invariably the imperial West.

Perceiving India as feminine is a common colonial trope. But Rajan furnishes a long list of other equally damaging tropes which colonial discourses often employ to denigrate India as the theatre of the other. India is "the anima and the id". It is the "proliferating jungle". It is "prolixity instead of order". It is "tropical rather than temperate". While summing up his analysis, Rajan points out the limitations of the binary structures implicit in these tropes.

Instead of defining any living space in terms of "jungle versus forest", "nature versus culture", "male versus female", "chaotic versus orderly", etc. Rajan insists on hammering a poetics in which both the essentialist and relativist ways of living co-exist and constitute each other. If the colonial discourses erred in portraying the East in an exclusive frame of "the Orient versus the Occident", the post-colonial critics also tend to fall in the same trap. Post-colonialism should not border on anti-West rhetoric.

"Under Western Eyes" presents a composite perspective on the systematic and consistent otherification of the Orient, particularly India, by way of incorporating sources from history, philosophy and literature. But the book is no more than an incremental operation of scholarship, because at the level of argument and drift, it is only a minor extension of Edward Said’s seminal work "The Orientalism". One wonders whether anything worthwhile or path-breaking is possible any more in the post-colonial studies. Post-colonial scholarship runs the risk of reaching a dead end much before its grand start.

There is no gainsaying the fact that colonial texts or authors portrayed India as a weak-kneed, submissive and badly divided nation; even many of the contemporary Indian writers writing in the so-called phase of post-colonialism continue to dismiss India in deprecatory colonial terms. Rajan’s post-colonial analysis would have made greater sense had he picked up insiders rather than outsiders for their constant downgrading of the Orient in the West.

The only fertile area that post-colonial studies can really grow is this unravelling of the complicity of the Indians in the colonial project, both before 1947 and after. Also it would have added to the cause of post-colonial studies had Rajan exposed the duplicity of some of the so-called emancipated human rights activists and Third World champions who, even in their gestures of vehement post-colonial protest, remain firmly anchored in First World capitalism.



Osho goes Sufi and thrills you
Review by M.L. Sharma

Glory of Freedom by Osho. Diamond Books, New Delhi. Pages 205. Rs 100.

"GLORY of Freedom" in the series "Sufis: The People of the Path" is one of the most consistent works giving a full taste of Osho "philosophy". Where Carl Jung, the most prominent pupil of Sigmund Freud left, Osho appeared. Osho’s thought has reached the logical conclusion. Freud was a pan-sexualist, Osho is a pan-naturalist. Freud focused on sexual repression and guilt; Osho is concerned with natural way of life, saying sexuality is part of the natural way of life and does not form a complete picture. Osho is dead against conditioning: social, political, religious, ideological — that is belief systems. He says belief systems are non-communicative.

Osho is a poet and thinker rolled into one and it is an error to make him a pan-sexualist. His love of nature is reflected in the lines: "When you are sitting on the grass, close your eyes, become the grass be grassy... feel the subtle smell that goes on being released by the grass." About conditioning and belief systems he says: "Caged in one’s own system, you are unavailable, and the other is unavailable to you. People are moving like windowless houses... Everybody is imprisoned in his own conditionings."

Osho counsels people to free themselves from ideological grooves and "isms". He defines enlightenment as a paradise lost and paradise regained. The child is born in innocence and in order to gain enlightenment, the child will have to lose innocence. "It is like a fish which has always lived in the ocean — it is impossible for the fish to know the ocean... It has been born into it, it is part of it, it is like a wave. To know the ocean a little separation is needed, a little distance is needed. But take the fish out, on the hot sand, there will be pain and there will be suffering, but in that suffering the fish will know for the first time that it has been living in the ocean."

Osho is against substitutes. Cheerfulness in the original state of mind, moroseness is a substitute. In his own words: "The very enjoyment is what meditation is... Let cheerfulness be your only religion, the only law." By happiness he does not imply forgetfulness and lack of sobriety. He quotes Sheikh ibn Ajiba’s words to substantiate his point that ecstasy is also the way of sobriety: "Drunkenness with consciousness of the state is higher than drunkenness with forgetfulness. Ecstasy is not the goal but the means, nevertheless an absolutely essential means." Osho’s advice is to be drunk and yet alert.

