The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 22, 2000

Through the glass anti-colonially
Review by
Akshaya Kumar

A new star from, yes, Kerala
Review by Deepika Gurdev

History as fictional memory
Review by
Bhupinder Brar

A controversial General recounts his experience
Review by
Rajendra Nath

Kashmir: Issues at stake
Review by
Bimal Bhatia




Through the glass anti-colonially
Review by Akshaya Kumar

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. Ravidayal, Delhi. Pages 552. Rs 425.

AMITAV Ghosh is one of the less hyped writers of Indian English today. Never does he promote a pre-publication hysteria about his forthcoming work. Yet his novels survive much longer than the works of many of his contemporaries. Rather with each work, he grows stronger and maturer as a writer of fiction.

Unlike Vikram Seth, Ghosh does not revel in drawing a gallery of caricaturised middle-class characters. Nor, like Salman Rushdie, does he fiddle with history to generate a highly personalised discourse of playful uncertainties.

In his case, each novel is a revelation, an exploratory enterprise, an excavation of self. It is perhaps this metaphysical intensity of his creative enterprise that redeems him from the 15-minute fame syndrome that other writers suffer from.

The seriousness of purpose, the poignancy with which he narrates his events, the meticulous research that he undertakes to approximate the cultural and intellectual forbearings of his characters — all these things lend epic dimensions to his creative output. Never has he been a butt of attack of the hardcore nativists who otherwise are very hostile to anything written in Indian English. His classic seriousness coupled with depth of vision disarms his critics.

While in the case of most of Indian English novelists, language becomes an end in itself, in the case of Ghosh there is no linguistic razzmataz. Never does he sell his English, as perhaps Arundhati Roy or Shashi Tharoor would do. His intense preoccupations with the contemporary volatile issues of nationalism, statehood, cross-civilistional exchanges, etc. at once throw the reader into the very vortex of his racy and lucid narrative. There is no post-modern jugglery, no atavistic somersaults, no burlesque returns to reality. His novels are cast in the usual realist mode with no jerks or flashbacks.

"The Glass Palace" is a narrative of those brilliant imperial illusions which even in moments of total collapse and utter surrender continue to haunt as living presences. The name of Dinu’s photo studio as "The Glass Palace" much after the fall of the palace at Mandalay is a grim reminder of its presence in the psyche of the post-colonial subjects. As a monument of oriental opulence, it, ironically enough, continues to fascinate even those who were exploited by its royal occupants.

If in the pre-colonial period, palaces symbolised autocracy and authority, in the colonial period the rubber and tea estates emerged as sites of exploitation. Morningside Rubber Estate of Saya John with Rajkumar as a sleeping partner could be seen as another imperial edifice which too is eventually shattered by the bombs of Japanese forces.

The novel has a rather ambitious canvas as it narrates the history of three generations entangled in the turmoil of colonialism in Burma. Ghose has an uncanny capacity of setting his narratives in different cultures. His earlier works are located in Columbia, Egypt, Bangladesh, etc.

The novel under review is, however, not Burmese by any stretch of imagination as characters frequently cross over to nations and cultures in their search for business and security. Since colonialism was not a local phenomenon, the novel as a narrative of colonial excesses does spill over beyond Burma to India, Singapore and America even. The novelist handles well the multiple displacements as his characters inevitably enter in and out of the cultural cauldron called colonialism.

The novel chronicles the story of an Indian named Rajkumar who, to begin with, works as a waiter in a tea stall, but due to a sudden invasion of the British Army in Burma, he smells his chances of making a mark in the teak wood business. Teak brings Britain to Burma, and it is this teak, and later on rubber, that keeps Rajkumar in Burma. Rajkumar marries Dolly, a beautiful Burmese girl, who worked as an attendant with the royal couple for 30 long years first at Mandalay and later at Ratnagiri.

Colonialism triggered many such inter-racial marriages engendering cultural mutations in the ethnography of the entire Third World. Such marriages cause displacement of a very disruptive nature threatening the very continuity of marriage as a bond of emotional togetherness.

Rajkumar meets his nemesis and is ultimately hounded out of Burma, almost penniless. Dolly goes back to Burma in search of her second son Dinu and dies in a monastery unnoticed. The survival of Burmese-looking Dinu is contrasted with the death of his Indian-looking brother Neel.

Each character in the novel passes through ordeals of self-definition. Dolly, who along with the Burmese royal couple is expatriated from Mandalay to Ratnagiri, grows up more like an Indian. When she is married, the whole of Ratnagiri wishes her well as though she is a daughter of the town. Back in Burma, when she is caught in an anti-Indian riot, she has to struggle hard to convince fellow Burmese that she had been a true servant of Burmese kings.

Uma, the wife of the Collector of Ratnagiri who mediates between Dolly and Rajkumar to facilitate their marriage, has a rather disturbed marital life. Her husband, estranged from her, dies soon afterwards. She as a widow is "freer", she undertakes a visit of Europe and America and comes in contact with Indian nationalists. Towards the end she dies as a staunch critic of colonialism and Rajkumar, the two sources of her initial growth. It was Rajkumar who sponsored her visit to the West.

Arjun, a nephew of Uma, however, undergoes multiple displacements. He joins as an "Indian" officer in the British army because for him it is a decent job. He believes the British army is the real benefactor of Indian people as it liberates them from the oppression of local princes and nawabs. On the war front against the aggressive Japanese army, when death stares in his face, he realises that joining the British army was not just a question of job. It is a question of sacrificing one’s life.

When some colleagues and subordinates decide to desert the British army to join the Indian national Army (INA), he faces yet another crisis of fighting against those who were his colleagues a few days earlier. When he finally decides to abandon the British army, his boss calls him a traitor. He is totally lost, as his friends had described him as a traitor so far. Ultimately he is killed in the war.

