The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, October 29, 2000
Books

A Utopian poet of reforms
Review by Jaspal Singh

Hitler: why he dominated?
Review by V.N.Datta

A Buddhist tale retold
Review by
Jaswant Kaur

When politicos are witty
Review by Kuldip Kalia

From herbs to healthy living
Review by Uma Vasudeva

Of heart, soul and money matters
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Widows: the price of singlehood
Review by Ashu Pasricha

 

 

 

Punjabi Literature
A Utopian poet
of reforms
Review by Jaspal Singh

"AGAN Katha" (Jaswant Printers, Ludhiana) is the seventh collection of poems by Gurbhajan Gill, a Ludhiana-based poet. Among his earlier collections "Surakh Samundar" and "Bol Mitti dia Bavia" were well received by literary critics.

"Agan Katha" (the tale of fire) carries 36 long and short poems and 21 ghazals. Gillís poetry is one of commitment to social revolution which alone can bring about a qualitative change in life which now is being plagued by many evils like cultish superstitions, criminalised politics, unethical economic practices and vulgarisation of culture.

The revolution that Gill aspires to make is of a subdued nature verging more on a reformatory movement than a sweeping socio-political change in the manner of a classical revolution (a la French Revolution of 1789).

Gill says, "Jang tan aje larhni hai/Una kalian karur taaktan de khilaf/Jinah ne dasuti chadar kadhdian/Merian bhaina bhatijian kolon/Rangeen dhage walian attian khohian..." (We have to wage a war against those dark forces that have deprived my sisters and nieces of the colourful embroideries). The poet wants to make war against all the weapons, including kirpans (swords) and trishuls (tridents) which strip the plants of boughs, leaves, flowers and fruit. The war must go on against all those superstitious ó charms, spells, talismans, jinxes and hexes that mislead the simple folk and throw them into a bottomless abyss of suicidal ignorance.

We have to fight against the so-called liberalisation also that has unleashed multinational predators on us. We must make war against our own meanness that has dehumanised the great mass of our people and also against those manipulators cosily ensconced in Yojana Bhawan. We have to fight against the tribe of modern cannibals who have gobbled up our entire generation.

We must fight against that blind dog which keeps on barking at the wind day in day out. We have to fight against the misleading media blitz that befuddles our consciousness and also against those literary trends and issues which distract the writer from writing the truth about the people.

This longish poem is the gist of Gurbhajan Gillís philosophy of life. The poems which follow repeat the same message though in different forms and metaphors. The poem "Sehran vich guach gaye han" succinctly summerises the sense of nostalgia of a sensitive mind when he goes back to his village after having lived for years among the jostling crowd of the city. The waving crops in fields remind the poet of his affection for his parents and other kin and even for trees and plants.

It also leads him to think about the fate of a mother who brings up her children with milk, honey and prayers and when the fledglings grow wings, they take flight leaving the hapless mother behind.

A poem addressed to Guru Gobind Singh brings forth the poetís sense of helplessness in a life plagued by lust, wrath, avarice and egotism. He says we have lost the Guruís message during last 300 years. "Na surat, na sirat palle/Tote tote soch te chintan/Garjan de jangal vich gum/ne/ukhre tan-man." (We have lot both form and content. Our thinking is fragmented and our bodies and minds have lost their way in the thick forest of puerile wants and desires.) The poet now does not feel at home at Anandpur Sahib nor does the blood-soaked soil of Chamkaur Sahib inspire him. He has forgotten the message of the entombed "flowers" in the walls of Sirhind.

The great patriarch of Chandni Chowk reminds us time and time again of the link between the victim and the persecutor. Through these historical allusions, the poet espouses the cause of those who cannot light lamps in their houses since the oil in the lamps has dried up and crows have made off with the cotton wicks. He gives a call to the conscientious people around to visit those dark houses in order to inspire and arouse the inmates to confront the omnivorous predators.

"Parchhawen nahi pharhide" (donít run after shadows) is one of the most sensitive poems in this collection. The poet says, "Tu milen tan suraj da tap tez/sham wele vi jhalia nahi janda/Awaz vich jaan pai jandi hai/Suk rahi vel nu pani milan wang/Baat nu hungara milan wang/Bujh rahe dive vich tel pain wang" (When you meet me, the sun shines brighter and remains as such till evening. My words are animated as if a dying creeper gets a trickle of water or a passionate speaker gets a responsive listener or a dying flame gets a few drops of oil. We meet like the sky and the earth meet at the horizon).

It seems that when the poet diverts his attention from social problems and addresses his own intrinsic being, he becomes more poetic and his imagination undergoes a qualitative change. He avers: "Tere kol hundian bilkul uwen hunda hai/Jiwen phulan vich rang bharda hai/Raat rani mehkdi hai/Amban, anguran, anaran vich ras tapkada hai/Garib te jawani aundi hai/Andassi analani jang wang/Karumbal phutdi hai jiwen basant rutte/Jiwen kanak de sitian vich duddh bharda hai/Duddh ton dane bande ne/Jiwen makki suut katdi hai/Tande di dhak on chhalli palmdi hai/Kaatthe kamaad vich ras bharda hai."

(When I am with you I feel like a colourful flower, like the "raat ki rani" emitting fragrance all around, like the mangoes, grapes and pomegranates filled with juice, like the dawning of stormy youth that appears like an undeclared war, like the tender shoots appearing on the plants in the spring, like the milk filling the tender wheat and milky sap turning into grain, like corncobs spinning a golden yarn and the ears of corn embracing the stalks and like the raw sugarcane packed with juice. But all this is like chasing the shadows since this was not to be. The old mother advises her son to be himself and stop chasing the elusive shadows.)

In another poem, the poet meditates on the destiny of old parents whose sons have settled abroad ó a very common situation in Punjab.

The poem "Puttar tan pardes gaye ne" (The sons have settled abroad) brings out this tragic irony. The parents make desperate efforts to help their sons migrate, particularly to the USA, Canada, Britain or any country in the European Union. They take loan, sell their land and borrow from friends.

