The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 10, 2000

Resurrection of Kumar Vikal
Review by
  Satya Pal Sehgal

The Karmapa conspiracy as pulp fiction
Review by Baljit Singh

Utopia, and why it is unattainable
Review by M. L. Raina

A liberal’s lament of things present
Review by M. L. Sharma

Partition riots and the trauma
Review by Jai Narain Sharma

Another trip to Malgudi 
Review by R.P. Chaddah

Doctrine of duty, here and now
Write view by Satish K. Kapoor

Truth is invented in every age


Resurrection of Kumar Vikal
Hindi Literature
Review by Satya Pal Sehgal

THE year of the World Book Fair in Delhi is always the year which sees a number of very significant publications. This year being the World Book Fair year, it has brought out three new anthologies of poetry by three major Hindi poets. I begin this coloumn with Kumar Vikal’s Sampooran Kavitaien" (Aadhar Prakashan, Panchkula).

Vikal (born in 1935) was undoubtedly a well-known Hindi poet of this region. After his death in 1997, this newspaper dedicated a full page to highlight his contribution.

But then, he was also a poet who had been widely accepted as a major voice of his generation and loved, even worshipped, by a large readership in Hindi. "Sampooran Kavitaien" presents an opportunity to have another look at his work, though the collected poems are culled from his three earlier published anthologies. "Ek choti si ladai," "Rang khatare mein hain" and "Nirupama Dutt main bahut udas hoon". As a matter of fact, "Sampooran Kavitaien" is not really "sampooran" as Vikal reportedly had a few other published poems not included in any of his three anthologies and there must be some unpublished poems too!

Vikal’s poetry, a record of intense inner struggle, expressed in the idiom of radical social change, ends its journey at a cool interface with death. What makes Vikal’s poetry special is that it presents to us the story of the desire to stretch out of the lower middle class limitations to a broader social vision. In this process many Third World realities find their way into his poems. He also introduces a poetic style which can only be of the language of the oppressed.

For all real reasons, Kumar Vikal was a son of the soil. He was a Punjabi by birth, by culture, by social values, and in the use of the Hindi language in social interactions. His decision to write in Hindi has roots in the complex language and literary history of Punjab. Rightly or wrongly, the greater Punjab was a bastion of Hindi literature, particularly fiction. Vikal was the first Hindi poet of this region, who was considered a stalwart in the larger Hindi scene.

Still, he was not enamoured of the typical Hindi image at the level of literary expression. His poetic diction has this impregnable imprint of Punjabiyat and makes a case for deeper intra-culture studies. In this context, he can be considered close to Krishna Sobti, the well-known Hindi fiction writer.

Vikal’s poetry also underlines a characteristic sense of guilt. Guilt for what? Not coming up to one’s own self-image of a practising revolutionary? Does this need a deeper psychoanalytical investigation? This sense of guilt is something peculiar to post-independence Hindi poetry, particularly among those with leftist learnings. Perhaps it can be found even beyond that with a larger space.

It should be said that Vikal’s poetry enriches this particular poetic space. It provides it with a different language, a different idiom. This idiom is concrete, earthy, local.

Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, the doyen of Hindi poetry after Surya Kant Tripathi Nirala, was perhaps the first poet in Hindi who made the sense of guilt a theme of poetry in a classical manner. Though Vikal’s poetry is not that volumnious, a comparison between the two is still called for. Vikal has used the sense of guilt in a manner which makes a common reader share it. Immediately, Personally, Historically.

* * *

Manglesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi, the other poets whose anthologies are under discussion, belong to the next generation of Vikal. "Aawaj bhi ek jagah hai" (Sound is also a space, Vani, Delhi) is Manglesh Dabral’s (born in 1948) fourth collection of poetry. Dabral is a poet, whose forte is memories and who comes from some remote hilly village of what is now called Uttaranchal. He belongs to the generation of Hindi poets which is considered the post-naxalite movement generation.

After a considerable time in the post-independence history of Hindi poetry, there was this bunch of poets who had a very fine sense of diction with a rich experience tinged with refined imagination and magic. For once, these poets were not influenced by the current western aesthetic trends and instead showed empathy with the soft, humane, simple poetry of East European poets like Wislava Shimborska, Yevatushanko, Misolav Holub, Bertolt Brecht and poets from Latin America, Africa, Asia and black American poets.

They talked about marginal voices, new definitions of a writer’s commitment and believed in undertone. Though Hindi literary criticism has been mixed to their accomplishments, Dabral won universal acclaim for his rich imagery based on a skilful understanding of the expanse of nature. His sense of proportion has made him distinct.

Shortly, Manglesh’s generation would have to face issues raised by deconstruction and by a stronger decolonised spirit and new fundamental upsurges brewing up in the Hindi heartland.

"Aawaj bhi ek jagah hai" is conspicous by a good number of poems either on musicians or on poets or on the creative process itself. The poet either perceives creativity as a marginal activity or looks for the performer who has been pushed towards the margin. "Keshav anurag" is one such poem which has this real character Keshav Anuragi, a Dalit, an extraordinary musician but who ends up as an incurable alcoholic. By all standards, this is a remarkably moving poem.

And then, there is this poem on Ustad Amir Khan, a poem on the accompanist (sangatkar) and so on.

The readers who have been following Dabral’s earlier collections (namely, "Pahar par laltain", "Ghar ka rasta", "Ham jo dekhate hai") would find that Dabral has tried to reassert his poetic self with this particular collection, his assertion is that of a native language poet, which is really a tough thing in our times. In the process, the poet has succeeded in creating some really marvellous poems. "Drishaya", "Phal", "Tare ke prakash ki tarah," etc.

A contemporary of Manglesh, Rajesh Joshi’s (born in 1946) anthology "Do panktion ke beech" (Raj Kamal, Delhi) is also his fourth. Rajesh is a Bhopal-based poet and this fact has much to do with the making of his poetry as the locale is quite pronounced in every aspect of his poetry. In the milieu, characters, events or even the kind of Hindi he uses. He has been perhaps the loudest in his peer group, reminiscent of the failure of poets and their poetry in the past.

On other occasions, he shows that he is the one who has given political poetry in Hindi some real success. One remembers "Mare jayenge" (We would be killed) in his last anthology "Naipathlhaya mein hansie" (Laughter off the stage, 1994). This collection also has two such poems worth a mention — namely, "Jab tak main ek appeal likhta hoon" (Till I write an appeal) and "Barbar sirf barbar the" (Savages were only savages).

Poet Joshi also shows his mettle to defy time. Looking on the general pessimistic view the Hindi world has about the place for creativity in contemporary society, four collections of poetry that too at regular intervals, speak clearly of the poet’s positive worldview. Joshi had all along these years an idiom and used emotion and rhythm. Populist, and at times, sentimental in putting up. Objectively speaking, by over-doing these things, Joshi unwittingly creates problems of authenticity for his poetry. Still, it goes to his credit that his poetry, in this fourth collection as well, underscores the fascinating thing called human emotional warmth which is missing in the works of many poets. Interestingly, like Maglesh Dabral, Joshi too has a few poems at the beginning of this particular collection, which focus on the act of writing a poem and the medium, the language itself. "Do panktion ke beech", "Aadhoori kavitaien", "Ityadi", and "Shahayak kriya", Hamari bhasha".