The ending of the novel could well have been the beginning of it. The last section titled as "The Glass Palace" is in a very subtle sense the residue of the novel, its very core in terms of the legacies that a grand royal palace leaves behind. In this section it provides a name to Dinu’s photo studio. In the hands of any post-modern practitioner of novelwriting, "The Glass Palace" as a photo-studio would have been used as a fitting trope to "indulge" in the history of Burma. But Ghosh as a writer of linear narratives, normally concentrates of transitions, slow and natural transformation of history into memory, reality into myth.

In the end, the novelist does try a backward journey from memory to actual history through an orphaned granddaughter of Rajkumar, named Jaya, who as a part of her Ph.D. project goes back to Burma to discover her "historic" lineage and who eventually meets her 70-year old uncle Dinu, living in post-colonial Burma under a Burmese name U Tun Pe. But this does not amount to a full-scale reconstruction of history through fractured memories, traces or mythical heresies as such.

The novel is an allegory of colonial politics. Imperialism shooting from "The Glass Palace" is undone, ironically enough, by the British army. One type of imperialism takes on another to ensure its continuity in one form or the other. Small-time servants like Rajkumar take advantage of the clash of two imperialisms — one decadent and other rising — only to grow as greedy owners of teak plantations. Dolly, the servant in the king’s retinue, becomes the wife of a teak business tycoon, Rajkumar, in the post-Glass Palace politics.

In the absence of the king, Rajkumar, which in translation means "the prince", takes over. the killing of Rajkumar’s elder son Neel by the panic-stricken elephants towards the end is almost a re-play of the killing of an English assistant Mckay by Shwe Doke, a female elephant, in the beginning of the novel.

Today’s oppressed are tomorrow’s oppressors The oppressor-oppressed binary, nevertheless, remains functional.

World War II, of which Burma was a hot site, offers another paradoxical situation in man’s search towards freedom. The forces of militarism, fascism and gross nationalism represented by Germany, Italy and Japan challenge British imperialism. One evil challenges another.

The war does hit the British army and the Japanese forces snatch power from it, but imperialism as a way of life continues. Japanese excesses on the local Burmese outdo the British rapacity for plundering the rich Burmese resources. Freedom is an illusion. Ironically Burma suffers more under Japan than it ever suffered under the Raj.

Colonialism was not simply a cultural disaster, it destroyed ecology as well. First it "assassinated trees". These "trees would sound great tocsins of protest as they fell, unloosing thunderclap explosions...". Then, in its effort to harness the elephants for transporting heavy logs of wood, it made them violent, unpredictably aggressive. An echo of gunshot startles an old cow elephant into producing a distinctive trumpeting note.

The novel can be read as a fitting sequel to his "The Shadow Lines" as the writer continues to negotiate with culturally contentious issues of nationalism and statehood, rendered porous and almost defunct by colonialism. If "The Shadow Lines" underlined the arbitrariness of political boundaries in the post-colonial phase, "The Glass Palace" brings forth the irrevocable in-betweenness engendered in our identities by the imperialists during the colonial period itself.

The novel outdoes theory as well as history in terms of its subtle treatment of colonialism. "The Glass Palace" is an instance of novel overtaking history as an authentic and reliable source of understanding the micro-level subtleties of colonial politics.

Except for Uma’s rather long and prosaic speeches on colonialism, the novel has the makings of a classic. Her later interventions in the narrative are too direct and overt to integrate well with the narrative flow. The transition of Uma from being a wife and later a widow of a Collector to a firm activist has not been adequately accounted for. Also the way she wields influence in the private lives of Dolly and Rajkumar appears somewhat unconvincing. The events woven around Saya John also seem to fall apart.


A new star from, yes, Kerala
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Ancient Promises by Jaishree Misra. Penguin Books India, New Delhi. Pages 309. Rs 250.

I WOULD have certainly missed out on this heart-rending novel had it not been for Ajay’s (of Capital Book Store) recommendation. Let me first begin by thanking Ajay who makes every visit to Sector 17 and Capital memorable with not just his amiable personality but his impeccable recommendations as well.

"Ancient Promises" is a tale of love and family loyalty. Apart from that, it is a brilliant debut by Jaishree Misra. The narration is amazingly simple, yet intensely alive. It is a simple tale but in Misra’s deft hands it evokes tears, joy and feelings just like the author’s as she gently steers you along with the protagonist Janaki’s (Janu’s) tale.

The plot is something that is easy to relate to. Set in Delhi and the lush backwaters of Kerala, the novel is imbued with richness not just of the characters but of the environs as well. The plot falls thin at times but is made up for by the richness of style. Misra’s details of the lives she sets to describe in "Ancient Promises" illuminate a larger subject and at a deeper level the novel explores feminine angst.

The story reads something like this: a 16-year-old Janu, an Air Commodore’s daughter, grows up in cosmopolitan Delhi, studies in a convent school under Sister Seraphia’s constant stern gaze, goes back home to Thakazhy in Kerala every summer to spend her holiday with grandparents. Life is blissful just like the placid backwaters she sees at her grandparents’ home. But still waters always run deep.

Young and vulnerable, Janu’s troubles start when she hopelessly and helplessly falls in love with Arjun while she is still in school. She manages to keep her secret emotions hidden from her parents but not for too long. All the hidden rendezvous in the Chor Minar and the aloo tikki sessions at Khan Market come to an inevitable end when she is spotted on a motorcycle by a neighbour who takes it upon himself to inform her parents about their daughter’s shameful act.

The next holiday in Kerala that is to mark Janu’s 18th birthday changes everything for her. She is forced into an arranged marriage in the very rich and the very established Maraar community and the marriage is arranged on the day of her birthday. "Happy birthday, Janu, I said to myself, trying to be cheerful. Just imagine, a wedding for a birthday present, a big expensive wedding for a growing up and going away present. Eighteen now, everyone has to grow up some time or the other...."

This is the day that would mark the beginning of a painful journey of self-discovery. Ignored by her husband, despised by her mother-in-law, scorned by her sister-in-law, Janu grows up believing that she does not deserve to be totally happy because she fell in love and betrayed the trust her parents had in her. And like many before her, she thinks that a child would resolve all her woes.

