Sunday, December 31, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Off the shelf
by V. N. Datta

History: When the past talks to the present
THE term history is ambiguous and is open to various interpretations. It means a chronological record of important or public events or the study of the past, especially of human affairs. In other words, it means a study of past events or writings on them. The past no longer exists but we have objects (documents, monuments, etc.) which survive the past. We construct narratives to explain them, making intelligent guesses to fill the gaps.

Slow road to Indo-Pak sanity
by Rakshat Puri
NDIAN and Pakistani representatives are expected to meet at Islamabad in a conference under SAARC auspices to discuss a proposal for the creation of a free trade zone and eased transport links. The meeting — reported by The Hindu quoting Pakistani media — is scheduled for January 6-7, in the midst of the ceasefire. 


Sukhoi deal
December 30, 2000
Now, a conclave
December 29, 2000
Red Fort and “red alert”
December 28, 2000
PM’s birthday gift
December 27, 2000
Mounting peace pressure
December 26, 2000
Red Fort breached
December 25, 2000
Hijacking regulation of metabolism
December 24, 2000
Slap and Samba case
December 23, 2000
It’s now R-Day ceasefire
December 22, 2000
A rotting scandal
December 21, 2000


What yellow teeth you have....
by Nicci Gerrard

A grandmother, is a lady with no children of her own. She likes other people’s little girls and boys. Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except to be there. They’re old, so they shouldn’t play too hard or run. Usually, grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. 

A millennium seed bank
by Claudia Pritchard
LANTS have a vital role to play in the future of both human kind and the planet as sources of food, medicine and building materials and a new seed bank in a specially-built bomb-proof bunker 50 kilometres south of London, England, will go some way towards ensuring their survival.


by Harihar Swarup
Putting India on world Chess map
HE tradition of chess in India goes back to the days of “Nawabs”. The game is believed to sharpen skills, enable the players to solve riddles and help them learn the technique of manoeuvrability. Some consider chess as inauspicious and a sort of addiction almost like opium which destroys families.


Big B to stick to business
NCE bitten twice shy. Mega star Amitabh Bachchan is a lot wiser after he burnt his fingers in politics. Riding high on the success of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, the Big B has decided that he would confine himself to the business of entertainment. Of late, there had been speculation about another comeback by Bachchan in politics as he has been seen regularly in the company of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his trusted aide Amar Singh.


by Humra Quraishi
Transparency aspect missing
EFORE I write about the rest of the ‘happenings’ of this week, so as to say, let me stress that what we urgently require is transparency, in the very functioning of the different aspects of governance.



Off the shelf
by V. N. Datta
History: When the past talks to the present

THE term history is ambiguous and is open to various interpretations. It means a chronological record of important or public events or the study of the past, especially of human affairs. In other words, it means a study of past events or writings on them.

The past no longer exists but we have objects (documents, monuments, etc.) which survive the past. We construct narratives to explain them, making intelligent guesses to fill the gaps. These objects existed in the past but our interpretation belongs to the present.

Historians disagree on interpretations, even on what to treat as evidence and whether facts of history are found or made. So the question is whether history is a creative art or a science of discovery. Is there a thing as historical truth?

These are some of the questions discussed in the book under review “Reconstructing History: The Emergence of a New Historical Society” edited by Fox, Genovese and Elizabeth Quinn (Routledge, New York, pages xxii+377, $29.99).

A group of prominent American scholars found in 1998 the Historical Society whose object was the formation of an integrated history acceptable to the public. These historians, Eugene D. Genevese, John Patrick Diggins, Gertrude Himmelfare, Donald Kagan and others, surveyed the current debates on history and found a common ground with others. They agreed on the abiding significance of the study of the past not only for a limited circle of professional historians but for the general public.

The common view taken by these historians was that as the discipline of history had suffered due to negligence and ideological and political factors, it was necessary to reflect on the nature and method of historical knowledge and to ensure its proper study in American academic institutions. The emphasis was on the need to be sceptical of the limits of historical analysis and professional skills.

