Russia with a classic film
Review by M.L. Raina
Screen-plays by Andrei Tarkovsky and translated by William
Powell and Natasha Synessios. Faber, London. Pages xxv+564. $
The Films of
Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue by Vida T. Johnson and Graham
Petrie. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. Pages xvii+331. $
Film by Andrei Tarkovsky. Artificial Eye Video Production,
London. 102 minutes. £ 24.
me confess at the outset that I am a Tarkovsky addict. He
reminds me not so much of other filmmakers as of a number of
Russian writers from Turgenev and Chekov to a much younger
contemporary, Andrei Makine, even though the latter writes in
French. They share a cultivated sensibility that allows them to
be at home in the quintessential Russianness of their heritage
and, at the same time, encourages an uninhibited acceptance of
One thinks of
Tolstoy and Turgenev (particularly "Sports-man’s
Sketches" and "Ayesha"), of the poems of
Lermontov and Pushkin, the plenitude of the Russian landscape in
"Dr Zhivago’ and the neurotic brilliance of some of
Russianness is hinted at by Andrei Makine in his 1997 novel
"Dreams of My Russian Summers": "A whole host of
actions, faces, words, sufferings, privations... all that buzz
of life resounding against a single echo." That
"echo" for both is memory, a recurrent nostalgia for a
way of life in which the mother occupies pride of place in a
benign pastoral setting. Through the images of the grandmother
in Makine and the mother in Tarkovsky’s early films,
"Ivan’s Childhood" and ‘‘Mirror", they
explore the sustaining power of tradition and nature.
the lost moment and are closely attached to the physical
fetishes of the past. For both the love of the mother (Russia)
is a continual heartbreak. They love her absurdity (as
Solzhenitsyan would say), her capacity to absorb pain and joy in
equal measure. In "Ivan’s Childhood" and
"Mirror" Tarkovsky’s favourite actress Margarita
Terekhova (he uses her the way Bergman uses Liv Ullman in film
after film) establishes herself as the mother-spirit animating
the stories of love, sacrifice and feminine vulnerability. In
"Solaris" Kris Kelvin’s mother has no relevance to
the plot, but she is there to uphold her creator’s belief in
her catalytic power.
In these films
memories and reminiscences spill out pell-mell though anchored
in the expressive presence of the mother figure. She remains the
centre of the narrative as well as a source of coherence and
Tarkovsky made seven full-length films and a few shorter ones,
as this collection of his screenplays attests. He is equally the
inheritor of the great Russian cinematic tradition and a
dissenter from it. Like the pioneers Eisenstein and Pudvokin, he
displays a passion for history and a visionary boldness in
presenting it. An English critic, Mark Le Fanu, credits him with
visualising the epic traditions of the 19th century Russian
novel in the sweep and scale of "Andrei Rublev" (it’s
a pity that the screenplay of this two-part film is not
available in the Powell-Synessios edition). He is a dissenter
because his genius refused to compromise with the official
Soviet ideology. He dared the censors and suffered neglect,
hostility and inevitable ill health leading to early death in
stylistic innovator in film of the past 30 years, Tarkovsky
baffles a lay viewer as well as some of his more informed
admirers nurtured on the European art cinema of Bergman, Rohmer,
Renoir, Bresson and other avant-garde auteur-directors. The lay
viewer, accustomed to the easy formulaic narrative of the
Hollywood fiction film, finds Tarkovsky dificult since he does
not adhere to a linear plot, nor satisfy stereotypical
expectations. He is elliptical, hermetic and intellectual to the
point of obscurity. One wonders how he managed to survive in the
Soviet Union as long as he did and why he made films in
different languages (‘‘Nostalgia" partly in Italian and
"Sacrifice" in Swedish).
mature "readers" of film as art are uncomfortable for
other reasons. They find Tarkovsky wordy, allegorical and often
given to experimentation as a means of obscuring meaning rather
than clarifying it. True, the appearance of the horses (forces
of nature?) in "Andrei Rublev" at the beginning and
the end, the ticker-tape cascade in the last cathedral scene of
"Nostalgia" or the scatter of papers at the close of
"Ivan’s Childhood" cannot be easily explained away.
Their symbolic depth invites closer involvement, which even
sympathetic viewers find inconvenient.
Tarkovsky’s last film, "Sacrifice". Johnson and
Petrie believe that the protagonist Alexander’s discursiveness
represses the effects of the great scenes, especially the fire
scenes and the lonely road. These demurrals are justified. In
extenuation we could say that the filmmaker is more than a
narrator. He complicates his scenes, overturns our responses in
order to accommodate his meditations on the human condition. In
a sense he stretches the medium to express the metaphysical
dimension of experience.
metaphysical experience in Tarkovsky’s films is felt in the
inner world of his characters, even as the external historical
and political themes enclose their dreams, reveries and
hallucinations. The documentation of the features of lost time
subverts the narratives in which his characters are enclosed, or
better still, immured. For example, the stories of war in
"Ivan’s Childhood" are not of much value by
themselves. Their significance is in the residue of human
attachment such as loyalty, courage, and memory that they can
muster. When the Soviet censors criticised what they considered
lack of sufficient patriotism in the film, they ignored the fact
that Ivan’s protectiveness towards his mother is in itself a
metaphor for the filmmaker’s protective attitude towards
"Ivan’s Childhood" is not as openly metaphysical as,
say, "Mirror", "Solaris" or
"Nostalgia", it often deflects attention from the
purely documentary details (war, Berlin Chancery and the flying
papers). We are made to inhabit a space halfway between history
and hallucination, as in the recurrent images of the mother
intervening in the war narrative. We are also asked to puzzle
out the paradox between Ivan’s child-like innocence and his
skills as a guerrilla fighter behind the Russian lines.
expectations are frustrated at the very beginning when the film
opens with Ivan’s dream of a hand and reveals Galtsev who will
later play a significant role. The frequent crossing of
boundaries between dream and reality in almost all his films
forbids a simple naturalistic appraisal of their style and
began to experiment with stream-of-consciousness and narrative
disjunction, his films became more inward and their hold on
external reality more problematic. Part of the reason may be his
increasing impatience with the Soviet censors who ordered cuts
and revisions at the slightest suspicion. Even when he tried to
make epics on the scale of Eisenstein’s "Ivan the
Terrible" and "Alexander Nevsky", he could not
bring himself to follow the beaten path of the great master.
is motivated more by Tarkovsky’s religious fervour than any
endorsement of secular glory that Eisenstein represents. The
director is drawn to the traditional church icons and makes his
hero something of a protector of their beauty amidst the cruelty
and oppression of the medieval period.