After the initial trials and tribulations the sons comfortably settle down but the aging parents are left in the lurch. They have nobody to look after them in their old age. Sometime the sons visit the parents but only for a few weeks or the parents visit the sons that too for a few weeks. The western individualistic way of life repels the old people. They feel homesick and get back to India as soon as possible. But here they miss their sons and grandchildren. The mother impatiently waits for the telephone to ring. The son expresses his helplessness to visit her in the coming winter. Her eyes well up and with an aching heart she wishes best of life to her son.

Gurbhajan Gillís ghazals are a little different from contemporary ghazalgos in Punjabi. The ghazals transcend the usual romantic strain and hence there are no gasping squeals of love-lorn hearts. They are also free from the "sharab" and "shawab" cliche, so popular with Urdu poets.

Most of the couplets either spell out a universal truth or phenomenon or carry a social message, usually a paradox or a predicament that leaves behind a feeling of anguish. Quest for meaning and purpose in life is another favourite concern of the poet.

Now with the advent of the new millennium many writers have woken up to environmental concerns. Gill does not lag behind. Perhaps he has taken a cue from his mentor Surjit Pattar.

While reading these poems one thing irks a sensitive soul a little ó that is, Gillís bluntness and blatantly transparent indictment of things and phenomena that do not fit in his scheme of things. Most of the issues that he deals with are obvious and they are presented in a loud tone.

His metaphors and symbols, most of the time, are unilayered. A candid statement about the obvious without much aesthetic finesse makes the writing a little screamy. Creativity in literature begins with second level articulation and it has endless semantic layers. Artistic finesse is always subdued and disciplined but metaphorically polysemic, unleashing an atomic chain reaction in the mind of the reader.

Gill has made up for all this by inculcating other qualities. He is a good organiser of literary functions and is one of the main organisers of Prof Mohan Singh mela in Ludhiana. This particular fair is perhaps the only celebration organised to commemorate the contribution of a poet to the language and culture of Punjab. One such celebration was started in Chandigarh as well in the form of chrysanthemum show in memory of Bhai Vir Singh, one of the greatest poets in Punjabi, at the terraced garden in Sector 33. But sadly, the organisers have forgotten all about the great poet (a lover of guldaudis) and they no longer dedicate the fair to his memory. It only M.S. Randhawa were around to remind the officials of its importance!

 

 

Off the shelf
Hitler: why he dominated?
Review by V.N.Datta

THE unification of Germany was one of the greatest and most significant events of the 20th century. Nobody could foresee that after its collapse in 1945 followed by its division, Germany would ever be united and emerge as a sovereign independent country ready to throw its weight around in international politics.

But history has many surprises and there operate in human affairs forces of contingency which produce displacements in international politics and create situations just the opposite of what is apprehended or expected. It was only given to the genius of a statesman like Edmund Burke who could forsee the disastrous results of the French Revolution which was generally hailed as a new age and the dawn of a new era.

The work under review, "Hitler (1936-1945): Nemesis" by Ian Kershaw (Allen Lane, £ 25) is a sequel to the first volume "Hitlerís Hubriss", in which the author had focussed primarily on Hitlerís rise to power from 1933 to 1936, and his emergence as the unquestioned leader of Germany, who by his grand vision, evocation of their past glory and his extraordinary oratorical skills had enthused, enchanted and enthralled the people. That part of the story was told in The Tribune earlier.

The second part of the story is now unfolded with magisterial authority by Kershaw with profound erudition and dramatically in a convincing way.

The earlier part of this study deals with the occupation of Austria, the Sudetenland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia which whetted Hitlerís lust for power and fired the imagination of the Germans to put their trust in his grandiose schemes for the glory of Germany. By using hitherto unpublished source material from the Soviet archives, Kershaw breaks new ground in dealing with the Nazi brutality during the occupation of Poland, where by the end of the war, three million Polish Jews were dead. This grim, sordid account is described vividly and with sensitivity.

In Hitlerís political vocabulary which he carefully crafted, the words "Jews" and "Bolshevism" were synonymous. The Germans had an inveterate hatred against the Jews but also feared Bolshevism. Kershaw shows by producing formidable evidence from Russian and the former East Germany archives how fear and hatred were generated and used by Hitler and his cronies for the extirpation of the Jews and warfare against Bolshevism.

The array of authentic evidence demonstrates unmistakenly (what revisionists ignore, perhaps wilfully) that Hitlerís main occupation with the Jewish problem was with the German and Austrian Jews. Before his invasion of Poland, he was not sufficiently aware of the strength and influence of the Polish and Russian Jews. Hitler wanted to get rid of what remained of Greater Germanyís Jews the outbreak of the war ó 215,000 in the old "Reich" and 60,000 in Austria.

This work sets at rest the bitter controversy that had raged about the Holocaust for which David Irving, the controversial historian, had taken a strong revisionist stand and thrown a challenge to the generally accepted view of the extermination of the Jews which Hitler had planned. Kershaw rebuts Irvingís theory with candour and without emotional arguments. Kershaw examines in detail Irvingís main thesis that Hitler was completely unaware of the extermination of the Jews until October, 1943, and that it was his fanatical and highly impetuous and irresponsible subordinates who had been provoked by the Jewish misconduct in embarking on the nefarious campaign of "ethnic cleansing".

For maintaing Hitlersí personal innocence in his treatment of Jews, Irving had cited his documented remark made in October, 1941, that the "final solution" could wait until after the war.

What Irving ignores is the occasion: in October, 1941, Hitler was at the height of power and was confident of his ultimate victory over the Allied powers, leaving him the conqueror of Europe. When the war expanded and Hitlerís armies were retreating from several fronts while hundreds of thousands of Communists, intellectuals, Jews and clergy were being shot, other methods of killing had to be devised in order to inflict maximum casualties with the minimum of resources. The object was to produce quick results.