The baby only makes things worse for her on the husband and in-law front but helps Janu evolve as a strong person with a thinking mind of her own. Riya is born with a disability and that makes the coldness and hostility in the Maraar household grow. As her husband Suresh distances himself even further, Janu embarks on a voyage of reading and doing things that could bring Riya back to normality. She manages to get a B.A. and an M.A., enrolls Riya in a special school and then goes a step ahead to look for universities overseas so that she can get a better education for Riya and a life for herself.

When she receives admission at Arizona State University, Janu is overjoyed, for here is her escape. But then there is the problem of getting funds. That sets her on yet another tedious process of sourcing for scholarships.

This is when the improbabilities and the weaknesses in the plot surface. When Janu goes to Delhi for her interview at the India International Centre, she decides to look up her old school friend Leena and it is anybody guess who she would meet here. Her childhood lover, Arjun. Then the novel seems to rush a bit to its climax.

So what happens? Does Janu leave Suresh to get a life of her own? Does she manage the scholarship that would be her passport to freedom, discovery of herself and much more? Does Riya make it to the special school that Janu wanted her to so badly attend? More importantly do Arjun and Janu finally find love together?

You’ll just have to read "Ancient Promises" to find out all that and much more. I can assure you that it will be worth staying up till 4 a.m. and finding out what happens.

While you are at it, remember to read the author’s note lest it is a bit of a give away. I don’t know about the rest but I am definitely waiting for Jaishree Misra’s next offering. Hope it’s as heart-rending as this one.

* * *

Surviving Women by Jerry Pinto. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 187. Rs 200.

Alright Jerry, so we are the "La Belle Dames Sans Merci", the politically conscious women of the new millennium. You know that we know our Camus from our Sartre and we know for a fact that Khalil Gibran said, "let there be spaces in your togetherness," not "let there be lacunae in your togetherness" (page 58). We know our ps from our qs, speak our minds out and have finally found our way out and carved a niche for ourselves in the modern urban jungle. So tell me, what’s wrong with that? That means we need a new survival guide for men from the new, confident, liberated us.

Going by this book, guess that is what it is all about. "Surviving Women" who are looking for the right mix betwixt Bill Gates and the Buddha. It is a little hard to imagine that the new Indian man was just so many centuries behind the new Indian woman who one imagines would have spent at least a few years seeking out and speaking out on her own.

The author clearly fails to analyse the point that the relationship between men and women is changing in so many fundamental ways. With the information revolution, the understanding of gender sensibilities, the opportunities and the ability to speak from an equal platform and everything else that is happening so rapidly in the new age, never before has there been such a tremendous possibility of positive growth and understanding between men and women.

Well, the book would have been fairly acceptable if the image painted of the modern Indian woman was not so arbitrary and the book was not attempting to tell all Indian men about all Indian women. "Surviving Women" abounds with cliches of the all-knowing woman as someone who knows what she wants, had dimples, reads Rosa Luxemburg, etc. etc. You get the picture. And just as you are getting comfortable with that, you are confronted with Ayesha and her dim-witted friend Lajwanti who can perhaps make a Pinto special on surviving friends and beyond.

The character of the modern Indian woman that emerges is of someone who is clearly argumentative. Sample this: "There is only one way to survive an argument with a woman," one of Pinto’s many cynical friends quoted in the book says, "Lose it!" Surely this is not the same woman who just spoke about combating insurgency and some kind of training in Israel... you wonder?

The trouble is not just with the definitions of the modern Indian woman; it is rather hard to digest the dialogue and the observations of the AIMs (the Average Indian Males) who sound more like the CIMs (Confused Indian Males).

"Surviving Women" reads like a strange mix. Helen Fielding (of BridgetteJones fame) meets John Gray (Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus fame). And that’s when the trouble starts. For just when "Surviving Women" book tends to sound provocative and wise it ends up reading funny and so non-serious.

While the book abounds in racy turns of phrase when it comes to research, the book falls flat with the redeeming exception of "Surviving Your Wife" where the men quoted don’t end up sounding like Savio and Harish — quaint new men, to say the least.


History as fictional memory
Review by Bhupinder Brar

Stories about the Partition of India edited by Alok Bhalla. Indus Harper Collins, New Delhi. 3 volumes. Pages xxiii + 746. Rs 195.

FOR nearly a century, Indian historians were busy writing nationalist accounts of the Indian "nation". It is only in recent years that efforts have begun to be made to piece together histories of the Indian "peoples" as well. In the process, a subject like the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 has acquired qualitatively different dimensions. It can no longer be subsumed as a mere episode in the "history of the nation".

Sources and techniques used for doing this kind of "people’s history" are naturally innovative and unconventional. Hermeneutic use of memories has been made to construct oral history of partition, even though memories are by nature "shifting, changing, unreliable". That in turn has lent validity to another source now increasingly in use: fiction.

Hard-core historians naturally suspect the validity of such sources. They allege that rather than the complexities of how people actually "lived" their lives, oral history and fiction reflect more often the attitude of the author, always subjective, always preconditioned, secular and humanist at its best but also sentimental in a puerile way at its worst.

The defence against such objections usually is that archives of any kind need interpretation. Interpretation has to make sense not of one particular isolated text or the other, it has to make sense of all of them together, and of "their inter-textuality". Given this, a large body of fiction with diverse authorship appears as good a source of history writing as any other.

In the context of this debate, the three-volume compilation of partition stories put together by Alok Bhalla acquires permanent significance. The volumes, published some years ago but reprinted repeatedly ever since, contain more than 60 stories written by nearly as many authors. Based in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, most authors write out of first hand experience of partition, and read together, bring a vast range of perspectives on partition to the reader.

Can these stories be read as an inter-textual archive for a historian? Probably the best way to answer this question is to take up Bhalla’s detailed introduction wherein he divides the stories into four major types: communally charged stories; stories of rage and hopelessness; stories of lamentation and consolation; and stories of retrieval of memories. One suspects that he also puts the four types in some sort of ascending order, based on how he evaluates "the ways in which writers tried to make sense of events which were otherwise unimaginable".