He objects to repression because it curbs naturalness and when naturalness is curbed, senses are corrupted. "We have not been allowed to be natural — hence man has lost dignity, innocence, grace, elegance... And because of all these repressions the body has become non-orgasmic." It is because of repression of sex, man has lost the sense of smell. Whereas a dog has a strong sense of smell, man has lost all sense of smell. "Smell is very sexual, that’s why we have destroyed the nose."

Osho believes that life is sacred. He advocates the principle of joyous waiting and dismisses pessimism in life, and religion. If God spoke to men in the past, he speaks even today.

Osho asks people not to see thorns but the rose alone. "Once you have started seeing the beauty of life, ugliness starts disappearing... If you start looking at life with joy, sadness starts disappearing. You cannot have heaven and hell together, you can have only one. It is your choice." The main thing is how one interprets things. For Osho death is even beautiful and not to be afraid of. "When man is dying. The circle is complete... death is very close to life: it is the very crescendo of life. Life comes out of sex energy and life is moving back to sex energy."

Osho believes in equilibrium. Thus silence is a balance between happiness and sorrow, which is to be preferred. Life is without a full stop. It is a continuous process. Life, love and relationship are not nouns but verbs (living, loving and relating).

Like the Buddha, Osho’s main stress is on love and compassion. Trees, he says, even respond to love and compassion. Western mind is aggressive and cannot understand why a tree should even be responsive to finer feelings of love and compassion. His definition of sanyas is very interesting — a creative kind of suicide. "You can still live, but you can live in your own way. Then the need for suicide disappears, or becomes very much less."

Osho denies fatherhood, motherhood, or belovedhood to God. "God," he says, "is experiencing". He explains experiencing in a beautiful way: "Looking at a rose flower, if you disappear into the rose flower and the rose flower disappears into you, the observer becomes the observed, and the observed the observer. There is no distinction left, there are not two things confronting each other but a meeting, merging, melting into each other — then boundaries are no longer there."

For contact with God, it is most essential to drop all theories, explanations and philosophies. "Before God you have to be utterly naked with no explanations, no philosophies surrounding you. In order to see God, you have to be free from ‘nafs’, which is like a neurotic hunger which cannot be satisfied. "You see the distant but not the close-by." God is very close but our mind is elsewhere. The state is which an ordinary human being exists is called "nafs" by Sufis. "‘Nafs’ is blind to God, unless you drop ‘nafs’ you will not see God and God is everywhere. Only God is. Nothing else. But you will not see God, you cannot see God. To see God you will have to drop ‘nafs’."

"Nafs" is a desire for more money, power, sex, etc. The first thing to be understood is "nafs" and by understanding it, one should drop it. Just to see it is to drop it. By the drop- ping of "nafs" comes "tambah" — turning back. By turning back one attains the state of "hal", an altered state of mind but a temporary one. Then comes "magma", when "hals" become permanent and are not only flashes. The word "magma" implies arrived. It is the real state of man. From "nafs" to "magma" is the journey of a Sufi.

Osho is against synthesis of religions. He believes there is beauty in every religion and there is no sense in collecting wise sayings from various religions. "No synthesis is needed between a rose-bush and the lotus — they are perfectly beautiful as they are."

Man has cultivated fondness for artificial things — cosmetics, perfumes, etc. because he has lost the sense of smell. The only criterion is how much payment we get. There is nothing new and unique about life being lived. "But if you live a life of comfort and convenience and ritual and formality and lies, you live in hell... start living again. And don’t think about pay, you may not be rich but your life will be enriched. You may not have fame, but you will have joy. You may not be known to the world but will be known to God."

About love he muses: "Love means to give all that is beautiful to the beloved. Freedom is the most beautiful, the most cherished goal of human consciousness." Love is one’s quality of life. In true love, subjectivity is significant, not object. About God, he says, God exists whether we think about Him or not. "We can go on denying God, that doesn’t make any difference — God still is. God is existential... So what is the point of belief or disbelief? Drop them and try to see whatever is the case."

There is unity in existence. The separation is only for delight or for enlightenment. Osho disfavours possessiveness. Two lovers are two pillars supporting independently, unpossessing each other, one roof of intrinsic beauty and spiritual harmony. "Kaaba" is where Rabia kneels in prayer and Vrindavan is where Meera bows. It is one’s beauty of soul which makes one feel the spiritual presence of one’s beloved. Wisdom is an insight into existence whereas knowledge is borrowed from others.

The book is compulsive reading as it provides deeper insight into the mysteries of existence and love, savouring of unique Sufi thought.