But it is in
"Solaris" and "Mirror" that Tarkovsky’s
religious and non-political attitudes receive their fullest
expression. In "Solaris" he uses the novel by the
Polish science-fiction writer. Stanislaw Lem, to create a
collage of melancholy forebodings triggered by the emptiness of
the "space sea".
extraordinary scenes of the countryside in scientist Burton’s
dacha. The mental turmoil of the hero Kris Kelvin and the chaos
of the "space sea" sharply contrast with the beauty of
the earth represented in the abundance of hay, the polish of the
floorboards and, most poignant of all, the evocation by Kris of
his dead wife Hari and the mother. Whereas Lem questions
anthropomorphic thinking and the limitations of human knowledge,
the film celebrates our capacity "to stay human in an
inhuman world" menacing us from across the "space
By all accounts
"Mirror" is Tarkovsky’s masterpiece. Generally
acknowledged as one of the most challenging films of the past
three decades, it brings to successful fruition his experiments
in diferent cinematic modes and demonstrates his ability to
combine various genres in a mosaic of reality and desire. It
alternately takes the form of rich and highly charged
documentary footage woven within the practices of a cubist
painting. The title creates the "prismatic effect’ of a
broken mirror radiating a scientillating glow all around. The
filmmaker’s "eye" is genuinely innocent since it
plunders from the imagery of childhood a vision unsullied by
evil, though not far from its corruptions.
Given the dual
perspective of a child and an adult, the film finds its
epiphanies in an emotionally charged and imaginatively
visualised edenic state. In his search for a stable identity
amid the interactions of the past and present, the director
rifles through all resources of art to fix the mystery of human
life in all its high and low tides. The casting of Margarita
Terekhova in the dual role of grandmother and mother of the boy
calls all identities into question.
moving images of the vast Russian landscape demarcations
dissolve. Struck by the imprecision of contours, we are lifted
into a timeless experience by the power of Pushkin’s and
Arseny Tarkovsky’s poetry and merged with the colours of the
landscape as the music of Bach, Purcell and Pergolesi transforms
the whole into a profound revelation.
conception, the film intertwines family relationships with
topical newsreel sequences. With his father Arseny reading his
poems on the sound track, Tarkovsky enhances the film’s
meaningfulness, making it seem contemporary and trans-historical
at the same time.
Petrie have written a comprehensive evaluation of Tarkovsky’s
films and analysed his distinctive cinematic techniques. They
are more thorough than Mark Le Fanu and will remain the best
guides to this enigmatic genius. Their analysis of what they
call Tarkovsky’s thematic and image clusters defines these
films as poetic in the most sublime sense.
One of the
successes of this book is in the originality of the authors’
reading of the films. Not until I read their commentary did I
grasp the connection in "Mirror" between Lenardo da
Vinci’s broken mirrors and the luminous juxtapositioning of
the Cyrillic script of the captions. Similarly, the Breughel
painting at the end of "Solaris" would have remained a
mystery to me had not the authors found its relevance to the
landscape and Tarkovsky’s symbolic purchase on it.
"visual fugue" in the title speaks eloquently of
Tarkovsky’s jumbling of the artistic genres in his work. This
is an appropriate description of his method and captures its
In a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky,
used in "The Stalker", the poet says "What is
soft and weak is good: hardness is close to death". Perhaps
this is Tarkovsky’s credo. Does it imply his openness to
experience? His distrust of the given, the prescribed? Tarkovsky’s
own readiness to confront extremes is a clue to his religious
acceptance of suffering, of the paradox of being human. The
rest, the ancient sages would aver, is silence, as in the
"space sea" in "Solaris".
drama in England
Review by Deepika Gurdev
All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal. Anchor. Pages 334. Price Rs
hilarious and moving new novel from the prize winning author
of "Anita and Me" will make you laugh at times and
move you to tears during other more pensive moments. In a book
that fits somewhere perfectly between "Waiting to
Exhale" and "Bridget JonesDiary" Meera Syal has
created an indelible portrait of a close-knit group of Indian
women living in London.
British-born Indian writer, actress and familiar face on
British television, has written a number of successful TV and
film scripts. This includes "Bhaji on the Beach" and
the multi-award-winning "My Sister Wife". Her first
novel, "Anita and Me" won a Betty Trask Award and
was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. She also
co-writes and stars in the British hit comedy series
"Goodness Gracious Me", which was nominated for an
international Emmy last year.
features and revolves around the lives of three close and
somewhat unlikely childhood friends. All of them are Indian
and contending with problems revolving around love and
relationships. Each one of them knows for sure "Life isn’t
all ha ha hee hee, so if you know there are going to be some
tears, you might as well try and enjoy them." Funny and
poignant, it deftly captures the growing pains of
second-generation Indian women.
It is the
story of Chila — innocent, kind and funny (but somewhat
imperfect woman in an even more imperfect world) Punjabi girl
married to the suave, urbane and impressively rich Deepak –
"the most eligible bachelor within a twenty-mile
radius" and her two childhood confidants. Sunita, the
former activist law student, married to her college sweetheart
Akash and is uncomfortably settled into life as an overweight,
depressed and underappreciated housewife and mother of two.
Then there is the chic, beautiful, gorgeous Tania, the raven
haired beauty whose current lifestyle includes rejecting
marriage and anything traditionally Asian in favor of a
high-powered career in television and life in a trendy
apartment in Soho with her English boyfriend.
Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee He" this hilariously scathing,
no-holds-barred novel describes what happens when one of them
makes a documentary about contemporary Indian life starring
the other two. In Syal’s deft hands the characters steer
through what we might call middle youth, that stage when the
real growing up takes place. First there is inevitable envy
when Chila bags her Deepak. The murmurs abound even at the
wedding "Well, I have known Deepak’s family many years
and I think they had higher hopes for their only son. But if
he loves her tender and she doesn’t have a wooden heart, it
are the sad bits that revolve around Sunita’s unenviable
life who discovers rather painfully that "pain is a
relative concept." Sunita is stuck in what appears to be
"such a happy marriage."
And of course
there is Tania, whose life on the surface looks almost too
perfect. But dig the surface a little bit, there is the
loneliness and the pining for something ethnic maybe just
"Oh Jaan" or something like that. Tania who is
constantly caught in the identity crisis, even though she
proudly proclaims to her English boyfriend Martin, "I am
the genuine article and therefore I don’t have to try. You,
on the other hand, being middle class, white and male, have to
try any passing bandwagon, because what else have you
Tania is the
one who strikes the death knell of their treasured friendship
by making a documentary in which both her friends and their
husbands are featured. And on the night when Tania makes her
directorial debut their old friendship is destroyed. In that
destruction each woman learns something important about her
life, and finds strength in new ideas.
discovers much to her horror that the love of her life is in
love with Tania. Sunita is plainly horrified and perplexed by
the turn of events. Tania’s boyfriend takes the boldest step
of all by leaving everything behind and heading for a new
experience with a new girlfriend. As their friendship lies in
shreds, each one of them picks up the strings and finally
understands and transcends constricting traditions. Though the
three women who once were friends drive the plot, it is Syal’s
exploration of traditional gender roles — plus the
difficulty of escaping them without rejecting one’s heritage
—that makes this deliciously crafted novel outstanding.
a few kilos, finds herself a new job and gets a smart new
haircut, all of which makes her brim with confidence. Chila
makes her whole new circle of friends that extends beyond the
tupperware friends, she puts in her best for charities, tries
not to miss Deepak even during the prolonged absences and gets
ready for the arrival of the baby which she hopes will change
her life for the better. This definitely makes the moments
alone well worth it.
unaware of Chila’s pregnancy, continues her liaison with
Deepak, in search of that illusive perfect relationship. At
one level this may appear to be just another page-turning
comedy but look a bit closer and you will discover that this
page-turner isn’t afraid to take on and address the larger
issues of conflicts, traditions and dualities headlong.
novel does veer occasionally into melodrama, it is gossipy,
funny and thoroughly entertaining. Syal deftly manages to get
inside the heads of three very different characters, inspiring
sympathy for both tricky, adulterous sirens and sari-clad
I wouldn’t miss this
compassionately written book that deserves to be read in a
single sitting and would strongly recommend you give it a shot
too for if you like beautifully crafted stories, your search
definitely ends here.