The author acknowledges that Hitler, though cognisant of all the decisions taken, was carefully kept away from anything that could personally identify him and hold him responsible for the murders in Poland and elsewhere which were to be carried out.

In support of his argument, Kershaw cites Albert Speer who knew Hitler more than any of his contemporaries. Speer, who had initially been charmed by Hitlerís charisma and had come under his spell, wrote in his memoirs that Hitler was an evil genius with demonic charisma, who would go to any length without any tinge of remorse to destroy anyone or anything that stood in his way.

Kershaw emphasises that Hitler endowed with a marvellous command of the German language and extraordinary oratorical powers, kindled imagination and ambition. Depending on his audience whom he could inspire, he could also fanatically violate by his gesticulations bordering on the incomprehensible. The listeners were so overwhelmed by the magic of his oratory that they would stand up in reverence and give a thunderous applause with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Hitlerís greatest failure was that he depended exclusively on his own judgement and refused to listen to others. To this mindset he stuck throughout the war. He was warned of the catastrophe that would fall on Germany if it invaded the Soviet Union. He was repeating Napoleonís colossal blunder of opening two long fronts which was bound to deplete his resources. But Hitler stood his ground. He was too confident to be prudent.

There were loud protests and dissents. Conspiracies were hatched to overthrow him but they all misfired. Field Marshal Fedeor von Boch was opposed to Hitlerís invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and even refused to issue the "commissiarís" order to his army. Boch was persuaded by some of his subordinates to lead a coup, but the effort failed. Of Boch, a brilliant authority on military strategy during World War II, Michael Edward wrote, "Though Boch, despite National Socialism found repellant its increasing bloodlust, he was consumed with vanity, egotism and the insignificance of character prevented him lifting his finger to overthrow a system for which he felt nothing but contempt. He was among those many whose response to the approach of conspiratorís was, "if it succeeds, Iíll support you, but I do not take the consequences of failure." That was the attitude of several of the high-ranking British army officers who fumbled and faltered and refused to act when the occasion demanded.

Kershaw castigates the West for its moral failure to understand the nefarious plans of Hitler. Of course, Winston Churchill had warned the British Cabinet of Hitlerís vaulting ambition and evil designs, but his was a voice in wilderness which was dismissed as silly rhetoric. Even Lord Halifax who was highly respectable for his integrity of character and sobriety of judgement, was pressing for an amicable settlement with Hitler in 1937-38. In Germany Hitler had caught the imagination of the German people, and those who should have known Hitler and his sinister plans and who should have resisted them, succumbed and worked in implementing them. There was no question of any disapproval or criticism!

In this work there is little of Hitlerís private life ó he had little private life ó all was public. This work throws light on his daily life which is quite well-known and has been recorded in several studies. Hitler used to have lunches with official guests, late supper and nightly tea with his close circles where he talked loud and divulged his schemes.

It appears to his listeners that his mind was congested with alternatives on a course of action, though such a course he invariably adopted to hoodwink and mislead others. On such occasions Hitler talked incessantly, then stopped, mumbled a few words, and then sat in his chair exhausted. Mostly his guests showed infinite patience and sometimes nodded their approval but they got tired of his daily rantings.

It was through his monologues that Hitler released his ideas until he convinced himself that they were right.

In his entire approach to the fundamental problems of peace and war, Hitler depended exclusively on his own judgement and suffered from the besetting sin of the conviction of infallibility which led to catastrophic consequences to himself, his country and to humankind.

 

 

A Buddhist tale retold
Review by Jaswant Kaur

Yashovarman - A Novel by Sanjay Sonawani. Pushpa Prakashan, New Delhi. Pages 179. Rs 150.

"Yashovarman" is a story of a king who conquers several lands but gets trapped in the mess created by his own misdeeds. In order to escape the agonies of guilt, he renounces his throne and goes to a remote island to spend his last years. Even then he cannot get rid of his sense of guilt. Destiny plays a cruel joke on him and his past repeats itself all over again, thereby reopening his old wounds.

The novel starts with a brief description of the island and its surroundings. It is evening and Ketumal is sitting on a rock enjoying the beauty of nature. Ketumal is one of the three servants the king has on the island. He had left the capital city of Rajghriha to overcome his sorrows, but he is lost in the memories of his beloved Yashomala who had left him because he was of a low caste. He was fed up with the solitude of life and wanted to go back to his native land but he cannot do so as he had promised to serve the king till he death.

Sinhabhadra, the second servant, is totally different from Ketumal. He has features of a scriptorís dream and leads a philosophical life. He admires the beauty of nature. He mocks at Ketumal who is always sad and lost in the memories of a beautiful girl who spurned his love. He hears the waves of the sea singing, the leaves whispering and the sun covering the earth with rays of hope. His life is calm and peaceful.

Ballav is the third servant. He is the cook and speaks very little. He has an oily body, potbellied, wears dirty clothes. He is only seen during meals.

King Yashovarman has grown old. His face is wrinkled and has lost its royal glow. In his opinion, love is the biggest curse of youth. It creates a longing for some external beauty, weakening the other strengths of youth. He accepts the truth that every man needs a woman. But when a man feels that woman is only his and life without her becomes a desert,all that it leads to heartbreak. It seems that the king has gone through a sad experience which has led him to form this opinion about love.

Ketumal reacts in a very different way to the kingís views. Although he is very sad and disappointed by the rejection by his beloved, he still believes that love is something which is very sacred and eternal in the destructive nature of life.

The winter is about to end. The sky is changing. The trees are bursting with sprouts. The sun becomes scorching. The kingís heart is filled with sorrow. At times he prays to God to set him free from this life which is full of restlessness caused by his past sins. He says it is now almost impossible for him to live for even one minute. He reads scriptures and the works of great poets which he has brought with him from the capital. But he is not able to find an answer to his problems from the teachings of the scriptures. He has set up a huge empire. He loved his people and was loved by them. He had talented people to add to the grace of his kingdom. He was very kind to the kings whom he had defeated and had never ill-treated them. He never ridiculed Buddhim which was his biggest enemy. Even then he had to face turmoil which forced him to leave his empire and take refuge in a lonely island.