For quite some time, this has been a phenomenon in Hindi poetry — poets have been writing poems as a simple act of poetry writing. Any way, the poems which affect us most in this anthology by Rajesh Joshi are poems who have characters as their central theme, emotional characters, who always provide a clinching line to the poet, at the end of his poem. "Chitra main ladaki ki umar", "Restaurant main intjaar" and "Hamare shehar ki galian" are also beautiful poems which can surely make many a reader of this coloumn remember streets of their own towns, cities, left behind as life goes on taking its own unpredictable course.

These three poetry collections by three major Hindi poets may give the reader some insight into the main predicament of contemporary Hindi poetry — that is, it fails to appreciate the future of the world which advocates globalisation, world market and IT revolution!


The Karmapa
conspiracy as pulp fiction

Review by Baljit Singh

The Buddha Cries by Anil Maheshwari UBSD Publishers, New Delhi, Pages 145. Rs 200.

THE author, a senior journalist with The Hindustan Times, describes his book as a "chronicle of rogues in robes..... a racy potboiler depicting the seamy" struggles of venerated Tibetan reincarnations, spiritual gurus who trace their roots far back in antiquity to the Buddha and even earlier.

And he lives up to the claim. The account is littered with tales of monks smuggling gold on diplomatic passports, indulging in drunken orgies, conspiring in forgeries and assassinations. There is even a guru’s steamy affairs with his disciple, another accused by male lovers of infecting them with AIDS, culminating in the final ignominy of the senior Regent actually dying of AIDS.

A sordid if forgettable confirmation of the rot in the lamaistic establishment were it not for the fact that the lamas are the here and now of contemporary India, and their machinations often pit the world’s two most populous nations against each other. Nuclear powers locked in an intractable territorial dispute flowing from the land of the lamas.

The holy grail in the present case is the institution of the Karmapa, a 12th century Tibetan guru now in his 17th reincarnation. Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Karmapa sought refuge in India in 1959 in the wake of the 16th Chinese occupation of Tibet. But unlike other, mostly Tibet-specific Buddhist orders, his Karma branch of the Kagyu order already had a wide following in the Indian Himalayas to build on. Even a ready-made base in its monastery in Rumtek.

Given this and the Karmapa’s efforts, the order flourished and before the death in 1982 he was head of a world-wide organisation with some 200 centres and an estimated six million disciples, surpassing even the Dalai Lama’s Gelug sect in terms of reach. A legacy worth fighting for. And once the exiled Karmapa died, the Chinese were back in the fight.

For should the Chinese, who have a long history of taking in the reincarnation "game" be able to steal a ‘‘patriotic’’ candidate past as the Karmapa’s reincarnation, it would allow them greater control over Tibet’s restive Buddhist population. Especially once the ageing Dalai Lama, the symbol of Tibet’s old theological order, died over the next decade or so.

Should their "candidate" also get control over the 16th Karmapa’s seat in Rumtek, allowing them to tweak the ears of their interfering neighbour by perhaps recruiting the Karma Kagyu as a fifth column in the service of the "motherland", it would be two birds with a single stone. As for the Kagyu’s many officers and its fabulous wealth stashed away in the western world, it is welcome icing on the Kagyu cake.

With such high stakes, it is obvious that Communist China should pull out all stops. Even shed its avowed distaste for religion in the race to ensure that its lama gets into the saddle at Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s headquarters in Tibet. And at an opportune moment "escape" to India, where the Kagyu faithful would propel him into Rumtek, as an unassailable Chinese mole in the Himalayas.

But the Chinese plan had one fatal weakness — its Karmapa candidate would have to be endorsed by Kagyu regents, the Tibetan monk officials entrusted with looking for him, the very lamas China had hounded out a quarter century earlier. Which is where the gilded lamas come into the picture.

Fortunately for China, the Kagyu lamas have been split down the middle ever since the Karmapa’s death. There is even a serious division within the Kagyu establishment itself over who is the seniormost and hence deciding regent in case of any dispute, and the 16th Karmapa left no clear public testament about his reincarnation. A vacuum which gave the regents a carte blanche to manoeuvre for control over Rumtek, the Karmapa’s most valuable legacy.

Indeed for most of the 10 next years after his death they would do little else, shrugging off even their primary responsibility of finding the new Karmapa. Whenever the prodding of the Kagyu faithful got too insistent, they would be brushed off with vague and enigmatic pronouncements of the time not being ripe.

The Chinese were probably despairing when one of the Kagyu regents, thwarted in his quest for control of Rumtek, decided to play the Karmapa hand. On March 19, 1992, Situ Rinpoche, one of the four regents, publicly proclaimed that he had the 16th Karmapa’s secret testament. Predictably, the other regents smelt fraud and one of them, Shamar Rimpoche, said as much.

But the three other regents failure to come up with a testament, even a suspect one, in a decade, and the impatience of the Kagyu following their failure, gave Situ Rimpoche a clear edge. Except now he would have to deliver, launch a search for the candidate in Tibet.

It was the perfect setting for the Chinese to step in, especially since any search would require Chinese permission if not actual cooperation to allow the search parties to roam Tibet for likely candidates. Once the Chinese came into the picture events proceeded at lightning speed. On April 8 a search party from Tsurphu left for eastern Tibet, an area the size of South India, to begin the search. A fortnight later, on April 24, it found and photographed its candidate for confirmation by Tsurphu. On June 15 the seven-year-old Ugyen Trinley was in Tsurphu. On June 29, before the two other regents, shocked into stupor by the accidental death of a third regent, could react, Beijing and the Dalai Lama and recognised Ugyen Trinley as the Karmapa.

Riding the crest of his audacious success, just over a year later, in August, 1993, Situ’s Rinpoche’s faction seized effective control of the Karmapa’s seat, Rumtek, in a monastery coup. If it was a China-inspired plot, Beijing had got it right to the dot. Still, what is a pot-boiler without its good guys. The reclusive Shamar Rimpoche, hitherto content with protecting his status as senior regent and in charge of Rumtek, now suddenly jumps centre-stage. It turns out that he, rather than "Chinese-agent" Situ Rinpoche, has been the inheritor of the Karmapa’s testament all along, a secret message conveyed through Chogbye Tri Rinpoche, a Sakya monk, back in 1986. A dream complete with an accompanying photograph of the three-year old Karmapa. The only problem is that while the "impostor" is in Tsurphu the real Karmapa is in Lhasa, Tibet, a no-go area for the "pro-India" Shamarpa.

Desperate situations demand desperate remedies, even taking life-threatening risks. So Shamar Rinpoche, disguised as a businessman, flies to Lhasa (no dates are mentioned). But he is unable to contact the reincarnation. Still, some sort of contact seems to have been made for in January, 1994, the real Karmapa, Trinley Thaye, arrives in Kathmandu along with his family, then moves on the Shamar Rinpoche’s base in Delhi. On March 17, 1994, Trinley Thaye is ordained as Karmapa in Delhi.

Shamar Rinpoche has called the Chinese bluff. They can keep the Tsurphu Lama, he says, the Kagyu empire will be inherited by the Karmapa in India. But Situ Rinpoche hasn’t been sitting idle either. Realising he has been outwitted, he hectors China and the Kagyu establishment to send Ugyen Trinley to Rumtek "for studies". His fraternising" with China catches India’s eye and in August, 1994, Situ Rinpoche is banned from India. Buoyed by their success, the good guys are ready to deliver the coup de grace. On August 8, 1995, Shamar Rinpoche’s monks march peacefully on Rumtek in a bid to regain their "rightful place".