But for our purpose, let us take up the third type first: the stories of lamentation and consolation. These stories are, in Bhalla’s own words, "concerned with survivors of those genocidal days". By that he means "those people who refuse to give in to rage and struggle to discover ways of living which could restore us to sanity and redeem us".

It is interesting to note the way in which the word "redeem" occurs in the passage cited above, and the way in which it is exemplified by the stories Bhalla lists under the type. In one story, a woman, abducted and forced to marry the killer of her parents, lives with such scrupulous regard to her "duty" as a wife that she soon comes to be respected as a "devi" of the family. In a second story, a man, once violent and lustful towards his wife, is a changed person, not only kind and generous but also solicitous, once she is restored to him after having been abducted.

In the third story, a woman, whose own child was killed, adopts as her own a lost child, but later agrees to restore the child to its parents. Still later, the man she had started living with asks her to return to her husband when the husband turns up to claim her. In yet another story, a woman discovers that she is pregnant with the child of her rapist, wants to initially abort it, but comes finally to "own up" the foetus.

By sheer coincidence, two long-lost friends meet while on a hunt, and while they share their experiences of the violence of partition, they come to recognise hunting as violence and renounce it.

The way the characters in these stories redeem themselves or the situations in which they are caught is typical of the conventional meanings of the term "redeem". These meanings are: preventing an unpleasant situation from being completely bad or unacceptable; doing something that will give others a better opinion of a person after he/she has behaved badly, and getting something back after paying back the debt itself. They search for sanity and coherence, and also for a moral order in which sanity and coherence are embedded. They are survivors, thereby, not only in physical and emotional terms but also in a moral sense as well. These are "exemplary" characters but, and this is important, not necessarily typical characters.

The distinction is extremely important because if we do not maintain it, we end up not only not understanding the latter kind of characters but also misunderstanding them. These characters are also about survival although not in the exalted moral sense of the term. These are the characters which re-deem their lives in the sense that they deem life to be "whole" again, a life that was once "whole" but had been disrupted, truncated, and even shattered.

The methods these characters adopt may be repugnant to liberal, nonviolent humanism. But these are effective methods nonetheless. They are adopted not so much out of free choice as out of desperation when survival, physical and emotional, is at stake. Hatred, vengeance and violence against the communal "other" could be therapeutic, as Franz Fanon, among others, pointed out.

This brings us to Bhalla’s first category directly: the "communally charged" stories. The designation itself is interesting, for the term "communal" has come to acquire in India a meaning different from the conventional sense. Communal does not refer in this second sense to what belongs or pertains to a community. It refers instead to the sectarian and prejudicial attitudes which communities develop and maintain against one another.

It needs to be pointed out that in the dialectics of the "self" and the "other", the two meanings are actually intimately related. The dialectic can operate in substantially different ways under different conditions. We should be interested in "communally charged" stories to understand this dialectic as it operated under conditions of partition.

Bhalla, unfortunately, does not do that. For him, "communally charged" stores are the "opposite" of the stories of the moral "survivors", and he judges them accordingly. He goes to the extent of calling them "graceless" stories. He includes just a few of these in order to acknowledge that they do exist, and then declares: "I have deliberately excluded from this anthology other communal stories". If this does not amount to moral censorship on the part of the editor, we have no other explanation for such an editorial policy either.

Such an attitude certainly helps in lending credence to the charge of the sceptics that fiction fails to provide firm enough archival base to write history bacause fiction reflects more often the attitude of the author (or the editor), always subjective, always preconditioned, secular and humanist at its best but also sentimental at its worst.

Communally charged stories are important to those of us who want to understand how the partition is "ever present" in our lives, and is present in myriad ways: during cricket matches between India and Pakistan, each one of which is viewed by viewers on both sides as another war; during the boot-stamping ritual on the border check posts that we earlier described; on the inhospitable Siachen glacier where lives are lost everyday to maintain vigil against threats to the "sacred land", and in the in hysteria created during the Kargil conflict.

In all these situations "nationalism" and "communalism" (religious sectarianism) blend so completely that it is impossible to separate them at all. Partition produced these two kinds of emotions together, or even as one two-sided emotion. Call it ugly or what you will, these are two ways in which people have typically re-deemed their lives as a whole not by personal redemption but by merging, even dissolving, the personal self into the communal/national collective self.

If those who study history of partition through the oral narratives or works of fiction have failed to take note of this kind of re-deeming, it, is not because its instances are difficult to find — for these are everywhere — but because they decided not to take notice. In making such selective reading, they are no less guilty than the conventional nationalist historians who "in their patriotic... magnified the virtues and minimised the defects of their own people".

Bhalla includes in his anthology the largest number of stories belonging to the second type, the stories of rage and hopelessness. Is this incidental or deliberate? Is it that how more writers were given to respond to partition in this way or is it that such writers are the editor’s personal favourites?

We might get a clue if not an answer to these questions if we take notice of what Bhalla finds common to these stories: "These stories offer no historical explanation for the carnage and see no political necessity for the suffering.... as if partition had not only shattered the narrative continuity of the traditions of the nation in which the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims had defined their individual and communal identities, but it had ensured that it will never again be possible for anyone to imagine a community in which serious moral and political choices valid for all can be made".

When we read this statement closely we see in it several strands of assumptions and inferences. First, there is the assumption of a pre-existing nation with its traditions and continuities. Second, it is assumed that individual members of different communities and the communities themselves defined their self-identities within and as part of this pre-existing nation. Finally, when these assumptions proved false with violence and partition the writers are left with no political or historical explanation whatsoever, or even with the possibility of constructing explanations. No wonder that the writers are driven to write what is at best "ironic in tone" but "still fragmentary in nature".

Why did so many writers of fiction subscribe to these assumptions which led them sadly but inevitably to write stories of sheer "rage and helplessness?" One answer that comes immediately to mind is that, barring exceptions, writers of fiction are, as a rule, politically naive, in that their fictional imagination works within the hegemonic political ideologies of the time. Even though not very complimentary to the writer’s own sense of creative autonomy, this does sound like a fairly valid explanation for this kind of fiction.