Review by Roopinder Singh
in a Nutshell by Sanjay Saxena. Vikas Publishing House, New
Delhi. Pages 141. Rs 90.
Corporation’s Word is the most popular word processing
programme in the world. There was a time when Word Perfect gave
it a good run for money, but that was a long, long time ago.
users are familiar with Word, since it is practically a default
programme available on the Windows platform. Being familiar with
a programme isn’t the same as using is optimally, and this is
what this book sets out to do.
explaining the basics of computers, giving their brief history
and detailing various parts and ports of a computer, the book
stresses on the basics. While some readers might find the
preceding chapters too sketchy, they do serve the purpose of
providing a backdrop to a near-novice reader who is likely to
read such a book.
The chapter on
Word basics explains the various icons and menu commands in
Word. Of particular interest is the insert and overtype mode,
which most new users have a frustrating experiences with. When
you are in the "insert" mode, whatever you type is
inserted into the page whereas in the overtype mode, the
computer behaves like a typewriter.
consist of rows of icons that are seen at the top of the
computer screens when you open Word. An icon is a picture on a
screen that represents a specific command. Various toolbars have
been explained in a simple manner with "exploded"
visuals showing what each icon is meant to do. Since Word has
extensive context-dependent toolbars, it is important to
understand them in various contexts. Thus, a drawing toolbar
would not be seen unless there was an image being created or
inserted into a Word document.
and grammar check feature in word has become rather extensive
and is probably the most extensive among various word processing
programmes. It can help you get rid of a document’s typing and
feature, not mentioned in the book is that Word gives you a
choice of various languages, including different flavours of
English (British, American, or Australian). Most of the time the
programme comes with American English as default. In order to
have the British or UK English spell and grammar check functions
operate, select the entire document by going to the Edit menu
and clicking Select All (or use the keyboard shortcut Control
A). Then go to Tools>Language>Select Language. This opens
a dialogue box that gives various language options. Select
English (UK) and click the Default button. From now onwards, any
new document that you create will have British English as its
The author also
tells you how to create a template, which is useful for persons
who have to produce similar-looking documents with differing
though much-maligned, feature of Word is macro. The book has a
fairly comprehensive section on using macros. Short for
macroinstruction, a macro is a single instruction in programming
language that results in a series of instructions in machine
When you record
actions likely to be repetitive and then ask the computer to
play-back those instructions at another time, you are using
macros. These are somewhat complicated to start with, though
once done, can save a lot of time and effort. This aspect of
Word has been explained in great detail, and if you do the
exercise given in the book, you are likely to add a new
dimension to the computing experience.
The author promises right at
the beginning that the book is going to be jargon free. He
succeeds in his endeavour and will definitely help a large
majority of Word users. It could have been improved greatly if
he had also used another nifty feature that Word provides—indexing.
Review by Naveen S. Garewal
with Visual Basic 6.0 by Mohammed Azam. Vikas Publishing House,
New Delhi. Pages 456. Rs 195.
doubt, there are more people trying to learn visual basic as a
front-end development tool for desktop applications today as
compared to any other programming language. Notwithstanding
Microsoft’s efforts to push visual basic, the versatility and
the ease of use of this language has made visual basic the
number one choice as a programming language of every Windows
"C" for Windows, has lost ground to visual basic, now
considered to be the fastest and easiest way to create
applications for Windows "programming with visual basic
6.0" by Mohammed Azam aims to target that segment of
programmers who are trying to learn visual basic for the first
time. Written in a lucid and simple style, the book repeatedly
reinforces programming techniques without making the reading
Visual basic is
an event driven programming language where the
"visual" refers to the method used to create graphical
user interface (GUI), by simply dragging and dropping pre-built
objects onto the screen. "Basic" refers to the BASIC
language. VB can be used to developing a small utility for
personal use as well as a large corporate programme.
interactive approach, the book is filled with illustrations and
exercises that test programming skills at the end of each
section making understanding and learning of visual basic
simple. From the beginning, the book has numerous small,
easy-to-do-programmes for day-to-day activity, tackling each of
which would give the reader tremendous confidence.
Even for those
with prior knowledge of programming, the book offers suggestions
for code reliability, user interface design and more advance
topics like active X and how active X controls can be added to a
web page to improve its functionality like adding active X on a
page to play a movie clip.
three parts, the book gradually progresses from the very basics
to more complex issues as one reads on. The book teaches
creation of a simple application and then gradually goes on to
discuss more complex issues like interface design, database
design, distributing an application, etc. Topics like active X
have been dealt with brilliantly and topics like use of MDI
forms and ADO have been well explained.
There is an
inbuilt mechanism to test the reader’s grasp before going
further with the help of practical exercises and summary of
contents. Basic programming tips on debugging and reducing
errors have been emphasised time and again. The book is a good
companion for those who want to strengthen their elementary
programming concepts, but has not much to offer to those who
have already spent some time using this programming language.
The first part
of the book deals with issues like creating applications,
variables, writing code, debugging tips, database, introduction
of data access, etc. spread over 17 chapters. The second part of
the book talks about active X, the successor to the DDE and OLE
(object linking and embedding) technologies and its growing
importance in a multi-programme and multi-tasking environments.
Towards the end
of the book, the third part deals with the practical aspect of
programming in developing an application. An invoice programme
as a model for other development has been described with
supplier-retailer-customer interrelationship. With detailed
explanation, the read can actually develop and test this
programme, besides dabbling in writing other programmes.
The best way to
use this book is to have visual basic installed on the PC and to
practically test out each and every lesson. At the end of the
book, appendix on function name and procedure name has been
added with detailed explanation about how and when these are to
be used. The list of error messages, naming conventions and
glossary provide useful information and tips.
advice to the readers would of be of immense help as a programme.
For example, while dealing with active X data objects (ADO), the
author writes "the Ado is still an emerging technology….if
you are building data access application from scratch, then you
can consider adopting this new technology. But if you already
have working applications that were created using DAO, then you
might as well stick to them".