This part of story creates lot of suspense. It compels the reader to think over a few questions. What kind of problems did the king have? What was the solution that he wanted? What was those sins which preyed on his mind? What made him leave his empire and lead a lonely life?

The king often goes back into his childhood. He remembers the foothills of a mountain and his village. He was a son of a soldier. His father used to stay away from home fighting frequent wars. His mother was a very brave woman and encouraged him to handle weapons. She is of the view that wars feed the hungry stomachs and the talk of God is a farce. She dreams of her son becoming a top order official of the Kosal army and a woman from a high family serving him. Her motherís dream becomes his ultimate goal and he becomes a true warrior.

Then he suddenly comes back to his present and looks outside the window of the mansion in which he lives. He is surprised to see Ketumal moving in the forest below. He is angry that his servant does not obey his orders. But he recovers soon thinking that there is no use losing his temper. He is a king without a throne and no one will obey his orders sincerely.

Ketumal looks at the setting sun and heaves a sigh of relief as the heat is not all that intense in the forest. He feels that he is present in the island but still he is absent. He feels the footsteps of Yashomala. Her silent and imaginary laughter reopens his old wounds.

To escape from his sufferings he wants to jump from a rock and embrace death. But then Ballav appears and his life is saved.Both of them start walking back to the forest.

Ketumal sits on a rock and goes back to his past where he can find Yashomala.

This shows how deeply Ketumal loved Yashomala. He is very much depressed. She did not want to marry him because he belonged to a low caste. Life is no more meaningful.

The story takes a different turn from here. The change in the story is accompanied by a change in the season. The monsoon has started. A pigeon is seen in the sky which carries a royal message. The king takes the message and reads it.

It is from king Kunal, son of Yashovarman, and carries the seal of Magadh. He is married and seeks his blessing. The queen of Magadh is very beautiful and is the daughter of traitor Mahaketa who was punished but ran away. It also informs him that Kumal and Yashomala would come to the island for seeking his blessings.

The king is filled with anger, hatred and disappointment on reading the message. He collapses. He feels that the shadow of his sins would never leave him. It looks as if his past is repeating itself.

Then he gets lost in his memories when he joined the army and was eager to prove his strength. Soon he became an army commander and the new king of Kosal respected him. His parents were worried about his marriage but not he. He paid attention only to wars and his own heroic deeds. Then one day he met princess Mahadevi and he fell in love with her.

After a few days he received a letter from the princess saying she also loves him but she is a princess and would marry only prince. He asked her to give him one year to come to her as a king and marry her.

His life has changed. Without thinking over the right or wrong, he left the kingdom and started moving towards Rajgriha. Rajgriha was once very prosperous but now has no human life. What life there was of foxes, dogs flowerless gardens, dried lakes and silence. He decides to re-establish the kingdom of Magadh. He starts clearing up the lakes, building new houses, and chasing away foxes and dogs. The empire takes new shape and again becomes prosperous.

The kings of Assam, Bengal, Mithila and Kashi launch their armies against the kingdom. He defeats them one by one and establishes the new empire.

After one year, he goes back to Kosal as the king of a huge empire and marries the princess. Immediately after his marriage he gets busy with wars. The king of Kosal sends many slaves and soldiers as gift at his marriage. Mahaketu, who was an ordinary servant, joins the army and faces the enemy with great skill. Soon he is respected by the king.

As time passes, Mahadeviís love for the king vanishes and she starts loving Mahaketu. She told the king about her love and asked for his forgiveness. He knows that it was Mahadevi who inspired him to achieve so much. When he married her he thought that he had won the battle but now he has lost it.

Mahadevi gives birth to a son, Kunal. Soon he learns that Mahaketu is Kosal kingís son, born to a maid. As such Mahaketu is the brother of Mahadevi and Mahadevi is his sister. He feels that both of them practised incest which is a sin and for this they should be punished. He awards death sentence to both of them and he goes himself to Mahadeviís house to kill her.

He climbs the minaret where she is standing. He tells her what she had done but is unable to kill her because of his love for her. So he gets back but Mahadevi jumps off and commits suicide. Mahaketu however is successful in running away to a forest and has a daughter Yashomala.

After about a week or so, Kunal and Yashomala reach the island. Ketumal and Sinhabhadra are waiting for them. As they approach the seacoast Sinhabhadraís face is expressionless while Ketumal is sad. Ketumal tells Sinhabhadra that the queen is none other than his Yashomala. At last she is successful in achieving her goal of marrying a prince.

Sinhabhadra has changed totally. He talks like a beast. He says he would kill Yashomala and the old king too and would be the only heir to the throne. He feels that the empire can be annexed only after a bloodshed. Yashvarman and Kunal have done the same to set up their the empire.

The story has a very tragic end. It is based on Buddhist tales. Buddhists opposed violence and detested weapons. According to them, people kill innocent people to establish empires. These sins never leave them alone and chase them all their life.

One cannot escape from oneís sins. They go along with him till he dies and he has to suffer because of his misdeeds.

The novel is full of sorrow and examines the seriousness of life. One cannot survive unless and until there is some hope of happiness.

The event of a girl marrying his brother or a brother marrying his sister is alien to Indian culture. The story is very unique. It throws light on the human nature of running away from his sins.

 

 

When politicos are witty
Review by Kuldip Kalia

Worldís Finest Political Wit and Humour by Suresh C. Maheshwari. Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi. Pages viii+230. Rs 450.

THE determination and thinking to perform better are by and large attributed to oneís level of intelligence. The quickness of mind sharpens the quality of action but the writing ability sparkles with wit. However, humour normally brings a smile on the face. Also it causes a great a deal of amusement.

The book under review is a collection of political wit and humour of personalities and outstanding national leaders, right from the days of the Roman empire.

