The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 3, 2000

From Russia with a classic film
Review by  M.L. Raina

Indian drama in England
Review by Deepika Gurdev

A jargon-free book
Review by Roopinder Singh

Be programmer yourself
Review by Naveen S. Garewal

Know your IT systems
Review by Kuldip Kalia

Tale of defector Panchen Lama
Review by  Jaswant Kaur

Stand up, my countrymen
Review by  Ram Varma

What makes nation, nation-states


From Russia with a classic film
Review by M.L. Raina

Collected Screen-plays by Andrei Tarkovsky and translated by William Powell and Natasha Synessios. Faber, London. Pages xxv+564. $ 25.

The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue by Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. Pages xvii+331. $ 25.95.

Mirror: A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky. Artificial Eye Video Production, London. 102 minutes. £ 24.

LET 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 western ideas.

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 Dostoevsky’s stories.

This essential 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.

Both recreate 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 order.

Andrei 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 exile.

A major 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).

Critically 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.

Speaking of 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.

The 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 Russia.

Though "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.

Our routine 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 content.

As Tarkovsky 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.

Andrei Rublev 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".

There are 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 sea".

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.

Against the 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.

Many-layered in 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.

Johnson and 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.

The "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 ambidexterity.

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".



Indian drama in England
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal. Anchor. Pages 334. Price Rs 295.

THIS 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.

Syal, a 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.

The novel 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.

"Life 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 may work."

Then there 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 got?"

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.

Chila 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.

Sunita sheds 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.

Tania, 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.

While the 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 housewives.

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.


A jargon-free book
Review by Roopinder Singh

MS-Word 2000 in a Nutshell by Sanjay Saxena. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 141. Rs 90.

MICROSOFT 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.

Most computer 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.

Right from 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.

Toolbars 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.

The spelling 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 other errors.

A useful 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 default language.

The author also tells you how to create a template, which is useful for persons who have to produce similar-looking documents with differing texts.

Another useful, 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 language.

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.


Be programmer yourself
Review by Naveen S. Garewal

Programming with Visual Basic 6.0 by Mohammed Azam. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 456. Rs 195.

WITHOUT 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 programmer.

Programming in "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 heavy.

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.

Following an 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.

Divided into 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.

The practical 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.


Know your IT systems
Review by Peeyush Agnihotri

Analysis, Design and Implementation of Information Systems — A Transition to Objects by Ashok Kumar Sharma. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi Pages 282. Rs 135

WHEN 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 students.

Sales, 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.

Apart from 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 each chapter.

Issues that confound the managers are usually those concerned with building information system of strategic importance within an organisation. The book focuses on strategic planning too.

The emphasis 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.

Appendices 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 policy.

The chapter 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 this.


Tale of defector Panchen Lama
Review by Parshotam Mehra

The Search for the Panchen Lama by Isabel Hilton. Pelican Books, London. Pages xv + 335. £ 4.95.

IN 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.

Broadly 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.

The Panchen 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 recognition.

It should 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.

Were the 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.

The Dalai 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.

Briefly, the 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.

A major 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 Lhasa.

As ill-luck 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 comeback.

Meanwhile the 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.

The "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.

The Dalai 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.

Sadly for 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.

The Panchen 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.

The Panchen 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 suffered.

Strongly 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 contrary.

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.

In January, 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.

After the 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?

Not many 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 endorsement.

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 custody".

Rated the world’s "youngest political prisoner", despite all the anxiety shown — and the enquiries made — Gedun Choekvi Nyima has not been seen since.

Meanwhile the "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.

For, two 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?

Isabel Hilton’s 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.

Her odyssey 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.


Stand up, my countrymen
Review by Ram Varma

Security, Peace and Honour by Darshan Khullar. Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 232. Rs 495.

Israelis 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.

Darshan 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.

How important 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?

Will China 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?

Khullar is 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 sympathiser!

He asserts 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."

However, when 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 Pakistan."

Rather 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."

Pakistan’s 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.

The argument 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.

Being a 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!

Khullar is 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 politics.

"In 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."

While 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.

"What is 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 votes."

Khullar makes 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 Masjid matter.

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 job.


What makes nation, nation-states

This is an extract from the Introduction to "Nation and National Identity in South Asia".

IT 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 enterprise.

The 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.

Of these 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 ambivalence.

Without 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.

About the 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.

According to 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".

Turning to 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.

Surveying the 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.

Given the 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".

Referring to 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 secularism".

Chaudhuri 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.

The problem 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.

Silva, 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.

Finally, the 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.

Advancing his 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...".

Pandey 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.

Having 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.

A few 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.

Second, 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 Oommen".

At this 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.

These usages 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.