As one would expect of the bad guys, the monks are met with violence, denied entry and Shamar Rinpoche excluded from Sikkim. But the worst is yet to come. In August, 1998, the BJP government lifts the ban on Situ Rinpoche. A little over a year later, in January, 2000, his Karmapa candidate walks over the Tibet border into India, and a credulous Dharamsala. Despite Shamar’s pleading, he is permitted to stay. As a fitting postscript, a conference of top Kagyu officials from around the world meets in Dharamsala on August 18 and resolves that the Tsurphu Karmapa, now in Dharamsala, be sent to Rumtek for studies. Only the last act, that of getting the "Chinese" Karmapa into Rumtek, now remains.

Though not quite so direct in its chronology this is the essence of Maheshwari’s potboiler. If despite his superpower brew, the plot doesn’t quite boil over, it is because the author is not quite able to carry off the inherent contradictions in his story. His evident reliance on monk Shamar Rimpoche’s testimony, to denounce other monks for instance. His manifest ambivalence about his subject — cynical disbelief of lamaism’s current practitioners combined with a credulous faith in the fantastic accounts of lamaism’s originators — does not help.

Add poor chronology, and odds and ends of information that just seem to hang in space and "The Buddha Cries" becomes just another crying tale to cash in on the Karmapa conundrum. Still if you are seriously into the gold-digging or boiling religious pots business, this slim volume, 145 pages, has enough meat to keep you flipping.


Utopia, and why it is unattainable

Review by M. L. Raina

Utopia and Revolution: On the Origins of a Metaphor or Some Illustrations of the Problem of Political Tem-perament and Intellectual Climate by Melvin J. Lasky. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Pages xiii+ 726. $ 36.

A heaven on earth they hope to gain/ But we do know full well/ Could they their glorious ends attain/This kingdom must be hell.

— Marchmand Needham.

Mera nara inquilabo-inquilabo-inquilab

— Josh Maleehabadi

WHAT is common in Cherneshevysky’s "What Is To Be Done", Zamayatin’s "We" and Andrey Platanov’s recently discovered novel, "The Foundation Pit"? All are in a sense concerned with the building of an ideal society, a utopian dream. Zamayatin’s novel is a hard satire on the dream fulfilled at tremendous human cost, Platanov’s an abstract and surreal imagining of the building of a palace of proletarian culture in which the world’s working men can enjoy eternal bliss. All, however, show up the symbolism of utopia and revolution in a suspicious light.

There are other documents to illustrate the troubled relationship of utopian hope and militant action, but I refer to the Russian examples for two reasons. One: the Russian Revolution of 1917 was the most significant event of the 20th century in which utopia and revolution were in constant interplay. Second: Melvin Lasky, the editor of the now defunct Encounter magazine, has been in the forefront of the anti-Soviet crusade. He draws his inspiration not only from his native Anglo-American liberal political tradition but also from the inherent revolutionary temper of the Russian intelligentsia of the 19th century, particularly Herzen and Bakunin, besides the Bolshevik ideologues such as Leon Trotsky.

The deep-seated desire for utopia is as old as humanity itself and has been expressed in various terms such as the building of a New Jerusalem, an earthly paradise, a Communist society or just simply a never-never land where milk and honey flow in abundance ("Forest of Arden" in Shakespeare). In this new reprint of Lasky’s magisterial study, utopian aspiration and revolutionary purpose are viewed as recurring motifs in the evolution of human society, though these motifs acquire different vocabularies in different historical periods and countries.

Lasky’s book is a mine of intellectual ideas, extensive in reach and often provocative in argument. He covers the entire spectrum of European history from Plato to the present and discovers the various mutations of the "metaphors" of utopia and revolution. He finds the earliest metaphor for utopia in the parable of the ants building a disciplined "commonwealth" through ordered participatory labour. The relevance of this metaphor for the Stalinist state is all too obvious.

That ants represent the ideal of a utopian order which has not been lost on writers of dystopia. In Platanov’s "Chevengur", written in the early thirties but allowed to be published only recently, ants point to the perversion of the utopian Soviet state. "If only we were given ant or mosquito reason, then life could be smoothed over right away," says the old cynical Zakhar Pavlovich in this, the bitterest of anti-collectivisation novels.

It should be made clear at the outset that Lasky does not set out to write a "history" of utopia and revolution, even though the book is replete with a phenomenal range of historical evidence. What concerns him is the way successive generations of western politicians, pamphleteers, intellectuals and a number of poets and dramatists have conceived these metaphors to express their dissatisfaction with the existing order, and the desire for the renovation of that order either through reform and, when that fails, through revolution. One does not have to be a utopian or a revolutionary to entertain these principles.

There is always the danger of utopian and revolutionary zeal turning into their opposite. Milton, in spite of his sympathies for the Cromwellian cause and in spite of being on the side of the apostate Satan, makes Angel Gabriel tell Adam in "Paradise Lost": "Be lowly wise/Dream not of other worlds." Dante, long before Milton, made a distinction between the earthly and spiritual paradise and preferred the latter, his own political exile notwithstanding.

William Rogers, an early admirer of Cromwell, was later thoroughly convinced of the "apostasy, hypocrisy, murder and treason" of the Lord Protector. Voltaire, a lover of liberty and a scourge of tyranny, nevertheless pleaded for moderation against excessive renovatory zeal. Indeed, the word "enthusiasm" comes in for a good deal of critical scrutiny in his writings, as also later in the writings of Jane Austen.

Some of the chapters of this remarkable book detail the see-saw of the revolutionary enthusiasm and its limits. Lasky’s intention is both to show the twin dreams of utopia and revolution pervading what Frederic Jameson would call the "political unconscious" of certain critical historical periods, and to study the consequences of actions arising out of these. What catches our attention is the remarkable similarity of the utopian-revolutionary rhetoric, particularly the rhetoric of "fire", "thunder" and "destruction". Lasky’s central chapters provide a rich glossary of the uses to which these metaphors were put by thinkers in different epochs.

This rhetoric is pervasive during the Cromwellian revolt and the French revolution. Lasky quotes Winstanley, Bunyan and a host of minor pamphleteers and feulitton writers to suggest that fire and thunder were the symbolic embodiments of the desire for change and the need to destroy old institutions. ‘‘Why may we not have our heaven here, and heaven hereafter too?" asks Winstanley, reminding his flock of Christ slaying the beast. Fire both purges and burns and is, therefore, an apt metaphor for ushering in the heavenly kingdom. Three centuries later, in Andrei Tarkaovsky’s film "Sacrifice", fire destroys the writer-doctor’s house as well as his illusions.

Fire and revolutionary thunder continue to be the dominating metaphors during the French revolution. Robespierre saw Jacobin France emerging as if like a phoenix. His cult of destructive violence, advocated in another sphere by Marquis de Sade, became the rallying call for the new faithfuls to destroy the ancien regime. In Victor Hugo’s novel "Les Miserables" the exchange of fire between Javert’s troops and the communards takes a heavy toll, not least that of the innocent voice of the young tramp Gavroche.

Lasky’s chapters on the English response to the French revolution do not add anything to what we already know, particularly through the work of E.P. Thompson, whom Lasky sidesteps entirely, just as he sidesteps the work of Christopher Hill on the revolutionary impulses in the English civil war.