In the fourth century, Philip was the ruler of Macedon in Greece. The citizens of the wealthy town of Byzantium asked him the reason of his attacking their town and he replied, "If a man has a pretty wife, does he ask why others make passes at her?" Similarly, Democritus explained the reason for his being a large man with a small wife. "In making a choice one should always choose the lesser evil."

The Spartans were known for their precise expression. Once an ambassador arrived in Sparta with his hair dyed and the king remarked, "How can one trust the words of a man who carried a lie on top of his head?"

Moreover, why did their women appear with their faces uncovered in the streets before marriage, but coveted it with a veil after marriage, a foreigner wondered! Equally strange was the reply from a Spartan. "Before marriage they have to find husbands but afterwards their husbands have to keep them."

Aristides, who was a leading statesman in the early fifth century BC, used to be away from the home most of the time because of his political compulsions. That is why his wife wanted him "to be a bit more politic at home, and a bit more homely in politics."

A sense of humour and the capacity to laugh reflect the brilliance and the Britishers were in no way inferior to anyone. Once two dukes met Richard Brinsley Sheridan in St James Street and told him that they were discussing whether Sheridan was a greater fool or a rogue. Taking each by the arm, he retorted, "Why, in faith, I believe I am between both".

Here is another example of British humour. "That depends upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistresses," replied Benjamin Disraeli when Gladstone, who was known for his witty remarks, said "Disraeli, you will end up either in the gallows or with some loathsome disease."

About Gladstonesí ministry, Disraeli once remarked, "Half of the Cabinet consists of asses". There was strong resentment in Parliament. Everyone wanted him to apologise and withdraw the remarks. Then he calmly replied, "I am sorry. Sir, half of the Cabinet does not consist of asses."

Truly speaking, Americans may be somewhat less humorous people but one cannot forget the wit and humour of President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was in Vienna, he found Khrushchev wearing a medal. On being asked, the Russian leader told him that it was the Lenin Peace Prize. The President said, "Let us hope you keep it".

Similarly, journalists wanted to know the level of fluency in English of Mao from Kissinger. Kissinger confirmed his using a few English sentences and told them that these were "sit down", "please".

In the same next ó 1972 ó when Ranga, cartoonist, wanted to have the autograph of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on his cartoon, Bhutto wrote, "A bad cartoon. I do not look anything like this. For instance, I have much more hair on my head and elsewhere." When the Pakistanis show their knack for humour, how can the Chinese be far behind? Ha Ling Tong, a Taiwanese Ambassador to the USA, offered the following two rules for a happy marriage: "The wife should love her husband less but understand him more; the husband must love his wife more and not try to understand her at all."

At the same time, the Canadians too add their bit to the world of satire, wit and humour. "I just hold my nose and mark the ballot" was the remark of Frank Underbull when asked how he could vote for the Liberals in 1967. Sir Rodmond Robin (1853-1937) analysed his performance saying, "I am opposed by all the short-haired women and the long-haired men in the province."

Let us name a few politicians and statesmen like Acharya J.B. Kripalani, C. Rajagopalachari, Krishna Menon, Sardar Patel, Piloo Mody, Bhupesh Gupta and Usha Malhotra who dominated the two Houses of Parliament with their wit and humour. Once Kriplani was exercising his lung power criticising the Congress government, one of the members reminded him that he was attacking the party which attracted his wife. Kriplani retorted, "All these years I thought Congressmen were stupid fools. I never knew they were gangsters too who ran away with otherís wives."

Rajaji had the ability to lighten the atmosphere during heated debates or tension over political controversy. When Morarji Desai presented the budget in 1963, the Opposition reacted in a different way; some said, "it was a rightist budget or a Leftist budget", but Rajagopalachari said, "Morarjiís budget is neither left nor right, but is wrong."

Similarly, Nehru was getting impatient because of delay in taking his pictures and angrily asked, "what does the photographer want us to do." Without losing time, Rajaji, who was then the Governor of West Bengal, replied, "He wants us to keep quiet, so that he can shoot us all with an easy conscience!"

V.K. Krishna Menon had the mastery of using the right word and applying the subtle with his brilliant mind even in a moment of agony. Once he said, "there is nothing common in the Commonwealth ó certainly, not wealth". Similarly, when he was asked to comment on the Pakistanís naming the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as Azad Kashmir, he said, "Names do not mean anything. You can call a man with a weak arm Armstrong."

Those who knew Sardar Patel intimately must be knowing that he had a moustache for many years. When he was asked the reason for shaving it off, Patel replied, "Canít you see? I have now become a socialist."

Who does not know Piloo Modyís touch of humour? Once Mody was standing with his back to the Chair in the House. A member objected his showing disrespect to the Chair, he in a serious tone said, "Sir, there is no question of turning my back to you. I have no front or back, I am round."

He would not mind cutting jokes at his expense even when the situation was grim. That is why the fat man said, "I am willing to accept that anybody who looks at me would not believe that there is a food problem in the country."

"What would you do if the prices of tyres and shoes showed the same trend?" asked Mr Hidayatullah when he saw a member entering the House wearing a garland of onions to protest against the high onion prices. Similarly, when Nehru emotionally declared in the House that he would not surrender an inch of territory to the Chinese, Mr H.V. Kamath asked, "Mr Prime Minister, would you tell us in your map how many miles is an inch equivalent to?" The members used to call T. T. Krishnamachari a burglar or juggler. He never resented and once said, "It does not matter very much. After all, Mahavishnu has a thousand names; I can have a few."

At a farewell, Najma Heptullah, who had resigned as Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, said in a higher vein, "Now I wonít be in the chair to give him (Mr Ashok Sen) the opportunity to call me ĎMy Ladyí.

Indian politicians, particularly the parliamentarians, have not only enlightened but also entertained the public.