Fiction writers made such assumptions because the dominant ideology of the time was indeed nationalism which presumed that as an "ancient nation" India possessed what nationalist historians routinely described as "composite culture", a culture which not only tolerated but also accommodated within its fold diverse communal and personal identities. After naming some prominent literary personalities who upheld this view, Bhalla thinks it no longer necessary to mention more because, "One could add endlessly to the catalogue of the people who thought that the notion of a unified state, with its multiplicity of religious, social or moral ideals, had legitimacy, not only because it made good sense, but also because it was derived from a long practice of living together."

Bhalla is clearly a part of this "endless catalogue". He believes in this theory of composite national culture as an incontestable historical truth: "Indeed, one can assert with confidence that the dominant concerns of the Hindu and Muslim intellectuals throughout the 19th century and until about 1935, were more with creating free spaces for enlightened thought than with confining people within their narrow religious identities".

Bhalla’s fourth set of stories are about "retrieval of memories". What distinguishes this set from the previous one is that writers here "accept without ambiguity the fact of the partition as an irreversible part of our geopolitical reality", and having done that, "draw upon their historical, cultural and personal memories to organise their narratives in the hope that such narratives would humanise us and so persuade us to find a way out to a different future". As an example of this genre, he describes Intizar Husain as a writer who, "Like all fine writers, ... wants to give back to us a world in which we can cultivate reason and our moral goodness; but like all fine writers, he also knows how difficult that task really is and how often we fall into evil."

"Cultivating reason and moral order" and "falling into evil" are Bhalla’s descriptions. Our suggestion would only be that rather than juxtaposing these two scenarios in opposition as if one was the potential and the other the pitfall, we should recognise that they are two alternative ways of redeeming lives that survivors have to choose from. If one fails, they inevitably turn to the other. Having made this point, one could not agree more with his conclusion. "How we read ... these stories ... will determine the kind of politics we choose to practise in the future."

Derivative text  Rejoinder

This is in response to H.P. Sinha’s reaction to my review article entitled "Translator as writer..." Translation is an exercise of rewriting the so-called original. This rewriting is never a literal re-rendering, nor is it a radical departure from the contextual grid of the original. Tulsi’s Ramacharitmans is a creative version of Valmiki’s grand-narrative the Ramayana which itself is a derivative of many folk tales and beliefs.

I wonder if we can at all attribute originality to any text, written or oral. Translation needs to be seen as a dynamic process which allows the writer as translator the freedom to interpolate events and episodes to suit the matrices of time and space. It is not a question of Ramacharitmanas being 85 per cent different from the Ramayana.

Such quantification I don’t think can help us understand the dynamics of exchange between the two texts. The derivative nature of Ramacharitmanas cannot be underplayed. Of course, this is not to say that Tulsi was not a creative genius, or that Ramacharitmanas cannot be studied as an autonomous text. The derivativeness in case of Tulsi is a process of gain as it not only de-sanskritised the canonical source text, but also liberated the story of Rama from the theological fold, back to loka.



A controversial General recounts his experience
Review by Rajendra Nath

In the Line of Duty — A Soldier Remembers by Harbaksh Singh. Lancer Publications and Distributors, New Delhi. Pages 628. Rs 595.

HARBAKSH SINGH was certainly one of the best military commanders that this country has produced since independence. This well-written book by him describes his experiences in peace as well as in war. He did well as battalion and brigade commander in the 1947-48 Indo-Pak war. However, his contribution in the 1965 Indo-Pak war was of an exceptional order. It is therefore worthwhile to review his book which depicts not only his experiences in wars but his thoughts about warfare.

He highlights the shortfall in strategic thinking on the part of military commanders and it should be taken in proper spirit by the readers, as commanders in all wars often tend to disagree with each other regarding the planning and conduct of operations. This autobiographical book recounts all details of the eventful life of a distinguished commander.

He was born on October 1, 1913, in Punjab. After his education in Lahore, he took his test for entry to the Indian Military Academy. He was amongst the first batch of officers commissioned from the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. He joined 5/11 Sikhs and started his military career in a war zone in the North-West Frontier Province of erstwhile British India in 1935. Later his battalion sailed for Malaya for fighting the Japanese in World War II. What was the condition in South-East Asia when the author’s battalion was deployed in Malaya in 1941? The Japanese had achieved air and naval superiority against the British in the region.

We in India have legitimately criticised our intelligence failure as well as wrong assessment regarding Pakistan’s encroachment of Indian territory in Kargil in 1999. It is interesting to note as to what was the thinking of the British military and civil authorities regarding the Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941. The Japanese forces in Indo-China were poised for an attack on Malaya anytime with superior air and naval forces. But the British High Command felt that the Japanese forces would not attack Malaya.

Surprisingly, the British military authorities down the line fully agreed with this assessment. So the forces were preparing their defences on the border and the coastline to deal with the Japanese invasion, while discounting the chance of invasion from Indo-China. The British felt that these ships were perhaps heading for Thailand and not for Malaya! When the Japanese did land their forces in Malaya, the British commanders were totally surprised and never recovered from their earlier reverses.

No wonder, the Japanese managed to capture Malaya and Singapore in a short campaign. The author describes the low morale of the Australian air force pilots who would not take off from the airfields to take on the Japanese fighters.

The author did not join the Indian National Army, though he has lot of respect for the leadership qualities of Subhas Chandra Bose, with whom he had a personal meeting also. The author talks of kamikaze — the divine wind (suicide) Japanese fighter pilots —who would hit the Allied ships with their small aircraft which had explosives packed in their noses while shouting their war cry "banzai". Such fighter pilots were all volunteers.