Azam has applied his vast
experience in software development in India and overseas in
writing this paperback, which is well reflected in the book.
your IT systems
Review by Peeyush Agnihotri
Design and Implementation of Information Systems — A
Transition to Objects by Ashok Kumar Sharma. Vikas Publishing
House, New Delhi Pages 282. Rs 135
IT is changing everyone’s life, how can the management
post-graduates be left behind? Management of Information
Systems (MIS) is an integral part of the syllabus in business
schools now apart from being in the curriculum of MCA
finance, marketing, personnel, logistics and manufacturing...
the MIS encompasses them all. The book, which was developed
mainly from the lecture notes as the author writes, covers
information system analysis, design and implementation and a
transition to objects.
A company has
to deliver its products or services to customers in a
cost-efficient manner to earn a profit, is the prime aim of
any business establishment. Time is an important factor in all
this. The companies thus hire MIS consultants, who provide
computing solution to the various business problems or needs.
MBA and MCA students, entrepreneurs can also read this book.
Case studies have been included after every chapter and some
of these make interesting reading like the one on the ticket
booking system at the end of chapter 5. This is different as a
brief transition to object-oriented approach is included in
confound the managers are usually those concerned with
building information system of strategic importance within an
organisation. The book focuses on strategic planning too.
of the book is on the object-oriented approach. Object is a
new paradigm that has been included apart from the classical,
spiral, prototype and generic approaches. This approach
stresses to combine data and flows into a modelling paradigm.
give a broad overview on how problems related to various
issues can be handled. Like planning concepts include the
mission, goals, strategies, objectives, plans and budgets and
on PERT (programming evaluation and review techniques) charts
also elucidates the responsibilities of project manager. A
PERT chart apart from showing the inter relationships among
project activity also shows the procedural relationships and
highlights the activity that must be completed before
initiating a specific activity. This is important in the
context of decision-making.
For those who are keen to
have an overview of the MIS, this is the book to clear the
concepts and fundamentals. However, some more
personnel-related issues should also have been included in
of defector Panchen Lama
Review by Parshotam Mehra
for the Panchen Lama by Isabel Hilton. Pelican Books, London.
Pages xv + 335. £ 4.95.
Tibet’s by no means untroubled polity, the relationship
between its Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama has been a subject
of absorbing if also intriguing interest. There has been an
unending debate, and not a little contention, about their
respective status and position.
though, the Dalai Lama enjoys a higher status if only because
he combines in his person the twin roles of god as well as
king; he is the spiritual as also the temporal ruler of his
land and his people.
Lama rated spiritually superior to the master of the Potala,
is essentially the abbot of Tashilhunpo; no more, no less. And
though head of a large estate in and around Shigatse in the
province of Tsang, he is not supposed to concern himself with
the affairs of state. Which fall entirely, if exclusively,
within the purview of the Dalai Lama.
There is an
important corollary to the rule. The senior of the two Lamas
has an edge over his junior and not only in matters of
protocol. For as and when one of he two dies — or, as the
Tibetans have it, "retires to the heavenly fields"
— it is imperative for the other to help in finding the new
incarnation. And, in due course, after going through the
motions of age-old rituals and ceremonies, accord him
follow that when the 10th Panchen Lama died (in January, 1989)
it was part of the duties of the incumbent 14th Dalai Lama to
help in the search for, identification and installation of his
successor, the 11th Panchen Lama.
problem as simplistic as the preceding paragraphs suggest, it
would still require a lot of patience and skill. The old
Panchen Lama’s entourage, his tutors and hordes of his
religious officials, would be associated one way or another
with the discovery. And there may be, as there invariably are,
more than one eligible candidate. In other words, even without
any extraneous elements poking their dirty noses, the process
is long-winded and not always above controversy. The
not-so-extraneous element in Tibet’s affairs over the past
several hundred years, and more especially since the rule of
the Qing dynasty (1648-1912), has been China. When in the 18th
century, Tibet was exposed to Mongol incursions from the
north, and some Gurkha intrusions from the south, its Dalai
Lama turned to the "Son of Heaven" for material
help. The latter did not let the calls so unheeded but
demanded his pound of flesh.
In sum, by
the last decade of the 18th century Beijing established a
modicum of political control in Lhasa exercised through its
resident Amban. While the Qing emperor owing to his own
political compulsions nearer home, began to lean heavily on
the master of the Potala.
Lama held complete sway over the vast if empty spaces of
Mongolia for its people accepted him, even as his own Tibetan
subjects did as their spiritual master. And to keep a measure
of political control over his unruly Mongol subjects, China’s
ruler invoked the Dalai Lama’s spiritual authority and
accepted it for himself.
emperor in Beijing kept a light political control over the
Dalai Lama’s dominion not only because of the vast physical
distances that separated them but also because he needed all
the Lama’s help to keep his Mongol subjects in check. In the
event, the master of the Potala functioned more or less
independently of any outside Chinese control.
With the fall
of the Qing, dynasty the republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek
made several attempts to reverse the gears. But its own
ramshackle polity, near civil war conditions in the country
and, after the early 1930s, a sustained Japanese onslaught on
Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, made it a difficult proposition.
Above all, there was the powerful figure of the 13th Dalai
Lama who, his constraints notwithstanding, held the country
together and the reins of government firmly in his hand.
problem his strongarm methods created was the flight of the
ninth Panchen Lama (1924). Chiang gave him succour and used
his not inconsiderable influence to destabilise Lhasa’s
power and authority. And, in the wake of the Dalai Lama’s
death (1933), send the only much too-eager Panchen Lama back,
with a large armed escort. Both to re-establish his authority
and browbeat into submission the post-Dalai Lama regime in
would have it, both for the KMT and the Panchen Lama, the
plans went awry. A frontal Japanese assault on the mainland
itself and the mounting pressure from Whitehall (read New
Delhi) made Chiang relent. While the Panchan’s own death
(1937) put paid to all the preparations he had made to stage a
old Panchen Lama’s large entourage, which had tarried long
in exile on generous Chinese bounties, worked hard to find a
new incarnation in Amdo (Qinghai). And despite Lhasa’s
protests that another couple of candidates in Kham were
eligible, forged ahead with their choice. More, in the last
few months before he fled to Taiwan, Chiang anointed the new
Lama as the 10th incarnation of the Panchen.
"Chinese" Panchen Lama, as he came to be called,
lost no time in transferring his allegiance to Mao and his men
as they poured into Qinghai (September, 1949). And when the
17-Point Agreement on Tibet’s "peaceful
liberation"came to be concluded (May, 1951), Beijing
insisted that the Panchen’s recognition — and installation
— must be an integral component thereof. A sine qua non, as
it were, to the entire negotiating exercise.
Lama had little room for manoeuvre; he had, in the advent of
the Chinese hordes, already left his capital for a possible
refuge across the border in India. No wounder, Lhasa succumbed
to Beijing’s mounting pressure.
Even as large
contingents of the PLA marched into Tibet, the 10th Panchen
Lama returned home to his ancestral seat of authority at
Tashilhunpo. So did the Dalai Lama to Lhasa, for a decade of
possible cohabitation with Beijing’s new rulers.
him, the end result was little less than happy. For in the
wake a large-scale Tibetan uprising (March, 1959), the Dalai
Lama and thousands of his people fled their hearths and homes
to seek shelter without.