 

 

From herbs to healthy living
Review by Uma Vasudeva

Home Remedies: A Hand-book of Herbal Cures for Common Ailments by T. V. Sairam. Penguin Books. Pages 344. Rs 250.

Systematic research in various systems of Indian medicine under the patronage of the government commenced in 1969 with the establishment of the Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homeopathy (CCRIMH). In 1978, this body was split into four separate research councils ó ayurveda and sidha, unani medicine, homeopathy and yoga, and naturopathy.

A recent WHO estimate reveals that around 80 per cent of the global population consume phyto-medicines, and documents a shift in emphasis from the underdeveloped to the developing countries of the world. This trend has both a negative and positive fallout in society. While the prices of useful herbs skyrocket in the developing world as their main sources are depleted, the rural poor who have long been dependent on them, find them unaffordable when compared to synthetic drugs and medicines. Even in the remote corners of rural and tribal India, we notice that branded synthetic medicines manufactured by MNCs have begun to percolate.

The author says the Indian subcontinent contains about 25,000 species of vascular plants, of which 7500 are used by folks with other traditional systems of medicine. Many plants are common to all traditional systems. Several of them are used either alone or in combination with other plants. The current regulations state that if these drugs are prepared in exactly the same way as laid down in ancient literature and if they are preserved as detailed by the texts, such drugs do not require approval of registration. The drug will however be treated as new when a different method of preparation is used.

The author has used 40 commonly used herbs in the subcontinent, some of them familiar kitchen and spice staples which have therapeutic properties. The majority of these herbs are indigenous, though some were brought into the country by invaders, colonisers and migrants. Over a period, they have merged so much with Indian gastronomy and medicine that their place of origin appears to be irrelevant.

While dealing with each herb, the author has recorded its traditional use along with recent scientific information, particularly its efficacy as a drug. A list of references from scientific research work indicating the composition and efficacy of herbs and their constituents will enable the reader to make his or her own evaluation of the relevance of both the traditional practices and the scientific literature. The "In Tradition" pages record the accepted remedies for specific ailments that draw upon each herbís unique therapeutic properties. The author in an alphabetical order classifies medical terminology and has arranged the ailments.

The book records traditional medicinal remedies that are in danger of falling into disuse in forms in which they have been handed down by generations of practitioners. Traditional household practices regarding dosage, application and combination of herbs for alleviating symptoms and curing ailments were all gathered by the author from hundreds of housewives, illiterate grandmothers, vaids, and ojhas who voluntarily came forward to reveal them, including specialised tips derived from lifetime experience. The author has included certain herbal preparations that serve as inexpensive substitutes for the chemical-based ones in the market.

There could be some confusion regarding the preparation of home remedies among lay readers. The author has attempted to explain the various procedures, processes and preparations dealt in this book.

In the traditional system of medicine, particularly the one prevalent in South India, one often comes across the practice of mixing honey with almost every herbal powder or bhasma. Honey is regarded as an essential vehicle that aids easy digestion and assimilation of the drug. Whenever honey is not available, other sweet substances such as jaggery, sugar candy, etc. are powdered and mixed with the drug. As in ayurveda, balancing of tastes is an essential phenomenon and drugs which are bitter, sour or astringent are often mixed with sweet substances and administered.

The author has given details of the preparation of resins, gums, jams, medicated oils and fats, nasal and eye drops, application of leaves, burning of plant materials and so on. For example, resins and gums are from branches of several trees, especially acasia. They are generally harvested in the dry season. The liquid exudate, which soldifies quickly, is then scrapped off the tree with a knife.

Herbal jams are solid or semi-solid preparations. The herbal paste or powder is cooked in liquid (water or milk) and ghee, and sugar syrup is added while cooking. A jam is ready when it achieves single or double thread consistency and when a dollop sinks into water without spreading. A jam made of fresh ginger is a common household remedy used to strengthen the digestive fire, while another made of dry ginger powder is used as a winter tonic. There is a variety of jams used therapeutically for digestion, diarrhoea, piles, bleeding disorders, respiratory problems, reproductive disorders, etc. Chavanaprasa, the most famous and well-known among jams, consists of mainly amla in addition to as many as 40 herbs and, at times, is fortified with even minerals. It is a rejuvenator and a remedy for debility and old age.

Nasal and eye drops are preferred for the purification in all diseases of head, lungs, throat and eyes. A good daily routine includes introduction of a couple of drops of medicated oil or ghee into the nose or eyes as the case may be. Whenever any fresh juice is required to be introduced, sufficient caution is exercised to avoid any contamination. Sterilised cotton and clean hands are a must.

The author has given details of the dosage of herbal medicines to avoid ill-effects. Prescribing the optimal dosage of the plant material for a particular ailment and for a particular patient has always been quite a challenging task for any herbalist. The main reason for this is the fact that the content of the so-called "active principle" of a plant part varies widely due to factors such as climate, altitude, latitude, soil type, nutrition, temperature, relative humidity, season, time of plucking, packing, storage and so on. Determining the constitution of the patient has also been a crucial factor for determining the dosage of the drug.

The author has also given detailed notes on the preparation of plant parts. For example, roots, rhizomes and bark are collected in late autumn or early spring when vegetative growth has ceased. Leaves and flowering tops are collected at the time of development of flowers and before maturing of fruit and seed as the photosynthetic activities at this time matures. Fruit are collected when fully grown but unripe. The seeds are collected when fully matured and, if possible, before the fruits open for dispersal. Seed-like fruits such as coriander, saunf, ajwain, etc. are harvested a little before they are fully ripe to retain their fresh and bright appearance. The author has given details of packing, storage and preservation, infusion, decoction, cold extracts, syrups, powders and so on of all herbal drugs.

A comprehensive bibliography of scientific articles, separate glossaries of English and non-English technical terms, a multi-language index of plant names and detailed illustrations make this volume an illuminating rediscovery of herbs that have come into their own as purveyors of a health and happiness increasingly hard to come by.