The responses of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey are rehearsed yet again, but only to suggest their disillusionment with the revolutionary Promethean ideology itself. Wordsworth’s two visits to France and his imbibing of the fiery spirit of the Jacobins is recorded as are the relevant references to the French revolution in "The Prelude". Yet the point Lasky makes is that these poets had outlived their brief infatuation with the cult of violence into which the French revolt degenerated (Shelley’s "Prometheus Unbound" is untypical). Thompson, however, has a different story to tell.

Lasky devotes a good part of his argument to account for the fact that the English were not particularly warm to the total renovatory project of the utopians. It is true that except for Shelley and briefly Wordsworth, Southey and a minor poet John Halliwell, whom Lasky does not mention, we do not find among English poets of the Romantic period anything like the sustained sentiment expressed by Josh Maleehabadi in lines such as "kam hai mera tagayur, nam hai mera shabab" nor do we find the equivalent of the fervour that minor poets displayed for the Spanish Civil War in 1936-38. Lasky’s two chapters on "The English ideology" are a liberal–humanist defence of moderation that the English are supposed to have displayed in times of crisis.

Reformers like Locke, Hume, Bentham and Edmund Burke spoke for moderation in spite of their sympathy for change. Burke in particular warned against the excesses of the French revolution and others equally expressed their belief in what Lasky calls the "pragmatic empiricism" of the English. In spite of a large British colony in Paris sympathising with the revolution, gradualism becomes the watchword in British politics as well as in British literature of the period.

Here again Lasky relies mostly on what we already know about the English penchant for compromise. By stressing this point throughout his narrative, he seems to be defending his own bourgeois liberal credentials.

Of course, there was a tradition of millenarian socialism of Saint-Simon, Fourier and the Brook Farm in America which Hawthorne examined in "Blithedale Romance". This tradition develops independently of the British stream and is parallel to the revolutionary spirit displayed by writers like Adam Mekweikcz in Poland, and the later anarchist movements in Russia. Marx and Engels were aware of them and called them "utopian" in a limited sense. Later on Lenin and Rosa Luxemberg were to denounce this tradition while in service of the Bolshevik cause. Herbert Marcuse was not far behind.

In the ultimate analysis it has to be accepted that no revolution or utopia turns out on expected lines. Here dreams are up against harsh realities. The Russian and Chinese Communist revolutions turned sour because they were foisted on an inhospitable soil. The collapse of the Soviet model and the melting of the Chinese one are ample proof of the non-durability of the renovatory impulse.

The degeneration of revolutionary ardour into a wrenching civil strife in Africa belied the hopes of Third World statesmen like Nehru and Nkrumah. As Shakespeare would say (he knew the renovatory logic of his time and observed its defeat in his history plays), there is always a shadow in between. Lasky’s argument makes us recall W. B.Yeats’s verdict on the whole debate.

In a memorable poem he says "Hurrah for revolution!/let the cannon shoot, /The beggar upon horseback lashes the beggar on foot. /Hurrah for revolution! Cannon once again/The beggars have changed places/but the lash goes on."

I think the poet of "The Second Coming" knew it all too well.


A liberal’s
lament of things present

by M. L. Sharma

Alchemy of Greatness by Jitendra Kaushal. Karma Bhoomi Foundation, Yamunanagar. Pages 86. Rs. 125.

"ALCHEMY of Greatness" is collection of 15 illuminating essays touching on various themes from democracy to mafia, faith to the Pokhran nuclear tests. Written in a racy style and in chaste English, the book surveys the national as well as international scenario with comments likely to provoke further thinking on fundamental issues like democracy and a republican form of government.

Unlike the eassys by Bacon, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb and Montaigne, these essays do not aim at providing wise saying or making our literary and worldly knowledge richer and more refined.. They are more concerned with the current scenario or the current socio-political milieu. Corruption in public life seems to be the main concern of the author and he cannot reconcile with what is termed these days as diplomacy and politcal acumen. Total sincerity in every walk of life seems to be his cherished goal. This has coaxed him to air his views.

In "Equity or Economics", the author seems to have a grudge against those economists who manipulate figures and blow up economic achievements of their country out of proportion. "Deny an economist the use of figures and you take away his ability to make cogent arguments. Jugglery with figures, better known as statistics, has played havoc with mankind, with gurus of economics dragging nations from one mirage to another".

His main argument is that the true strength of a nation "lies in the resilience and vibrancy of" social and state institutions and not in economists’ jugglery of figures and in state’s fiscal or "accumulated power".

In "Republic’s decline", he has a dig even at swamis and Hinduism at large. "Gun-running swamis brought succour to the corrupt ruling elite and bought for themselves aircraft and endless acres of strategic land. Tantriks not only foretold things but undertook to alter the course of political events". He sees depravity in youths’ lure for wealth. Gandhian motto of simple life and the earth can satisfy one’s need but not one’s greed appeals to him.

In one of his essays, he calls the President of India as the uncaring supreme commander because he did not intervene in the dismissal of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. The author has spit venom at the BJP government for this gross injustice in disciplining the disciplined man of the defence forces. "It takes not very fertile imagination to picture how a beleaguered Vajpayee must have readily acquiesced in to the loud pleadings of his Man Friday, Fernandes."

In "democracy’s crippling flaws", he maintains that without the active participation of youth and political awareness of masses, people’s meaningful participation in political process, the freedom of media, especially electronic media, from government’s control, it is not possible to restore a crippled democracy to vibrancy and good health. In "Playing nuclear godfather", the author is critical of the role of big powers and their double standards as he believes that owing to their insincerity, the dream of nuclear disarmament can hardly be translated into reality.

About the USA’s role, he comments; "America topples legitimate governments, floods countries with lethal weapons to fuel civil strife and gets away with it. Hijacking the UNO, it rains missiles and bombs where it pleases and clamps trade embargo to serve its own interests." While the USA made a hue and cry over India’s nuclear tests at Pokhran, there was not a murmur from Washington when Russia conducted a nuclear test some days earlier.

In "Freedom of expression", he underscores the fact that truth and not cheap publicity and public glamour should govern our artistic pursuits. The artistic creation should have quality and a touch of the sublime, displaying dedication and superior human faculities. He is not appreciative of Salman Rushdie’s "sarcasm-packed caricatures", Shoba De’s "salacious gossips", M.F. Hussain’s portrait of goddesses in the nude. This essay has a message for those who masquerade profanity and sensual titillation as creative excellence and creation of beauty. Nudity in art, he says, is being unfair to the fair sex.

In "Harvest of happiness", he has written in the same vein in which Vincent Peele, James Allen or Swet Marden write to make us believe that happiness does not lie in riches and luxuries. It is a state of the mind. "Happiness," he says "is an attribute of a tranquil mind." In "Faith is crucial" he lavishes praise on the melody queen, Lata Mangeshkar for her unflinching loyalty, dedication to work, the unwavering faith in Saraswati, the goddess of learning, and her character. Abdul Kalam, the eminent scientist, is highly appreciated for the faith and dedication to work, besides patriotism.

This well-written book of essays (why not call them articles?) is quite thought-provoking and merits study by scholars as well as students for creating awareness of the current politico-social milieu. The book also explores the causes of shaky moral values.

* * *

The Mystic Soul by Fakeer Ishavar Dass. Grace Books, Bathinda. Pages 110. Rs. 175.