Lama held back. He enjoyed considerable support from the new
Chinese rulers. Who for their own ends — especially to cut
the Dalai Lama to size and so weaken the polity as a whole —
had built him up as an equal, if also a rival, powerbase.
Nor was the
Panchan Lama, to start with at any rate, averse to "recovering"his
preceding incarnations’s power and pelf. On the contrary, he
viewed the Dalai Lama and his government at Lhasa — not the
Chinese "liberators" — as his principal adversary.
Once however, the Dalai Lama fled and the ‘‘local
government of Tibet’’ stood dissolved, there was a
seachange in the political landscape. Beijing no longer needed
the Panchen as a stick to beat the Dalai Lama with.
Tashilhunpo stood deflated; its Lama was no longer in demand.
In 1962, the
Panchen had, at his masters’ behest, undertaken a tour of
Qinghai and Kham, both with large ethnic Tibetan minorities.
To his horror and disbelief he was witness to a sorry state of
affairs to which the land in general, and the Tibetans in
particular, had been driven under Mao’s rule. Their utter
penury, the excesses of the Chinese cadres and the disastrous
aftermath of the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) were writ large
on all the faces he saw — and interacted with.
now compiled, with the help of his Chinese interlocutors, a
"petition" which chronicled much of what he saw,
albeit in subdued tones and with requisite ideological frills.
Known as the 17,000-character petition — from the number of
Chinese characters in which it was cast — it was a scathing
indictment of Beijing’s policies. And of the imprisonment
and worse and starvation and deprivation his people had
persuaded that the Chairman Mao and his comrades would set
things right if only they knew the honest truth, the Panchen
was determined to tell it. This against the better judgement
of his tutors and other companions who pleaded with him to the
To his utter
disbelief, they were proved right. By 1964, the Panchen was
publicly arraigned and charged with the worst of crimes — of
being anti-socialist, anti-party and anti-people. Mao labelled
his petition "a poisoned arrow" shot at the party by
"a reactionary feudal overlord". The Panchen was
"tried"; his detractors punched and spat at him and
put a dunce cap on his holy head. His reward: 14 years of
solitary confinement and house arrest!
Mao died in
1976 and not long afterwards with the "Gang of Four"
eliminated, Deng Xiaoping, the new "supreme leader",
emerged form the shadows as it were. The Panchen made his
first public appearance in 1978 and in the following decade
was gradually rehabilitated. In 1982, he was allowed to return
to Tibet, for the first time since 1965.
1989, he was back again, this time to preside over the
dedication of a new stupa at Tashilhunpo. It housed the tombs
of all the nine Panchens which, in one of the worst sacrileges
of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, had been
savagely if shamelessly ravaged. And their bones scattered, as
if for the dogs.
official inauguration on January 22, the Panchen had stayed on
for a few more days. On the 23rd, he addressed a high-level
meeting between the government and religious leaders where,
inter alia, he attacked the extremism that had destroyed the
stupas during the Cultural Revolution "and earlier".
And while conceding that there had "certainly been
development" in Tibet, he asserted that the "price
extracted for it has been greater than the gains."
On the 28th
the Panchen, then hardly 50, is said to have had chest pain
and a few hours later died in the most mysterious of
circumstances. A natural death — or was it foul play?
years after the Panchen Lama’s passing away, the Dalai Lama
holding himself responsible for helping to discover the new
incarnation, embarked on a long and painstakingly elaborate
ritual. By early 1995, he was able to identify a young boy in
Tibet, Gedun Choekvi Nyima, as the new incarnation. Behind the
scene, he had kept Beijing informed and was sanguine about its
But he was
rudely shaken when the Chinese roundly denounced his choice
and proclaimed another boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the true
reincarnation. For his own safety, Beijing announced the Dalai
Lama’s false choice had been placed under "protective
world’s "youngest political prisoner", despite all
the anxiety shown — and the enquiries made — Gedun Choekvi
Nyima has not been seen since.
"Chinese" Panchen Lama is being brought up under the
strict regimen of his new masters. Not indeed at Tashilhunpo
where he belongs, but somewhere in China. Beijing must have
calculated backwards but what if, cast in the mould of the
preceding incarnation, Gyaltsen Norbu relives the sad if
tragic history of the 10th Panchen Lama? And the Chinese game
plan to use him, a pliant Panchen, to help locate an equally
malleable Dalai Lama when the present incumbent passes away
— may come unstruck.
imponderables remain. To start with, the 14th Dalai Lama may
decide, as he has hinted time and again, not to be reborn. And
in case he determines to the contrary, further decrees that he
reappear, not indeed in China’s Tibet, but among the large
and widely spread, Tibetan diaspora. In his long and
singularly unequal battle with Beijing, the 14th Dalai Lama
may still have the last laugh?
book is a bewitching tale told with singular honesty and
respect for the known facts of the search for the 11th Panchen
Lama against the rich background of Tibet’s tortuous times,
more especially of the decades since the
"liberation". She has spelt out at length the rise
and fall — followed by a modest rehabilitation again — of
the 10th Panchen Lama. Both the years of his honeymoon with
Beijing and the public insults and humiliations of
"thamzing" — "struggle" sessions of his
disgraceful trial and the serpentine procedures followed in
discovering and identifying the new incarnations.
took her to Lhasa and Beijing. And, of course, Tashilhunpo and
Dharamsala. She met and interacted with any number of people
who could help explain events, including the 10th Panchen’s
Chinese wife and his daughter. And soaked in all the
information she could from the Dalai Lama and his officials.
Rated a home-grown top-grade
China specialist, Isabel Hilton is an international print and
broadcast journalist and a known commentator on Chinese
affairs. Her book is a compelling story, fascinatingly told.
up, my countrymen
Review by Ram Varma
Peace and Honour by Darshan Khullar. Manas Publications, New
Delhi. Pages 232. Rs 495.
have counted themselves as God’s chosen people. So have we
Indians. We have the myth of the Himalayas guarding us in the
north like a sentinel and the Indian Ocean in the south,
keeping the intruders at bay.
All that has
vanished in the melting pot of time. Neither the Himalayan
range nor the Indian Ocean has remained impenetrable. The
threat perceptions of the Indian nation are increasing with
the advance of technology. Security concerns are rising.
Khullar, a retired brigadier and an outstanding mountaineer,
in his book under review makes an impassioned plea for
carefully identifying and correctly assessing the threats,
both external and internal. He brings his own intimate
knowledge of this sensitive subject to bear upon his analysis.
had Pakistan been to the USA in its endeavour to contain the
erstwhile USSR and oust it from Afganistan? Would it now like
to do a Russia on China, again using the good offices of
Pakistan? Or will the rising spectre of Islamic fundamentalism
make it ditch Pakistan and tilt towards India?
emerge as a super power in the 21st century and become an
economic giant or go the USSR way and be circumscribed by the
Great Wall? How far are China’s own strategies of propping
up Pakistan with military aid, equipping it with nuclear and
missile technology, aimed at India?
trying to find answers to these and other questions in this
book. He is totally opposed to the creation of Pakistan. He is
one of those who are not yet reconciled to partition.