 

 

Of heart, soul and money matters
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Lost Everything in Love, including Love by R.P. Sandal. Sandal Publica-tions, Delhi. Pages viii+116. Rs 100.

EITHER my funny bone is dead or it has been lost. Otherwise, how does one explain a rather bemused, if not exactly bored, response to what the author claims to be a "profusely humorous, thoughtful and vivid" personal creation? A person, who would burst into mirthful paroxysms even at the Santa-Banta type of humour, now is unable to feel the punchline impact.

For example, take the very first two-line in Sandalís book. "Lost Everything in Love including Love!/Oh! She ran away with everything!" Now, why doesnít it evoke even a polite chuckle? Perhaps it is not a joke, but some profoundly thoughtful and vivid aphorism that one missed reading at the school?

But such pearls of humorous wisdom are all over the book. Take this one. "Marrying after fifty is extension of foolishness, of not getting married before fifty!" and this one, "I didnít know, how much I love you until (sic) you are gone!"

Why Sandal wanted this grammatical tragedy to be in capital letters is beyond my comprehension. The definition of the heart as given in this book is, "Is it thumping or beating? If the GF. (?) stares, itís thumping and if she smiles, itís beating!"

Ronal Knox, a British scholar and priest, wrote in 1928: "The hallmark of American humour is its pose of illiteracy." Well, for us Indians it is our pose of literacy that makes our humour so bland.

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Indian Culture by R.C. Chakravorty. Reliance, New Delhi. Pages 154. Rs 245.

The Angkor Vat temple in Cambodia testifies to the reach and richness, the span and status, of our culture since ancient times. If has endured all sorts of onslaughts, has assimilated varied alien influences and has emerged a stronger and more vibrant entity.

Yet it has successfully retained its pristine purity and essence as evidenced by our age-old cultural traditions, especially in the performing and fine arts, prompting Alain Denielou to exclaim, "The extraordinary longevity of Hindu civilisation seems to have no parallel among any people existing today, including the Chinese... if one takes account of the contribution made by these old civilisations in the realm of intellect or spirit, then the worldís indebtedness to ancient India will possibly outweigh its indebtedness to other countries."

Chakravorty has, after giving a brief historical background, elucidated the different aspects of our culture. Language and literature, science and philosophy, religion, music and other arts, etc. have been introduced in a laymanís language. Diverse subjects that were studied deeply in ancient India were astronomy, logic, epistemology (a branch of philosophy). Temple architecture and town planning flourished. Significant contributions in the fields of political thought and military science too were made by different scholars at different points of our hoary past.

This book is an excellent reference material for students of Indian culture.

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A Man without Guile by Paul T. Lauby. Vikas, New Delhi. Pages xvi+149. Rs 295.

Christian educational institutions have made a name for themselves throughout the world. Therefore, there should be little surprise that this community has given India a number of quality educational institutions as well as high calibre educationists. Panavelil Thomas Chandi is one such person. He has carved a niche for himself among the respected educators of post-independence India.

An admirer of Gandhiís nonviolence credo and Nehruís secularism, his career spanned 60 years beginning from the pre-independence era and ending in independent India. Beginning his career as a teacher of applied mathematics, he rose to be college principal and university Vice-Chancellor. He was also associated with a commission set up by the Kerala Government to evaluate the working of Calicut University and Kerala University.

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Quantitative Methods for Valuation of Financial Assets by A.S. Ramasastri. Response Books, New Delhi. Pages 199. Rs 175.

How are financial assets evaluated, especially when some of them yield fixed income, while dividends on others fluctuate? Different financial assets have different characteristics and they ought to be evaluated accordingly. For example, bond is a fixed income security which gives two types of returns ó the coupon rate and face value. The coupon rate is a periodical payment in fixed amount made to the holder at specified points of time. The face value is paid when the bond matures.

In order to determine a bondís market value for trading purposes, the present value of future payments is taken into consideration. This becomes possible because we already know what amount will be paid at what future date on a particular bond. In order to obtain such future receiptís present value a suitable discount rate is employed.

On the other hand, a share offers varying rates of income. The periodicity of yield is also not certain. For example, if a company incurs losses it would not declare dividends on its equity, although it will have to pay interest on debentures or bonds. For that reason valuation of a share becomes a bit tricky. Often its face value is taken into account. This may be at variance with its real or market value. A blue chipís face value may be Rs 100 whereas its market value may exceed Rs 100.

One approach of valuation is to use the book value of a share. A companyís net worth is derived by deducting outside liabilities from its assets. Then its net worth is divided by the number of outstanding shares to arrive at share value. Some accountants consider this approach as too simplistic. They prefer to employ dividend discount models in order to determine a shareís real value.

The main drawback of this method is that one has to assume the amount of dividend that a share would yield at some uncertain future point of time. Of course this method too is based on certain assumptions. The various methods for calculating the expected returns on a given number of shares have been explained with relevant illustrations.

Ramashastri then goes on to explain the concept of portfolios. It is always risky to invest wholly in one companyís shares. Investment should be so diversified that it protects the investor against share-market fluctuations and also ensures optimum returns on the mixed basket of securities.

The volumeís fourth chapter deals with options. While a forward contract binds both the buyer and the seller to execute a transaction at a predetermined rate irrespective of what prevails in the market, the option contract gives a buyer (option holder) of the contract a right without any obligation.

There are two types of option contracts ó call and put. The call option gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy an asset at a specified price in the future. The seller (option writer) has the obligation to sell the asset if the buyer of the call option desires to buy it.

The buyer of a put option purchases a right to sell an asset. Option can thus be used to manage risk arising out of fluctuations in the market price of such financial assets as government securities, stocks commodities and foreign exchange.

This book is written in a question and answer format. Relevant graphs and other illustrations make the lucid prose all the more interesting. Extremely useful for students and a handy reference book for professionals.

 

 

Widows: the price of singlehood
Review by Ashu Pasricha

Widows in India: Social Neglect and Public Action edited by Martha Alter Chen. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 455. Rs 495.