"The Mystic Soul" is a spiritual diary of an eminent saint containing poetical musings on various themes. The author has a catholic outlook and does not seem to believe in ism, and in superiority of a particular religion. All religions, he says, have the same message. "I and my father are one." In this respect the gospel taught by Jesus Christ and the Vedanta propounded by Shankar show hardly any difference. Gnosis and the path of non-dualism can alone save mankind and this path, he says, is universal.

He maintains that even the best of men "remain enslaved by the iron bars of their own thinking". It is "a babe of innocence, deprived of all ego, self-conceit, bookish knowledge, superstitions" who can reach the divine. Anybody who thinks himself to be somebody can never tread on the spiritual path. All those who remain in "mammon’s embrace" cannot reach the kingdom of heaven.

His main teachings are: "One is life of all manifest and latent existence". It is by the "will of nature" the mystic third eye opens and not by the "self-will" of any yogi. for this devotion, surrender and true way are the key. It is by following true commandments that "nature cooperates with man spontaneously" and thus the eye becomes single. Just as in an ocean no wave claims that it came into existence first, man and woman should realise that no religion can claim superiority and precedence over the other because it traced its origin to antiquity or times immemorial:

He comes up with the following lines of a special message for humanity:

The book will inspire those who are in quest of solace and spiritual insight. The book needed proper editing as it can hardly be called a poetic work, in metre or in blank verse.


riots and the trauma

Review by Jai Narain Sharma

Freedom, Trauma Continues: Northern India and Independence edited by D.A. Low and Howard Brasted. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 238. Rs 250.

MEMORY is a complex phenomenon and reaches out to far beyond what normally constitutes an historian’s archives. For, memory is much more than what the mind can remember or the events can help us document the past. What we do not always consciously know we remember when something actually happens. And there remains the question much discussed these days — literature on the Indian partition. People do not even wish to remember the pain and horror of life. Memory, then, is an investigator-historian which approaches the past with one aim: "tell me all".

There are two aspects of memory that concern us here: nostalgia and trauma, and their contradictory relationship to the past. A memory of trauma has a narrative structure which works on a principle opposite to that of a historical narrative. At the same time, however, this memory can be plausible if it supports the claim of the victim. There is no getting around the fact that the partition was traumatic for those who had to leave their homes. Stories and incidents of sexual degradation of women, of forced eviction, of physical violence and humiliation marked their experience.

The set of essays ("Freedom, Trauma, Continues: Northern India and Independence" turns fundamentally to this question of the difference between history and memory.

The Punjab massacres of 1947 are part of the freedom lore in India and Pakistan. This knowledge is, however, insubstantial. Details, the distinctive character, the endless ramifications are rarely followed thoroughly. Following earlier and variously problematic official accounts, a major beginning has been made by Swarna Aiyar in the article "August anarchy: the partition massacres in Punjab 1947". Here an objective account of some key aspects of the traumatic events is given.

It seems clear that the riots of March, 1947, which were largely confined to the western districts of Punjab, need to be distinguished from the partition massacres of August - September of the same year, which, among other things, were spread over the whole province. The former were triggered by the outrage the Muslims felt that despite their preponderant numbers in the province, the provincial government following the elections of 1946, was formed by the Congress and the Unionist Party with the support of the Sikh members and excluded the largest party, the Muslim League. Muslims feared that unless this situation was speedily righted, this key province, or at least a big part of it, which was crucial to the viability of the Pakistan, would elude them. In the wake of the riots, the coalition government was toppled. That immediately encouraged the province’s many entrenched advocates of violence.

While Swarna Aiyar gives details of the sequence of the killings in Punjab, in railway carriages, of those marching to safety on foot and elsewhere, one hitherto understandable consequence of the horrific character of the mass killings and trauma disruptions has been that many people have apparently shrunk from detailing them in retrospect.

Two further contributions help, however, to lift the veil a little more. In seeking explicit and available descriptions of what occurred, Ian Talbot in his "Literature and the human drama of the 1947 partition" finds these not in any oral or memory accounts, nor in any studies based on them, but in literature, where direct personal experience is on many occasions evidently drawn upon. These fictionalised narratives apparently furnish a more bearable description of the horrors than raw accounts by victims and survivors.

Andrew Major in his article, "The chief sufferers: abduction of women during the partition of Punjab" takes the story a step further. In 1947-48 both the Pakistani and Indian governments were deeply perturbed over the mass abduction of women, and both mounted operations to secure their restoration to their families. Yet as he details, the problem was so deep that even the solicitous intentions of the governments often never touched the core of it. And there is the unspoken implication which nowadays is perhaps rather more difficult to understand — that women were abducted after their men had been slain.

The depth of human suffering of the partition period is never likely to be fully fathomed though a beginning is now being made. Estimates vary but it seems as if during the course of 1947 and into 1948 something like 5.5 million Hindus and Sikhs crossed over from west Punjab to India, while something like 5.8 million Muslims moved in the opposite direction. Estimates for the migrations to and from East Bengal seem impossible to compile, both because they were spread over a considerably longer period and because they were essentially far more episodic.

Supplementing this theme is Sarah Ansari’s account of the difficulties involved in settling the Muslim mohajirs, as they came to be called, mostly from north-central India, in Sindh and, more particularly, in Karachi. It is a story which, as she rightly underlines, lives on to this day, in a seemingly aggravated form. Her contribution is the only one which in any way touches upon what by any account must be seen as one of the most poignant consequences of partition.

This lies in the fact that in so many ways almost all major cities across the pre-partition northern India bear to this day one or the other characteristic of refugee settlement. If, as she emphasises, this is true of Karachi, it is true as well of Lahore, Delhi, Calcutta and Dhaka, to mention the most obvious cases. One of the major gaps in South Asain historiography lies precisely in the absence of major studies of what has happened to these cities in the second half of the 20th century.

There remains a great deal more to be learnt about violent years of the 1940s. These studies, and the larger accounts, of which there are several here, are no more than a foretaste of what is yet to come. Such research is starting to widen our perspective on the momentous events of the 1940s, particularly across northern India, where political decisions of the time had a much more tumultuous impact than elsewhere. That promises to advance the cause of historical writing about the post-independence years which hitherto has largely been the scholarly preserve of professionals and political scientists. In that sense these chapters serve to underscore the fact that a new generation of historians is emerging to cross the existing frontiers and cross the terrain of South Asia’s post-independence history. The result will be interesting to watch.


trip to Malgudi

Review by R.P. Chaddah

The World of Malgudi — R.K. Narayan edited by S. Krishnan. Viking, New Delhi. Pages 600. Rs 395.

S. KRISHNAN has come out with a second book on R.K. Narayan. The first "A Town Called Malgudi" contained the finest fiction of Narayan, two short novels and a several popular short stories. In the present volume he combines the old and new world of RKN by taking four novels, two from his early period, "Mr Sampath" and "The Financial Expert, and two novels from the mature period when Narayan was in his seventies (he is now into his nineties), "The Painter of Signs" and "A Tiger for Malgudi".

The novels offer a study in contrast. The editor has been an academic at the university and college level and now he is a weekly columnist with a Chennai daily. His love for RKN fiction comes out periodically in the form of volumes on his writings which he edits for Viking/Penguin.