After World War II ended, the author returned to India and attended a course at the Staff College, Quetta (now in Pakistan). He then tells us about his active role in 1947-48 Indo-Pak war. He was appointed Deputy Brigade Com-mander of 161 Infantry Brigade at Srinagar in 1947 and was in charge of the brigade till Brigadier Bogey Sen arrived to take over. As Deputy Brigade Commander, he conducted the famous battle of Shelatang on November 22, 1947, in which 1 Sikh, 4 Kumaon, a squadron of armoured cars and our air force conducted a joint operation against a few thousand raiders who had concentrated four miles west of Srinagar. It was a well-deserved success which broke the raiders’ back who ran away leaving behind over 300 dead.

Brigadier, later Lt Gen, Sen was at his Brigade HQ during the battle of Shelatang.

However, in his interesting book, "Slender was the Thread" about the operations in J&K in 1947-48, Gen Sen had claimed to have personally controlled the battle of Shelatang, though he was nowhere near the scene of the battle, according to the author. Well, war is a strange phenomenon where such things do happen, where a few senior commanders at times want to take credit for the success while scapegoats are found to pass on the blame in case of failure. No wonder Gen Har-baksh Singh is highly critical of Gen Bogey Sen whom he calls "Bogey the Bogus."

Meanwhile, Gen Kulwant Singh had taken over as GOC of the J&K forces. The author blames both Gen Sen and Kulwant Singh for not chasing the raiders well beyond Uri, actually upto Domel, near the J&K border with Pakistan, which would have secured the valley, as the raiders were on the run after their shattering defeat at Shelatang. According to the author, Gen Kulwant Singh stopped his forces at Uri and made no effort to capture Domel and Kantura which were vital for the defence of J&K. He calls these actions as Gen Kulwant Singh’s great follies. He feels that Gen Kulwant Singh was not a military strategist.

However, some writers have remarked that Gen Kulwant was ordered by the Army HQ to halt operations at Uri and send a strong column to Poonch to save it from the raiders, as large number of refugees from Pakistan had collected there. Whatever the reasons for halting the troops at Uri, it was indeed a grave mistake on India’s part to do so, for it allowed Pakistan to retain a part of the Jhelum valley.

The author then took over 1 Sikh Battalion which fought very well under his able command. It was awarded many decorations also, the author himself was given Vir Chakra for the successful operation in capturing Tithwal, which posed a threat to Pak-held Kashmir.

According to the author, Pakis-tan’s action in capturing the northern area from Gilgit, Skardu and upto Kargil was facilitated by the communal hatred amongst the J&K state force units, where the Muslim elements joined the Pakistani forces, enabling them to capture the large northern part of J&K. The author criticises Gen Kulwant Singh for not sending a strong enough force to recapture Skardu which was surrounded by Pak forces. We sent a few companies of various J&K state forces units under a Lt Col from the Indian Army which were ambushed en route. Even Gen Thimayya who took over later on, took little interest in recapturing Skardu, nor did the Western Command for that matter, which is a pity, for Indian army never sent a proper force to recapture Skardu. The Skardu fort fell after a gallant resistance of over six months, the Pakistani forces then occupied area upto Kargil. The Indian Army has always neglected the northern part of J&K. No wonder we had a serious problem again in northern J&K in and around Kargil in 1999.

As regards the 1962 India-China war, the author rightly criticises the Indian commanders who agreed to set up small check posts along India-China border to stop further occupation of our territory by the Chinese. These were quickly overrun by the Chinese. After the Chinese had run over the forward Indian brigade at Nam ka Chu, 4 Infantry Division troops fell back while Gen Kaul was evacuated on medical grounds. Gen Harbaksh Singh was then appointed GOC 4 Corps in place of Kaul. He energetically started visiting forward areas and laid down his policy of holding of certain important features in Sela-Bomdi La area as well as in the Walong sector. Before Gen Harbaksh could implement his plans, Gen Kaul returned along with his personal doctor and took over 4 Corps from him. The rest is history.

Gen Harbaksh Singh was posted to 33 Corps which was not involved in the 1962 war. It would have been much better if Gen Harbaksh Singh had been allowed to command IV Corps and not the physically unfit Gen Kaul, but that was not to be. The country and the Army had to pay the price.

The 1965 war was his glorious hour in his otherwise bright career. He was fortunate to have served in Western Command from 1947 onwards in various command and staff appointments. This had given him an insight into the problems of the theatre of operations. This must have been of great help to a capable commander like Harbaksh Singh.

Perhaps the best portion of the book deals with the 1965 Indo-Pak war in which the author played a vital role. In 1965, the Western Command consisted of J&K as well as the entire western border with Pakistan upto the Rann of Kutch. So Harbaksh commanded all the forces that fought against Pakistan in 1965 and he did well by the country indeed.

The planning against a likely Pakistan attack in J&K had been carried out in advance. It was decided that in case of a Pak attack in J&K, India would retaliate by attacking Pakistan in Punjab. There were differences of opinion between Gen Harbaksh Singh and Gen Chaudhury who was Chief of Army Staff. Harbaksh wanted to attack in the Lahore sector with XI Corps upto the Ichhogil Canal, while 1 Corps would attack Pakistan across the Ravi between Gurdaspur and Pathankot. This would allow Gurbaksh to have sizeable reserves in Punjab to deal with any eventuality. Gen Chaudhury felt that 1 Corps should attack from J&K in the north from the area Jammu-Samba while XI Corps would attack in Punjab. He was afraid that an assault by two infantry divisions and an armoured division across a river obstacle, could pose major administrative as well as tactical problems. So it was decided by the Army HQ that XI Corps would attack in Punjab and 1 Corps with the armoured division from the Jammu-Samba side.

Pakistan had a better quality of weapon systems in 1965 due to liberal US help while India had superiority in numbers, but its equipment comparatively was out of date. Pakistan was hopeful of success as it was Pakistan which started the war. Pakistan felt that the performance of Indian forces would be of the same order as was the case during the 1962 India-China war. However, good fighting qualities of our brave soldiers and officers and excellent leadership of senior commanders resulted in Pakistan’s losing much more area as well as much useful equipment like the latest Patton tanks.