"Pakistan," he says, "is modern India’s great
betrayal, an artificial creation and also a diabolical
one." Strong words these, and mind you, he is no RSS
that Pakistan was created on false premises. The two-nation
theory has proved to be a hoax. "The basic
contradiction," he says, "is that the two-nation
theory which created its own myth — that of Pakistan being
the true inheritor of India’s Islamic heritage and India for
all its proclaimed secularism and democracy is a Hindu state.
This is a mockery...vile and perverse ideology." Khullar
asserts "the heritage of the Muslims of Pakistan lies in
the correct Indian heartland and it is there that the soul of
Pakistan belongs and not the Middle East or Arabia."
it comes to normalising relations between the estranged
neighbours, the author appears to be in two minds. At one
place (page 43) he states: "These people-to-people, trade
and cultural contacts are a double-edged weapon. They may have
some valid long-term benefits, but at present these are
proving to be totally counter-productive. There is enough
evidence that Pakistani agents are finding shelter amongst
Indian Muslims, which cannot be permitted. We need to isolate
the Muslim fundamentalists in India from all possible contacts
with Pakistan; whether these be through Nepal, Bangladesh or
the liberalised visa system. There is a saying in Hindi Laton
ke bhoot baaton se nahin mante. That applies to
inelegant, inapt phraseology! But after a few pages (page 50)
he says: "Should a sagacious leadership ever emerge in
Pakistan, it can be hoped that there will be a genuine
people-to-people contact, with each country respecting the
other’s integrity and with freedom of movement across the
borders as in Europe and a similar concept of nationalism.
Kashmir will cease to be an emotive issue."
considerably increased military might since 1984 exercises the
author. He says: "Until 1984, India enjoyed a clear
supremacy in military strength...(but) Pakistan today is a
matching military power, it has acquired nuclear capability
and delivery means in shape of short and medium-range
ballistic missiles in addition to its F-16s which are capable
of penetrating deep into Indian territory."
He gives some
basic statistics about the armed forces of India, China and
Pakistan in an Appendix.
The proxy war
masterminded by the ISI seems to have been intensified
notwithstanding Pakistan’s misadventure in Kargil. This is a
cause for anxiety and calls for a more efficient and adequate
response from India.
I should have
thought Khullar would enlighten the reader about some nagging
questions regarding Kargil. Who was most to blame for allowing
this savage and treacherous act against this country? Have we
learnt the necessary lessons and punished the guilty and made
systemic amendments? I should have liked to know from him. To
my disappointment, he does not have a word.
He dwells at
some length on war deterrence between India and Pakistan and
wonders whether the latter in its desperation may make a last
ditch effort to defeat India and annex Kashmir. He does not
rule out such a do-or-die war by Pakistan considering the
one-point agenda the rulers, whether civil or military, seem
to have. The possession of nuclear warheads may tempt them to
surprise India. First strike and its past conduct seems to
confirm Pakistan’s penchant for deceit.
thus goes on. Khullar is not happy with the way the relations
with Pakistan in general and the Kashmir problem in particular
are being handled by India. He would like a tough Indian
posture by suitably strengthening the military muscle. He is,
of course, aware of the dangers of the arms race that this
course had ruinously led the two neighbours.
Punjabi, he examines the Punjab problem in some depth and
offers valuable insights into the psyche of the Jat Sikh. He
is frank and forthright and therefore instructive and
delightful. He advises the Akalis to broaden their agenda and
lay greater stress on Punjabiat. One might as well ask the
LTTE to embrace the Sinhalese!
shocked at the prevalence of poverty, squalor, overpopulation
and corruption in the country. Poverty, according to him, can
be tackled by following the Gandhian principles of gram swaraj,
village self-sufficiency and simplicity. The model adopted by
us has given rise to mindless urbanisation, a burgeoning,
self-seeking bureaucracy — "India’s ten million blood
suckers and parasites" — and criminalisation of
India there is nothing illegal that cannot be done. It’s
(all) a question of money.... We thus have our fodder, sugar,
urea scams and numerous hawalas. Why would India not remain
poor?" he says.
As for his
views on corruption, here is a sample: "Indians today are
regarded as one of the most corrupt people in the world. From
the peon to the clerk to the top bureaucrat everyone in the
administration is corrupt. The police is corrupt. The
judiciary is corrupt. The teaching faculty, the doctors and
the priest too are corrupt. The press and media are equally
corrupt even as they make such noise and an issue of it. The
defence services are corrupt where the means to be so exist.
The politicians are the most corrupt. Everyone is more or less
corrupt and everyone is more or less happier than he was
earlier. What matters is that you are rich and not how you
managed to acquire the unaccountable wealth. Money gets you
prestige and power and these count."
describing high fertility among slum dwellers, he even breaks
into unbecoming, smutty language — a soldier’s licence! He
observes that there is an inter-dependence between the
affluent urbanites and slum dwellers. He makes a dire
prediction of a bloody revolution triggered by stark
disparities which are widening. He suggests some political
reforms to stem the tide and they are these.
required are political reforms and as a starting point
politics must be declared as a profession at par with other
government services. Accordingly, there is a need to lay down
minimum qualifications. After all there was a time when
illiterates could join the government services and now the
minimum qualification for even a peon is matriculation. Police
verification is mandatory before any government official can
be confirmed in his or her job. Why should there be a double
standard when it comes to electing politicians as our MLAs and
MPs? The self-serving myth that people join politics to
selflessly serve their people needs to be contemptuously
exposed and demolished. People join politics for power and
money and eventually they control the destiny of the people
they represent. Is it not, therefore, high time we started
ensuring that only reasonably educated people with no criminal
records are eligible for being elected as our MLAs and MPs?
Equally pertinent is the case of fixing of a cut off date
after which non-matrics will not be permitted to cast their
a critical evaluation of the performance of India’s Prime
Ministers in his characteristic matter-of-fact manner. Nehru,
according to him, suffered from a delusion of grandeur and was
"often ambiguous, verbose and betrayed a confused
mind" as demonstrated in his "mishandling of India’s
major crises, especially that of Kashmir, our relations with
China and in chief India’s Tibet policy". He gave India
only, what the author calls, "a cosmetic greatness".
As for Indira
Gandhi, the author says that a sense of insecurity haunted her
all her life which made her go against her natural instinct of
resigning after the Allahabad High Court judgement set aside
her election and instead clamping emergency. He says that
Rajiv Gandhi’s naivete led him to invite catastrophe by
sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka. He blundered giving in to the
fundamentalists in the Shah Bano case as well as in the Babri
He makes some
candid comments about other Prime Ministers. He pays
compliments to Atal Behari Vajpayee for turning the tables on
Pakistan in Kargil and earning international accolade for
showing restraint against grave provocation. His assessment of
JP and his movement are most refreshing.
One is indeed
delighted to read Khullar’s pithy book. He hides his
erudition through his straight-forward, conversational style.