RKN is a Tamilian who has spent all his life in Mysore. Quite early in his life he decided to earn his honest penny by writing, though the first few years were not fruitful money wise. So he became a reporter for a Madras journal and it enabled him to meet a wide variety of people, many of whom inspired the characters of his novels. And then Graham Greene showed interest in RKN’s fiction and there has been no looking back since then.

His first novel came out in 1935 and till date he has written 20-odd novels, a large number of short stories, essays, articles and what have you. In a career spanning more than six decades. Narayan, till recently, continued to use materials and characters experienced and explored personally, but he is always on the "outside looking in".

"Mr Sampath" was first published in 1949 in London, but its Indian edition came out in 1959. Around that time it was filmed in Tamil and Hindi. The novel is in two sharp parts. The double structure is all too apparent. The first part is devoted to running newspapers and is organised around Srinivas, the second to film industry in which Mr Sampath is the more significant figure.

RKN has considerable experience of movie making as he used to work in Gemini Studios in Madras. His description of Srinivas’s brief encounter with the tinsel world is hilariously accurate. Even his knowledge of the intricacies of printing gained during the short-lived "Indian Thought" magazine (1941-42) came in handy when describing the production of "The Banner" in the novel.

Within the context of place, family and work, we find a striking duality in the development of the character of Srinivas, being one of those young, ardent, idealistic Narayan characters, when compared with Mr Sampath who belongs to a group of characters found throughout his fiction (the aged landlord in "The English Teacher", the strange priest in "The Financial Expert" or the sinister Marco in "The Guide"). A comparable distinction exists between simple Indian family life- loving Srinivas and the ostentatious, establishment and chaotic sexual mores of the film studios. The substance of the novel is made up of the apparent relationship of these two, the female characters have been relegated to a secondary place. In the end Mr Sampath himself has to leave Malgudi to escape the wrath of his creditors and he bids farewell to Srinivas.

"The Financial Expert" was Narayan’s masterpiece till "The Guide" appeared in 1958 and he got the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1960. This was later made into a gripping movie by Dev Anand. Years ago "The Malgudi Days", based on Narayan stories was telecast on the TV, week after week. The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of Margayya, probably Narayan’s greatest single comic creation", the financial expert. The novel revolves around lust for money and it is also a revealing study of the cash nexus in modern life.

But Margayya is no incarnate of greed and wickedness, RKN has succeeded in humanising him by showing that despite his lust for money, he is human like all of us with our foibles and frailities. His prosperity is the outcome of his money-lending business by some foul means, but all this does not give him peace of mind. He learns the hard way the age-old lesson that prosperity and peace do not always go together.

"The Painter of Signs" was first serialised in the then popular magazine The Illustrated Weekly of India (since discontinued) and later in a novel form in 1976. The novel is based on the family planning fad of the 70s. At the end of the novel he felt it to be a sham propaganda by the government.

Raman, the signboard painter, comes in contact with Daisy who is ardently devoted to the family planning programmes and her passion is birth control. Her ambition is to check population growth and in that scheme of things, Raman finds no space. Raman falls in love with her, but she spurns his advances. Romantic entanglements she avoids, because the cult of individuality is the supreme value to her. Daisy’s earlier incarnation of an independent-minded lady appeared in the shape and form of Rosie in "The Guide".

In "A Tiger for Malgudi", a tiger ruminates over its past. This is almost a spiritual odyssey starting from the early wild days through circus and then to the training by the ring master. Narayan endows a tiger with an intelligent personality, spiritualised by the mysterious power of his master, a swami, a tiger that can talk. It is only in India that yogis perform miracles and a tiger behaves like a wise man after coming in contact with a swami.

Narayan attempts a new fictional form by combining myth and fable. This form is deeply rooted in the cultural context of Narayan’s India and he brings it into fictional narrative.

Mr Sampath, Margayya and Raman are mysterious and unpredictable in their ways. They are pitiless and selfish with money, sex and the like being their chief preoccupations. In pursuing their objectives they are ready to sacrifice everything. They spell evil, they are dynamic, intelligent and shrewd. Raju of "The Guide" is not far away from our minds.

In the body of his work we recognise the limitations of his range but he has achieved greatness by working on his "two inches of ivory" just like Jane Austen. The formative years of his life were passed in South India and he confines himself to this region in particular. It is the life of Malgudi, the small town which he knew intimately, and which fertilised his imagination. He renders it effectively, vividly and realistically.

In short, Narayan is a storyteller, nothing less and seldom more. The world of Malgudi is a world of enchantment, we are the luckier for being privileged to experience it, though in small doses, because the editor S. Krishnan likes it that way.


of duty, here and now

Review by Satish K. Kapoor

The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina Traditions by Yuraj Krisnan. Moti Lal Banarasidass Publishers, Delhi. Pages xviii 650 Rs 595.

LITERALLY, karma means action. But actions are not isolated acts. They culminate in inevitable consequences both good and bad, in this life or in a reincarnation.

In Hinduism karma is regarded as "a neutral, self-perpetuating law of the inner cosmos much as gravity is an impersonal law of the outer cosmos" (Sivaya Subramuniyaswami).

Karma is of four types: the accumulated actions of previous births which do not influence a man’s present life are called sanchita, the actions of past life which determine his destiny are called prarbdha and the actions which are now performed are called kriyamana. The kriyamana is transformed into sanchita and becomes the basis of future actions (agami).

Karma has also been classified as white (meaning good), black (meaning bad), mixed (both good and bad), or just colourless (meaning insignificant). In a reitualistic sense, karma has six more categories to it. They are: nitya (daily); naimittika (occasional pilgrimage, fast, etc.); kamya (that which is performed with a special purpose such as putreshti yajna (for obtaining a son); adhyatmic (undertaken with a spiritual motive); adhidaivic (relating to tuterlary deity such as a mantra) and adhibhautic (related to living beings).

This book provides a comprehensive study of the doctrine of karma in its various ramifications. It takes in its gamut such questions as how do Indian religious traditions view karma? How do karmas operate? How has the karma theory helped the evolution of the ideal of Moksha? Is the doctrine of karma entwined with the concept of four yugas? What is nishkama karma? Is there balacing of karmas"? How is karma linked to social responsibility? And so on.

To begin with, the author describes three essential features of the doctrine of karma. First, it is an ethical or moral law; second, it is a law of retributive justice; third, retributive justice is possible only through punarjanma or rebirth. "No one can get anything unless be earns it," said Swami Vivekananda. "Our karma determines what we deserve and what we can assimilate. We are responsible for what we are."

The doctrine of karma exists in an "embryonic form" in the samhitas and Brahmanas. Although the Rigveda mentions it "about 40 times", it is primarily used in the sense of scrificial acts. The Brahmanas specifically identify karma with "liturgical rites". Although there is absence of ethical or moral concept in pre-Upanishadic vedic literature, the ideas of transmigration and rebirth occur both in the Samhitas and the Brahmanas.

The Upanishadic exposition of karma is somewhat ambivalent in the sense that they uphold karma as a moral law; and, in the same vein, teach how they can be "destroyed or arrested and rendered sterile".

The heterodox elaborations of karma are unique in many ways. Jainism, for example, regards karma as a form of matter which is atomic in its nature. The Uttaradhyayana sutra states that the number of atoms of each karma is infinite and is to be found in all the six directions of space. "It is this atomic matter which binds all souls."