The 1965 war is well illustrated in this book. Of course, there were serious differences of opinion between Gen Harbaksh Singh and Gen Chaudhury but this did not affect the outcome of the war. But such differences often occur during wars. In World War II, after the successful Normandy landing, Mont-gomery recommended that the Allied armies should advance towards Germany on a narrow front and try to capture Berlin by making a deep but narrow thrust. Eisen-hower’s thinking prevailed. The controversy whether Gen Chau-dhury gave the orders to Gen Har-baksh Singh to withdraw behind the Beas will be cleared only when the Government of India publishes the official account of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Unfortunately, there were differences of opinion between Gen Harbaksh Singh and his well qualified and experienced Chief of Staff Gen Joginder Singh during the 1965 war.

The fact that the Western Com-mand controlled the war well proves the point that it functioned in an efficient manner. As a matter of fact in the 1965 war, the Pakistan’s war machine suffered heavy losses, particularly its tank fleet while its ammunition stock was very low when Pakistan accepted the ceasefire. Prime Minister Shastri was highly impressed by Gen Harbaksh Singh’s performances and so was the nation. If Shastri had lived, Gen Harbaksh might have been given a place of honour by the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Gen Harbaksh Singh has done well by leaving behind his experiences of war to younger generations of officers by writing this book. Incidentally, the royalties from this book will be donated to Can Support, a registered cancer charity.


Kashmir: Issues at stake
Review by Bimal Bhatia

Terrorism: An Instrument of Foreign Policy by Kshitij Prabha. South Asian Publishers, New Delhi. Pages viii+185. Rs 185.

DIDN’T Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee in his address to the joint session of US Congress highlight the menace of trans-border terrorism? He talked about how nations have fashioned the medieval concept of waging a "religious war" or jehad into an "instrument of state policy". This is a concern which President Bill Clinton voiced separately as did Russian President Vladimir Putin more recently during their Delhi visit.

Sharing India’s concern over Kashmir, President Putin put in an appreciative word for India’s intent on forming a collective front against terrorism, which, he said, had spread itself from the "Philippines to Kosovo to Kashmir to Afghanistan to the northern Caucasus".

The increase in terrorist attacks against India, sponsored by Pakistan after the Kargil conflict and the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi, are examples of terrorism being utilised by Pakistan as an instrument of its foreign policy objectives vis-a-vis India. It is in this context that J.N. Dixit, in his foreword, considers this book not only timely but a very relevant contribution to the study of the dangerous and destabilising phenomenon of terrorism.

Kshitij Prabha, an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, has earlier worked on a UGC-sponsored project on ‘‘Narco-terrorism: case of monetary transactions with special reference to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India’’. She is currently researching on ‘‘Transnational terrorism: implications for India’s security’’.

In this book she devotes the first three chapters to introduce the challenging topic and dilate on the conceptual aspects of terrorism and the use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. Covered in the subsequent chapters is the promotion of terrorism in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

In pursuit of its foreign policy objectives several instruments are available to a nation. Diplomacy, propaganda, international law and organisations, foreign aid and overt warfare are some of the acceptable means through which nations realise their foreign policy goals. These conventional approaches often do not yield results because of ambiguity of approach or prevailing hostility, about which Prabha has prepared a model and cites several examples.

India’s diplomatic approach to China has a spot of ambiguity. While on the one hand the government intends to normalise relations with China the Defence Minister’s remark that China is India’s enemy number one has scuttled the process somewhat. Hostility is an impediment to diplomacy, and Indo-Pak animosity comes out as the example of how diplomatic efforts can be consistently stonewalled.

Propaganda fails to realise foreign policy goals because of its self-contradictory nature and false propagation of facts and ideas. For instance, Pakistan’s propaganda against human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir which, even if it is the case, is mainly because of terrorism caused by Pakistan’s involvement which contradicts its allegations. Put differently, Pakistan accuses India for human rights violations caused due to an environment created by Pakistan itself.

War often fails to achieve its objectives because of parity in forces, as between the USA and the Soviet Union during the Korean war. Also resulting in a failure to achieve objectives through war is the formulation of ambiguous aims, as in the Gulf war. The USA went to war as the liberator of Kuwait, but it also wanted to oust Saddam Hussain and destroy Iraq’s chemical weapons capability.

When conventional means fail terrorism has been resorted to as an alternative means to achieve results. Aimed at destabilising an established government with violence and conspiracy, terrorism threatens international body politic.

Israel has evolved in the midst of terrorism, which Palestine used as a weapon to claim its territorial right. Israel’s foreign policy was thus centred on the need to counter terrorism. Even the USA which worked towards countering terrorism in West Asia, resorted to terror tactics in the pursuit of its objectives in South America.

The best example of escalation of terrorism in the post-cold war scene is the use of Afghan mujahideen by Pakistan to achieve its goal in Jammu and Kashmir. The stockpile of arms and ammunition siphoned by Pakistan from its Afghanistan kitty, supplied by the USA, to Kashmir gave it the low-cost option to bleed India with those "thousand cuts".

Terrorism has never been an end but means to a political end, in which there may be associated social or economic objectives to achieve. Prabha’s academic research comes through vividly as she dilates on the conceptual aspects of terrorism in the first three chapters.

Pakistan’s promotion of terrorism in Punjab was inspired by three major objectives: creation of a separate Sikh state; to discredit India’s secular credentials; and, fragment India. Creation of a friendly "Khalistan" was of strategic importance to Pakistan. Scholars in Pakistan believe that the absence of a barrier on the Indo-Pak border is dangerous for the security of Pakistan which has always perceived a threat from India. Khalistan as a buffer state would provide it with this barrier and ensure its territorial integrity.

As an aim plus, the carving out of Khalistan would severe the communication links of Jammu and Kashmir from the rest of India and help Pakistan to annex the northern state to avenge the secession of East Pakistan.