Reading him one is face to face with a sincere, incisive and
alert citizen of India whose heart bleeds to see so much filth
and stink in public life. The book exhibits the forthright
manner of a soldier, depth of a scholar and care and vision of
a patriot. Icommend it to every right-thinking Indian.
Some printer’s devils have
crept into the book distorting "proselytising" and
"Fabian", etc. There are also some factual
inaccuracies. I don’t think Bansi Lal was Defence Minister
in 1983 or Dr Raja Ramanna ever became one. But these are
minor ones. On the whole, the printer has done an excellent
What makes nation, nation-states
This is an
extract from the Introduction to "Nation and National
Identity in South Asia".
is well known that much of our received knowledge about the
concepts of nation and nation-state is derived from the West
and is based on the western experience. The experience of the
rest of the world, particularly of South Asia, is different
from that of the West. For the same reason, South Asia
provides a fascinating laboratory for the study of the
national question, for testing the formulations derived from
the West, and also for generating new formulations.
A preserve of
political scientists until recently, sociologists have now
begun to make a foray into this field. While the first major
sociological work on Indian nationalism by A.R. Desai appeared
as far back as 1948, more recently, the Indian Sociological
Society gave a new impetus to sociological discourse on the
theme by choosing it as the main theme of its 25th All India
Sociological Conference. The present book is a compendium of
select papers presented at the conference and subsequently
featured in the Sociological Bulletin.
The intent of
this essay is not just to provide an overview of the
contributions but to identify and analyse the issues thrown up
by them. The idea is to make theoretical sense of the
discourse and try and understand its distinctiveness vis-a-vis
western thinking on the subject. A brief digest of the paper
is, nevertheless, necessary even for the purpose of analytical
contributions seek to conceptualise the experience of nation
formation and de-formation in South Asia, particularly India,
Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Oommen, whose work on the
theme of nation and state has exercised a major influence on
South Asian studies in one way or another, focuses on the
modes of conceptualising nation and nationality in the Indian
subcontinent. He identifies and interrogates the following
seven ways in which nation has been defined in the Indian
subcontinent as an ancient civilisational entry, composite
culture, political entity, religious entity,
geographical/territorial entity with a specific cultural
ethos, a collection of linguistic entities, and a unity of
great and little nations.
seven he finds the sixth, that is the collectivity of
linguistic groups proximate to "our social reality"
with the remaining ones suffering from ambiguity and
necessarily following the order in the list of contents, the
other papers are abstracted here in terms of the following
thematic scheme: (a) the genesis of the nation-state in the
West; (b) the problematics of nation-building in India in
relation to language, region, tribe, religion, caste and
gender; (c) the issues of nation-making and nationality in
other parts of South Asia, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and
Sri Lanka; and (d) the concept of civil society and the
relationship between the state and civil society in India.
rise of the nation state first. Reviewing the two prevailing
views on the rise of the nation-state in the West — the
ethnic drive argument and the capitalist engine argument —
Gupta finds both of these indequate to explain the emergence
of the nation-state. In respect of the capitalist engine
argument, he rejects both the structuralist and the conspiracy
positions. Yet, he notes that "capitalism and nationalism
have been coevals". He also notes that capitalism
undermined the old systems of stratification which were closed
and ascriptive and replaced them with open systems of
stratification. Given its universalistic orientation and its
stress on the breakdown of closed systems of stratification,
Gupta asks, "Where is it in capitalism, with its open
class structure, that nation-states are made essential?"
He attributes it to capitalism’s search for commitment.
him, the old systems of stratification were marked by discrete
units, the principle of repulsion and the potential of a
viable basis of identity formation. But not so the open
systems of stratification which are distinguished by
continuous hierarchies that provide no bases for exclusivist
identity formation. This creates structural pressures on
capitalism to generate a new exclusivist identity in the form
of a supra-local community called nation-state. It enables
capitalism to disparage and undermine the primordial localised
loyalties of kin, caste, religion and the like, on the one
hand, and on the other, power capitalism with the
"politics of commitment" in place of the
"politics of responsibility".
the problematic of nation formation, Karna analyses the role
of language and region in the formation of national identity
and in shaping the pattern of the state-nation relationship in
India. He also sheds light on the historic significance of the
linguistic reorganisation of states in India and the
consequences for nation formation. He finds the European model
of nation-state unsuitable for a proper understanding of
nation and nationality in India and pleads for adopting an
alternative model of a multinational state.
In a similar
vein, Pathy criticises the Indian state for following the
western model of nation-state and undermining tribal
identities and pauperising the tribal peoples. Providing a
systematic profile of the regional distribution of tribes in
India, he offers a sensitive account of how the Indian state
has conducted itself more in the manner of a nation-state in
spite of its multi-national character, and how it has deprived
the tribals of much of their land, livelihood, language,
religion and culture.
visions of nationhood and religiosity among a select group of
freedom fighters in India, Nandi shows how a secularist
ideology permeated the speeches and writings of the founding
fathers of modern India from Mahadev Govind Ranade to
Jawaharlal Nehru. He locates the source of this secularist
ideology in the assimilative, all-encompassing and eclectic
religious traditions in India and accords to it credit for the
triumph of forces of integration over disintegration.
vital place of caste in Indian social structure, it is only to
be expected that caste would get implicated with the project
of nation formation in India. Aloysius attempts to explain the
ways in which caste has come to be implicated with nation and
religion in modern India. He argues that the agency of
nationalism here has continued to be more or less exclusively
dominated by the communities accustomed to the wielding of
power within the caste-varna mode since the beginning
to the present. Endorsing the lower caste evaluation of
nationalism as a brahmanic/upper caste obsession, he observes:
"Every effort was made by nationalists to ignore the
existence of those who ought not to, according to tradition,
venture into the public realm; when this was not possible
their attempt at emergence was ridiculed as job-hunting or as
tailor-parliamentarian and when this too would not suffice,
their bid for power was confronted with plain violence".
Gandhi’s candid declaration in favour of the varna
ideal and Ambedkar’s opposition to it, he shows how the
debate was settled mostly in favour of the caste forces
represented by Gandhi. Not surprisingly, secularism has been
appropriated by the nationalists to mean equal regard for all
religions. Thus, "the traditional socio-religious
practice of the dominant has reincarnated with no change in
essentials as the new civil religion in modernity and
turns the spotlight on gender and provides a broad mapping of
the manner in which women have been addressed both in the
making of the Indian nation and in the running of the Indian
state. She argues that the Indian state has perceived women
primarily in three ways: as agents and recipients of
development, as citizens with equal rights and finally, as
cultural emblems. Her lament, however, is that the state
betrays what it professes in what it practises. She attributes
this to the inherent contradictions of a liberal state which
is wedded to equality, on the one hand, and to patriarchal
private property, on the other, to individual rights of women,
on the one hand, and to rights’ of cultural and religious
practices, on the other.