Jainism classifies karma into eight forms; those which impede right knowledge; those which shake right to faith; those which cause delusion; those which lead to pleasure or pain; those which determine the nature of one’s existence; those which prescribe the specific form of existence; those which determine one’s status in society and those which prevent a person from doing philanthropic work.

In the Jaina way of life, five mahavratas and five anuvratas are prescribed for monks and laymen respectively, for the creation of a righteous social order. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism explains the factor of inequality among human beings as a product of good and bad karmas.

As many as 16 types of karma are mentioned in the Buddhist texts. Buddhism believes that man is tied to the wheel of birth and death and can attain nirvana only by braking the chains of karma. Karma is regarded as a causative force, as a law of personal responsibility and as a law of inexorable retribution. Reincarnation is the working out of this law. None can escape the consequence of his deeds.

In Buddhism what distinguishes a "Brahmin" from a "shudra" is not birth but karma. The karmic law is not discriminatory "like the man-made law codes". According to the Buddha, past karmas determine the present caste of a human being and the present karmas determine the caste status in future or future births.

The book crisply delineates the doctrine of karma as it occurs in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and six systems of Indian philosophy. It also relates, karma to Indian astrology, the Hindu law, to Sanskrit drama, to Ayurveds and to the incarnations of God.

Karma doctrine was opposed by the Charvakas, the Niyativadins, the Svabhavavadins, Ajhanavadins and other schools of thought. But the real danger to it came from "Shunyavada" and "Vijnanavada" of the Buddhists and Advaitavada of Sankara. It survived nevertheless.

The book contends that even though the doctrine of karma can not be experimentally or empirically proved, it provides the best possible explanation for inequality and suffering in life, for the immense diversity in the universe and for varying results produced "by the equal human effort with identical environment or other related factors". Besides, it debunks the view that karma breeds an attitude of resignation or that of fatalism.

The book having five useful appendices, select bibliography and a comprehensive author title and subject index, besperks of the author’s erudition and the publisher’s skill to produce it flawlessly.



Truth is invented in every age

This is an extract from Isaiah Berlin’s book ‘‘The Power of Ideas’’.

Over a hundred years ago, the German poet Heine warned the French not to underestimate the power of ideas: philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could destroy a civilisation.

— Isaiah Berlin in "Two Concepts of Liberty".

THE theme that links the contents of this volume of Isaiah Berlin’s shorter, more introductory pieces is the same as that of three earlier volumes of his longer essays — namely, the crucial social and political role, past, present and future — of ideas, and of their progenitors. Within the confines of this theme a rich variety of subject-matters is represented, and the appositeness of Heine’s warning is exemplified on a broad front. It was a warning that Berlin often referred to, provides one kind of answer (there are naturally others) to those who ask, as from time to time they do, why intellectual history matters. — (Editor’s, Preface)

* * *

These are the two central senses of "liberty" which I set myself to investigate. I realised that they differed, that they were answers to two different questions; but, although cognate, they did not in my view clash — the answer to one did not necessarily determine the answer to the other. Both freedoms were ultimate human ends, both were necessarily limited, and both concepts could the perverted in the course of human history. Negative liberty could be interpreted as economic laissez faire, whereby in the name of freedom owners are allowed to destroy the lives of children in mines, or factory-owners to destroy the health and character of workers in industry. But that was a perversion, not what the concept basically means to human beings, in my view.

Equally it was said that it is a mockery to inform a poor man that he is perfectly free to occupy a room in an expensive hotel, although he may not be able to pay for it. But that, too, is a confusion. He is indeed free to rent a room there, but has not the means of using this freedom. He has not the means, perhaps, because he has been prevented from earning more than he does by a man-made economic system — but that is a deprivation of freedom to earn money, not of freedom to rent the room. This may sound a pedantic distinction, but it is central to discussions of economic versus political freedom.

The notion of positive freedom has led, historically, to even more frightful perversions. Who orders my life? I do. I? Ignorant, confused, driven hither and thither by uncontrolled passions and drives — is that all there is to me? Is there not within me a higher, more rational, freer self, able to understand and dominate passions, ignorance and other defects, which I can understand only by a process of education or understanding, a process which can be managed only by those who are wiser than myself, who make me aware of my true, "real", deepest self, of what I am at my best?

This is a well-known metaphysical view, according to which I can be truly free and self-controlled only if I am truly rational — a belief which goes back to Plato — and since I am not perhaps sufficiently rational myself, I must obey those who are indeed rational, and who therefore know what is best not only for themselves but also for me, and who can guide me along lines which will ultimately awaken my true rational self and put it in charge where it truly belongs.

I may feel hemmed in — indeed, crushed — by these authorities, but that is an illusion: when I have grown up and have attained to a fully mature, "real" self, I shall understand that I would have done for myself what has been done for me if I had been as wise, when I was in an inferior condition, as they are now.

In short, they are acting on my behalf, in the interests of my higher self, in controlling my lower self; so that true liberty for the lower self consists in total obedience to them, the wise, those who know the truth, the elite of sages; or perhaps my obedience must be to those who understand how human destiny is made — for if Marx is right, then it is a Party (which alone grasps the demands of the rational goals of history) which must shape and guide me, whichever way my poor empirical self may wish to go; and the Party itself must be guided by its far-seeing leaders, and in the end by the greatest and wisest leader of all.

During the two reigns that preceded the Revolution the leaders of the Russian intelligentsia, both radical and moderate, Marxist and anti-Marxist, and the writers and artists who belonged to their world, lacked neither breadth of knowledge nor balanced imagination, nor critical judgement, nor — although they have often been accused of it — sober common sense. Anyone who doubts this proposition should tear himself away from Chernyshevsky’s "What is to be done?" or Pisarev’s "Destruction of Aesthetics" and turn to the arts and letters, and still more the social and political literature, of the years preceding and immediately succeeding the abortive Revolution of 1905. This "Silver Age" of Russian culture — in the realms of science (including the social sciences) and the humanities as well as that of pure art — is part and parcel of a great European advance, and not the peculiar achievement of a remote, barbarous, exotic or unbalanced civilisation.

A later generation had become more sceptical. The Russian intelligentsia had grown disillusioned, a notorious chasm divided the educated from the uneducated, deprived the educated of "organic" connection with the society which they criticised and sought to guide, and rendered them incapable of influencing events. The swan song of the old intelligentsia takes the form of a correspondence between a famous and aging critic and his friend and contemporary, a greatly gifted, civilised and influential symbolist poet, about the crumbling of the world in which both were brought up.

The critic, Mikhail Gershenzon, a Jew, confesses to being crushed by the enormous burden of the unforgotten, unburied past — the weight of tradition too heavy to be borne by those who are, for good or ill, steeped in Hebraic as well as western culture with its obsessive historical sense. The poet, Vyacheslav Ivanov, who speaks as a "Hellene" and an heir of Byzantium, seeks a synthesis of pagan classicism and Christianity, of Dionysus and Christ, through which the individual, if not the masses, can be transformed and saved. This is the final, fascinating and tragic document of a declining civilisation, overwhelmed by a cataclysm partly of its making, consciously averting its eyes from the "new shores" towards which the post-revolutionary society was to drive full steam ahead. It is the social and political outlook of this civilisation, and the impact on it of the West in the two centuries that preceded the epoch-making (for once this term preserves its literal meaning) collision in our own day of two worlds, that the writings of the intelligentsia call up from the half-forgotten past.