Thus Pakistan’s goals in Punjab were different from what it is now pursuing in J & K. Likewise, the nature of terrorism it tried in Punjab differed from what it is now sponsoring in Kashmir. Religious propaganda did not work in Punjab while in Kashmir it is the most dominant strand. In the chapter on Pakistan’s promotion of terrorism in Punjab, the reader is given a comprehensive background — the emergence of Sant Bhindranwale, political game of Indira Gandhi and the inseparable link of religion with politics in Punjab, before being led on to the analysis of Pakistan’s game plan.

In the chapter on Pakistan’s use of terrorism in Kashmir, Prabha argues that Pakistan’s sole objective in Kashmir is territorial. She adds that the challenges as perceived by Pakistan from India are: (a) to maintain territorial integrity and (b) India’s efforts to undo the politics of religion.

It is true that in the beginning Indian leaders could not reconcile themselves to partition. But after the creation of Bangladesh the question of territorial challenge to Pakistan did not arise. After the Bangladesh war Indira Gandhi made it clear that Pakistan is a reality and there is no logic for Pakistani leaders to think in terms of a territorial threat from India. On the ideological front, Indian secularism is considered a threat to a theocratic Pakistan.

The accession of J & K will therefore help Pakistan to reassert the two-nation theory which was put on its head in 1971, apart from avenging its inglorious bifurcation. J&K would compensate Pakistan for the loss of its eastern wing.

Having failed in its attempts to grab Kashmir through the political process and three wars, Pakistan is deploying terrorism as the ultimate weapon. In a systematic ploy to put a pincer of subversion and terrorism in J&K, General Zia implemented the plan defined by Indian defence analysts as "Operation Topac".

India is the victim of Pakistan’s proxy war, which our hostile western neighbour has employed as a low-cost option. While India has succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the diplomatic arena, signs of fatigue are slowly but surely showing up in the Indian Army, which is the main agency to counter the proxy war.

Are terrorists freedom fighters? This is an extreme dilemma because one man’s terrorist could be another’s freedom fighter. If terrorism in sovereign countries is identified as freedom fighting, it will tantamount to encouraging growth of sub-nationalism and vivisection of a state, opines the author.

In the ultimate analysis, while one may introspect and grope for the ideal counter-terrorism strategy, it would be useful to recount that it was possible for Pakistan to wage its war of insurgency and terrorism in J & K only after the conditions were made conducive for such an interference by India’s own neglect of the state and its people in more ways than would have been expected by the gladdened hearts of India-baiters in adjoining Pakistan.


Book extract
Organised idleness is good for society

This is an article written by Bertrand Russell in 1933 and included as a chapter in one of his books.

LIKE most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached.

Everyone knows the story of the traveller in Naples who saw 12 beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the 12th. This traveller was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people’s mouths and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread.

What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people’s mouths in spending as he takes out of other people’s mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilised governments consists of payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economic habits is to increase the armed forces of the state to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed and produce something useful this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labour, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself.

If he spent his money, say, in hosting parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money such as the butcher, the baker and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface cars in some place where surface cars turn out to be not wanted, he has diverted a mass of labour into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through the failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.

All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organised diminution of work.

First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organised bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing — that is, of advertising.

Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the labour of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.

From the beginning of civilisation until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than what was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labour as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessities was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by warriors and priests.

In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger. This system persisted in Russia until 1917, and still persists in the East; in England, in spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until a hundred years ago when the new class of manufacturers acquired power. In America, the system came to an end with the Revolution, except in the South, where it persisted until the Civil War.

A system which lasted so long and ended so recently has naturally left a profound impress upon men’s thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small priviliged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.

It is obvious that in primitive communities peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted with the slender surplus upon which the warriors and priests subsisted, but would have either produced less or consumed more. At first, sheer force compelled them to produce and part with the surplus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to induce many of them to accept an ethic according to which it was their duty to work hard, although part of their work went to support others in idleness. By this means the amount of compulsion required was lessened, and the expenses of government were diminished. To this day, 99 per cent of British wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it were proposed that the king should not have a larger income than a working man.

The concept of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own. Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilisation which would have been impossible under a just economic system.

Leisure is essential to civilisation, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labours of the many. But their labours were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilisation.

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessities of life for everyone. This was made obvious during a war. At that time all men in the armed forces, all men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the war were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of physical well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the allies was higher than before or since.

The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that by the scientific organisation of production it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organisation, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of work had been cut down to four, all would have been well.

Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.

This is the morality of the slave state applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before.

But in the actual world this would be thought demoralising. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is ensured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early 19th century, 15 hours was the ordinary day’s work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did 12 hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: "What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work." People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists and is the source of much of our economic confusion.

Let us, for a moment, consider the ethics of work frankly, without superstition. Every human being, of necessity, consumes, in the course of his life, a certain amount of the produce of human labour. Assuming, as we may, that labour is on the whole disagreeable, it is unjust that a man should consume more than he produces. Of course he may provide services rather than commodities, like a medical man for example; but he should provide something in return for his board and lodging. To this extent, the duty of work must be admitted, but only to this extent.

I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work — namely, all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.

If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody, and no unemployment — assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organisation. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure. In America men often work long hours even when they are already well off; such men, naturally, are indignant at the idea of leisure for wage-earners, except as the grim punishment of unemployment; in fact, they dislike leisure even for their sons. Oddly enough, while they wish their sons to work so hard as to have no time to be civilised, they do not mind their wives and daughters having no work at all. The snobbish admiration of uselessness, which, in an aristocratic society, extends to both sexes, is under a plutocracy, confined to women; this, however, does not make it any more in agreement with common sense.

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilisation and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will be bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.

In the new creed which controls the government of Russia, while there is much that is very different from the traditional teaching of the West, there are some things that are quite unchanged. The attitude of the governing classes, and especially of those who conduct educational propaganda on the subject of the dignity of labour is almost exactly that which the governing classes of the world have always preached to what were called the "honest poor". Industry, sobriety, willingness to work long hours for distant advantages, even submissiveness to authority, all these reappear; moreover authority still represents the will of the ruler of the universe, who, however, is now called by a new name, dialectical materialism.