Moving to the
other parts of South Asia, Fazal highlights the role of
religion in the genesis of Pakistan and language and territory
in that of Bangladesh. Born out of the idea of Muslim
nationalism, Pakistan could not sustain the tempo of religious
nationalism. In a matter of a few decades, the problem of
ethno-nationalism gained stridency in the form of the Muhajir
movement to contest the hegemonic project of the Pakistani
state. However, the most decisive blow came from Bengali
nationalism which was based on the edifice of cultural
specificity, linguistic identity and territorial integrity,
leading to the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. Not much
impressed with the role of religion and language in view of
the flexibility in conceiving nation, Fazal, in the final
analysis underlines the crucial importance of the
"subjective will" of the political actors as the
only viable attribute of nation.
of national identity in Sri Lanka engages the attention of
Silva who explains it in terms of the dialectical interaction
between caste and ethnicity. In the light of the available
evidence, he maintains that certain caste grievances and
skirmishes preceded the rise of ethnicity among northern
Tamils in Sri Lanka. The weakening of the hierarchical
ideology of caste, in his view, was perhaps necessary for the
rise of a strong ethnic ideology of "a deep horizontal
comradeship", to use Anderson’s phrase.
further, traces the rise of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism to
the caste dynamics among the Sinhalese. However, the real
boost to ethno-nationalist conflict in Sri Lanka, according to
him, came from the hegemonic turn in Sinhala-Buddhist
nationalism with its "Sinhala only" official
language policy. In conclusion, he observes:"Since
ethnicity in parts of South Asia may have some continuity with
the traditional caste system, it may be qualitatively
different from ethnicity in the rest of the world" and
for the same reason, it may pose a more serious challenge to
nation-building in south Asia.
contributions on the theme of civil society. Reflecting on the
concept of civil society, Uberoi says that "the question
of civil society can be approached from either of two opposed
aspects, the question of culture and the question of
power". From the cultural aspect, civil society can be
viewed as "a natural and universal development of
intermediary institutions between the priest and the
prince". Viewed from the power aspect, he finds civil
society represented by intermediary institutions between the
family and the state.
own position, Uberoi argues that "civil society is a
category of universal human society, or of historical
civilisation as against pre-history, and not only a category
of bourgeois society, or of modern capitalism, for example, as
in the tradition from Hegal to Habermas". He contends
that civil society is "often established on the life and
death of the martyr rather than of the hero (or the
victim)", it therefore, also requires "new forms and
concepts of pluralism, mediation of the one and the many, and
of the common usage or custom of the people (vernacularism) to
sustain it, whether in general amity or enmity, solidarity and
reciprocity, conformity or transgression".
In the light
of the above hypothesis, Uberoi traces the struggle of civil
society in India to "the rise and recognition of the
vernaculars and vernacularism everywhere in language, labour
and culture". He addes that "it is the story of
religion and politics proceeding from Kabir (1440-1518) to
Mahatma Gandhi. Its political culmination, if we may call it
that, is the movement for the linguistic reorganisation of the
states of the Union after 1950...".
cautions us against the received understanding of the
relationship between the state and civil society as mutually
exclusive and hostile. Treating such as understanding as
fallacious, he argues that "state and/or society are
intertwined concepts denoting a dynamic discourse, each
affecting and getting affected by the other, and neither of
them being socially frozen identities/entities". He
criticises both liberals and culturalists for raising the
bogey of anti-statism and celebration of civil society. While
the liberals have (mis)appropriated the term democracy to
legitimise social inequalities under the banner of civil
society, the culturalists have joined the bandwagon of civil
society to find legitimacy for the religious, linguistic and
ethnic movements against the "homogenising Indian state.
However, "a weak state does not mean a strong civil
society" argues Pandey. The prevailing ideology of anti-statism
(or trans-nationalism, a more respectable term for
globalisation and multinational corporatism), he apprehends,
is problematic on account of the forces of cultural
fundamentalism, on the one hand, and the celebration of free
market and civil society, on the other.
provided a gist of the papers, it is time to reflect on the
issues — conceptual, substantive and theoretical —
emerging from the contributions. On the conceptual front, the
most important is the idea of nation and its conceptual
constituents. Almost every article in the book addresses the
concept of nation in one way or another. Leaving aside its
varied conceptualisations in the West, in both liberal and
Marxist historiography, in the context of the Indian
subcontinent itself, Oommen distinguishes, as indicated
earlier, seven ways in which nation has been interpreted.
After reviewing the diverse interpretations, he settles for a
definition of nation as a "fusion between territory and
culture". In short, he views nation primarily as a
"territorial cultural entity". Several contributors,
including Karna and Fazal, seem to subscribe to this view.
observations are in order here. First, their particularistic
nuances apart, the seven conceptions of nation identified by
Oommen may broadly be subsumed into three categories: nation
as a civilisational entity, as a cultural entity and as a
political entity. While Oommen’s assessment of the Indian
nation as a civilisational entity is well taken, the fact
remains that this is the way many Indians perceive the Indian
nation, irrespective of the fact that several scholars find it
objectively untenable. Myths perhaps are more real than
objective realities as far as the constitution of social
phenomena are concerned. Further, the civilisational notion of
nation is important to recognise and reckon within the Indian
subcontinent, if we as social scientists wish to understand
how the idea of nation in South Asia is historically different
from that in the West.
To say this,
is not to commend the civilisational notion of the Indian
nation, but to take notice of the historical specificity of
the concept of nation in Indian thought. There is ample
evidence to suggest that India was envisaged as a nation in
terms of its civilisational thrust by seers and intellectuals
long before the colonial encounter. Denying this goes against
the grain of India’s history and culture.
conceptualisation of nation as a culturally distinct
territorial entity leaves something to be desired. It misses
out on the political element of nation. Once again, it is a
question of taking cognisance of peoples’ perceptions. The
term nation carries a political import in peoples’ minds.
Viewed in terms of peoples’ perceptions, Anderson’s
definition of nation as a culturally grounded imagined
political community makes better sense. Important points
to note in this definition are the words imagined
political, which imply two things: (a) that it may or may
not be an accomplished political community, but it certainly
is an imagined community; (b) that it is a political
community, for though based on a sense of cultural
distiniction devoid of political element, Oommen’s
definition of nation sounds more like that of an ethnic
community. For the same reason, perhaps, Mukherji observes.
"What is ethnic to Smith, is nation to
point, it is pertinent to note that the term nation has been
used in so many different senses by both intellectuals and
laymen alike that it is extremely difficult to encapsulate in
a general definition. For the present purposes, however, it is
essential to distinguish between two broad referents of
nation: nation as a supra-local entity and nation as a
culturally distinct locational entity. The term nation is in
use in both the senses in the Indian subcontinent. In terms of
a civilisational category, it signifies a supralocal entity.
Notably, the civilisational notion of nation is open to both
interpretations; communal and secular. Used in terms of Hindu
civilisation or Hindutva, it takes on a communal character,
while used as composite culture or as a plurality of cultural
entities it takes on a secular character.
pertain to macro-level conceptualisations of nation. At the
micro level, again the term nation is amenable to two
interpretations — as a culturally distinct territorial
entity and as a culturally grounded imagined political
community. It all depends on the context. Any attempt at
reducing it to one single definition is bound to leave out
some of its other important conceptual constituents.