THIS volume has grown out of two gatherings aimed at a better understanding of the social and economic condition of widows, at focusing attention on widowhood as a social problem, and at promoting public action and policies in support of widows in India. The two gatherings were planned as complementary events. Both took place at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, during the last week of March, 1994.

The first event was an informal workshop involving 25 widows from different parts of the country and 10 women activists with some experience of working with widows and single women. This informal workshop was followed by a conference which brought together about 65 activists, scholars and policy-makers who have worked on issues relating to widows.

The total number of widows in India is extremely large ó more than 33 million at the time of the 1991 census. The proportion of widows in the total female population is about 8 per cent. Among women over 50-years of age the proportion of widows is as high as 50 per cent. In spite of these numbers, relatively little is known about the actual living conditions of widows in India. Widows are rarely mentioned in the literature on poverty, in public debates on social policy, or even by womenís movement.

While there is general public anxiety about elderly widows and while we hear of the occasional public outcry when the treatment of widows takes a sensational form such as that of sati (widow immolation), there is a striking lack of public concern for the quiet deprivation experienced by millions of widows daily.

This gap in our understanding is particularly serious in view of the fact that some of these deprivations are quite severe and widespread and reflected vulnerabilities. Widows surely deserve an important place in the study of public policy and economic development in India. The purpose of this volume, which presents the proceedings of a March, 1994, conference on widows in India is to achieve a better understanding of the social and economic conditions of widows, to focus attention on widowhood as a special problem and to promote public action and policies in support of widows in India.

The volume opens with three papers which explore the dominant ideological construction of widowhood in India as well as variations in local customary norms regarding widowhood: one of the dominant patriarchal construction of widowhood as social death; another on the practice of levirate (remarriage of the widow to the late husbandís brother) by certain castes in Haryana and Punjab states, and the third on the property rights of women (as widows and daughters) under customary law and modern statutory law.

In the dominant Hindu world-view, women are a key symbol of the purity and honour of family, lineage and caste. Under the ideal life cycle, a Hindu woman progresses from being a virgin daughter, to being a chaste married woman, to being a devoted mother under the watchful eye of, in turn, her father, husband, and son. If properly protected and controlled, the woman brings honour to her own and her husbandís family and becomes a symbol of societyís ability to uphold the moral order.

In the best of all possible worlds, according to this world-view, there would be no widows: all wives would die before their husbands. A second-best scenario is that a woman is widowed at an older age when she has adult sons to support her. But in real life, these ideals are often challenged by the husbandís early death or by the failure to produce a son. Such eventualities present Hindu families with a dilemma: as to how to control the sexuality of the widow, especially if she is young, and how to provide economic support to the widow, especially if she is childless or if she has young children.

These are followed by two papers on the demographics of widowhood: one on widowhood and morality, the other on widowhood and aging. More significantly, in terms of the prevalence of widowhood, India ranks among the highest in the world for all age groups. In rural India, widows represent about 3 per cent of all young women (15-35), 30 per cent of all middle aged women (35-59), and 60 per cent of women above 60 years of age. This is so for several interrelated reasons: marriage in India is near universal; husband, on the average; are five years older than their wives; male mortality rates are still rather high; women begin to outlive men after their reproductive years; and, most importantly, few widows remarry.

In contemporary India, the presence of many elderly dependent widows is a matter of increasing social concern, especially among the urban middle class. However, the presence of so many young widows captures less attention, except when the widow is childless. One reason for their presence is that so few widows (of any age) remarry. Another is that so many women are married at a very young age. Even now, in some communities in India, girls are married before they reach puberty. As a result, there are still child widows in India; even so-called "virgin" widows whose marriage had not been consummated before their husbands died.

The sheer number of widows in India, however, should not detract us from the differences in the incidence of widowhood across regions (and over time) in India and from the still more important issue of the relatively high mortality risk of widows.

The volume then turns to four key areas for public policy and action in support of widows: property rights, social security, employment and social identity. The last four sections include short case studies on actual practice in these areas and illustrative case histories of individual widows. What are the property rights of widows under Indian law? There is no simple answer to this important question as there is no single system of law in India.

Among the diverse systems of law are the statutory laws of modern India, the personal laws of various religious communities, and customary law which, by definition, rests in the mores and norms of communities. While guaranteeing gender equality under the Constitution, the founding fathers of modern India followed the practice of allowing each religious community to be governed by its own personal law in regard to inheritance and other personal matters, giving rise to a number of civil codes.

To complicate matters still, they followed the British colonial policy of vesting all legislative powers in relation to agricultural land in state legislatures, which means that womenís legal rights to property in general are treated somewhat differently from their legal rights to agricultural land in particular.

In 1956, Hindu personal laws were unified and reformed into a single personal code called the Hindu Succession Act. However, the personal codes of other religious communities have not been reformed or unified. Moreover, and more fundamentally, the proposal to adopt a single personal code to cover all communities in India has not been acted upon. As a result, there is one criminal code but multiple civil codes in India.

As it is evident, modern law is not widely enforced and customary norms still prevail across most regions and social groups in India. Therefore, when we consider what we mean by rights under Hindu law we have to distinguish between legal rights (those guaranteed under modern law) and customary rights (those recognised under local customary norms). Further, actual practice involves selective borrowing from customary norms or, more precisely, selective enforcement or violation of customary rights. One must remember that it is actual practice ó not customary law or any other system of law ó that affects most directly the every-day lives of widows.

The conference raised a number of critical issues for future research, action and policy. More importantly, the conference began a process of rethinking among the participants about the critical links between the predicament of Indian widows, the situation of Indian women more generally and a wide range of patriarchal institutions. The cause of widows came to be seen as an integral part of the broader battle against gender inequalities.

Weaving together the analytic essay, hard data and poignant case studies, this comprehensive and pioneering volume on the social and economic status of widows in India will be of interest to those in the fields of gender studies, sociology, demography and social policy, as well as NGOs and policy makers.

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