These are the dangers of the West. But in the land in which the intelligentsia was born, it was founded, broadly speaking, on the idea of a permanent rational opposition to a status quo which was regarded as in constant danger of becoming ossified, a block to human thought and human progress. This is the historic role of the intelligentsia as seen by itself, then and now. It does not just mean intellectuals or artist as such; and it certainly does not mean educated persons as such. The educated can be reactionary, just as the uneducated can. So can intellectuals. So can artists. We know this very well in our day. It is a melancholy phenomenon which happens on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Nor does it mean sheer opposition to the Establishment as such. Protesters and marchers, people who oppose the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes, or the Vietnam war, no matter how sympathetic their moral position, or admirable their sense of social responsibility, are not members of the intelligentsia simply because they are protesting against the behaviour of their government. These persons do not necessarily believe in the power of reason or the beneficent role of science, still less in the inevitability, or even the desirability, of human progress, conceived in secular and rational terms. Sone of them may appeal to irrational faiths, or wish to escape from industrial society into some simpler, but wholly Utopian, world.

Sheer protest, whether justified or unjustified, does not qualify one to be a member of the intelligentsia as such. What does do so is a combination of belief in reason and progress with a profound moral concern for society. And this, of course, is much more likely to occur in countries where the opposition is deepest and blackest; and least likely to occur in loose, democratic, relatively open societies, where those persons who might be made indignant in the more reactionary societies are apt to bend their energies to ordinary pursuits — to being a doctor, lawyer, professor of literature — without any oppressive sense that in doing so they are somehow failing in their duty, that in not taking part in some kind of collective civic indignation they are indulging private desires and deserting their civic post.

The intelligentsia militants and this is what the original intelligentsia was, and it is part of its essence — is generated by truly oppressive regimes. There are, no doubts, many despotisms: but to look on England, of all countries, as despotically ruled seems perverse. There are many other things wrong, socially and economically; but a country in which the government needs to make up to a wide electrorate, however it does this, and is in danger of being turned out, is, whatever else it may be, not a despotism. To say, therefore, that British society stands in need of this kind of ferocious, unsurrendering, well-organised revolutionary intelligentsia seems to me an exaggeration. Others may think quite differently.

To the old 19th-century intelligentsia the very notion of a class of persons involved in intellectual pursuits — such as professors, doctors, engineers, experts, writers, who in other respects live ordinary bourgeois lives, and hold conventional views, and who play golf or even cricket — this notion would have been absolutely horrifying. If a man was a professor in the late 19th-century Russia, then the mere fact of his involvement with ideas made him an implacable opponent of the regime in which he lived; if it did not, he was, in the eyes of the militant, a traitor, a man who had sold out, a coward or a ninny.

But before a revolutionary can educate others, he must educate himself. Possessed by this characteristically Russian belief, Plekhanov set to work. Forced into exile, living in penury in Switzerland, he made himself the foremost Marxist scholar of his time. Within 10 years he became the leading authority, and that not among Russian Marxists alone, on the civilisation and social history of Russia, on the theoretical foundations of Marxism, on the ideas of the western precursors of socialism, but above all on European civilisation and thought in the 18th century. He understood the methods and ideals of the writers of the Enlightenment, particularly in France, as very few understood or mastered them before him.

They were, of all schools of thought, the most sympathetic to him. The devoted effort of the French philosophers to reduce all problems to scientific terms; their belief in reason, observation, experiment; their clear formulation of central principles and applications of them to concrete historical situations; their war against clericalism, obscurantism and irrationalism; their search for the truth, sometimes narrow and pedestrain but always fearless, confident and fanatically honest; the lucid and often beautiful prose in which the best French intellectuals expressed themselves — all this he admired and delighted in. Civilised, sensitive and fastidious, Plekhanov towered head and shoulders above his fellow Russian socialists as a human being, as a scholar and as a writer.

Marxist writings are not among the clearest or most readable in the literature of socialism. It was not only Keynes who found himself physically unable to plod through Das Kapital; and if Lenin had not radically altered our world, I doubt whether his works would be as minutely studied as they necessarily are. Plekhanov has been badly served by his foreign translators; but if you read him in his native language you recognise at once — it is a feeling which those who have known it will be able to identify instantly — that you are in the presence of someone of first-rate quality. At its best his style is direct, limpid, rapid and ironical. The knowledge is vast, exact and lightly carried; the reasoning is clear and forceful; and the final deadly blows are delivered with an impeccable elegance and precision.

Since the Greeks, and perhaps long before them, men have believed that to the central questions about the nature and purpose of their lives, and of the world in which they lived, true, objective, universal and eternal answers could be found. If the answers could not be discovered by me, then perhaps by someone more expert or wiser than I; if not in the circumstances in which I found myself, then in others more propitious; in an innocent and happy past — a Garden of Eden from which our ancestors had for their sins been expelled, or perhaps in a golden age that still lay in the future, which posterity (perhaps after much labour and suffering) would, or at any rate could, one day reach. It was assumed that all the truly central problems were soluble in principle even if not in practice. Somewhere true answers to all genuine questions must exist, if not in the minds of men, them in the mind of an omniscient being — real or imaginary, material or ideal, a personal deity, or the universe come to full consciousness of itself.

This presupposition, which underlies most classical and Christian thought, orthodox and heretical, scientific and religious, was connected with the belief that, whether men knew it or not, the whole of life on earth was in some sense bound up with the search for answers to the great, tormenting questions of fact and of conduct; of what there is, was, will be, can be; of what to do, what to live by, what to seek, hope for, admire, fear, avoid; whether the end of life was happiness or justice or virtue or self-fulfilment or grace and salvation.

Individuals, schools of thought, entire civilisations differed about what the answers were, about the proper method of discovering them, about the nature and place of moral or spiritual or scientific authority — that is to say, about how to identify the experts who are qualified to discover and communicate the answers. They argued about what constitutes such qualifications and justifies such claims to authority. But there was no doubt that the truth lay somewhere; that it could in principle be found.

Conflicting beliefs were held about the central questions: whether the truth was to be found in reason or in faith, in the Church or the laboratory, in the insights of the uniquely privileged individual — a prophet, a mystic, an alchemist, a metaphysician — or in the collective consciousness of a body of men — the society of the faithful, the traditions of a tribe, a race, a nation, a social class, an academy of experts, an elite of uniquely endowed or trained beings — or, on the contrary, in the mind of heart of any man, anywhere, at any time, provided that he remained innocent and uncorrupted by false doctrines.

What was common to all these views — incompatible enough for wars of extermination to have been fought in their name — was the assumption that there existed a reality, a structure of things, a rerum natura, which the qualified enquirer could see, study and, in principle, get right. Men were violently divided about the nature and identity of the wise — those who understood the nature of things — but not about the proposition that such wise men existed or could be conceived, and that they would know that which would enable them to deduce correctly what men should believe, how they should act, what they should live by and for.

This was the great foundation of belief which romanticism attacked and weakened. Whatever the differences between the leading romantic thinkers — the early Schiller and the later Fichte, Schelling and Jacobi, Tieck and the Schlegels when they were young, Chateaubriand and Byron, Coleridge and Carlyle, Kierkegaard, Stirner, Nietzsche, Baudelaire — there runs through their writings a common notion, held with varying degrees of consciousness and depth, that truth is not an objective structure, independent of those who seeks it, the hidden treasure waiting to be found, but is itself in all its guises created by the seeker.