This book is divided into five parts. Part I, “The imperative: the History Society as a critique and a new ideal”, lays down what might be called a blueprint for action. The object of the opening chapter explains the reasons that led to the foundation of the Historical Society. An appeal is made to all to collaborate in the refinement of historical methodology in order to restore dignity and integrity of the discipline in American universities.

Part II, “History in the intellectual milieu”, concentrates on the way post-modernism, identity politics and misreading of historical experience contribute to the distortion and trivialisation as an intellectual discipline.

Part III, “Meditations on the practice of history”, traces the variations on the themes mentioned in Part II which figured in the lives of some individual historians and in historical studies in general.

Part IV, “An educational mission: standards for the teaching of history”, debates national history standards.

In part V, “Historians at work”, specific examples are cited to show how historians use their professional skills to reconstruct the past.

In this impressive compilation of essays many historians regret that the study of history is under siege and that there is a cultural crisis because of the falling standards both of teaching and writing of history. They argue that there is a primary need to evaluate the nature of existing historical knowledge and to suggest ways and means to make it meaningful for scholars and students.

Quite a number of contributors to the volume criticise new academic fads which are becoming popular. Allan Charles Kors warns that “fadish and ephemeral critical theory with its simplistic misleading theories of oppression has made inroads into the fields of history and ravaged other subjects as well”. Some of the essays in the volume sharply criticise the current state of the history profession, history education and even the universities and culture at large. But there is a genuine underlying desire that historians should undertake self-examination and renewal, and they must pose to themselves the current burning questions of their professional craft and responsibility which are undermined by contemporary ideals.

Deborah Symod in “Living in the Scottish record office” emphasises that history, whatever it may become, begins from evidence and is confronted with the questions of beliefs, interests and falsification. In such circumstances, the proper approach to the study of history is to follow a scrupulous and meticulous method of investigation rather than to indulge in theoretical speculations without any spade work in archival material.

In “Democracy in the ivory tower”, Lasche-Quinns shows how overspecialisation ridden with jargon and compartmentalisation has distorted historical thinking. David Kagan in “What is liberal education”, finds a cultural void in American universities due to the neglect of human values which have sustained humankind. In Kagan’s words, “Having little or no sense of human experience through the ages, what has been traced or what has succeeded and what has failed, and of what is the price of cherishing some values as opposed to others or how values relate to one another (the students) leap from acting as though anything is possible, without cost, to despairing that nothing is possible.”

In his illuminating article, “Aristotle and the study of history: a manifesto”, Paul A. Rahe points out the difficulties that historians face in the reconstruction of the history of ancient Greece and Rome because of a lack of material. Furthermore, Rahe warns that it makes little sense to apply modern paradigms to ancient circumstances.

He argues that the nature of the Greek and Roman polity has to be understood on their own terms. According to Rahe, the Spartan polity was simultaneously a closed society and also a parliamentary democracy. He suggests that it would be fruitful if modern scholars turn to the writings of Herodotus, Thycidides, Plato and Aristotle for understanding the Greco-Roman political ideals.

Rahe emphasises that the foundation of western political thought was laid by Plato and Aristotle who gave primary importance to the system of checks and balances in the management of the state affairs. Both political thinkers had stressed the value of statesmanship in resolving complex political issues that confront states and gave it a primary place in the decision-making process. They did not rule out the possibility of settling for a lesser evil at times.

Machiavelli came to the same conclusion in the conduct of human affairs when he wrote that politics is the art of the possible and of the relative. But to Aristotle and Plato, politics is not divorced from principles of morality as they never doubted that people could be both self-seeking and public-spirited.

Sir Lewis Namier, however, missed the point when he remarked that in politics “what matters is the underlying emotion, the music, to which ideas are a mere liberetto of a very interior quality”.

Post-modernism has become a serious subject of debate in academic circles. In “Post-modernist history”, Gertrude Himmelfare, professor emeritus of the City University of New York, has given a brilliant analysis of the merits and demerits of the new approach to writing history, which has gained much popularity in American academic circles.

Post-modernism is a school of literary theory and its founders are Neitzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and Foucault.

E.H. Carr has questioned the notion of objectivity in history and post-modernism was a leap from there. The emphasis, according to Himmelfare, has shifted from the activity of the historian to the text, from history-writing based on empiricism to the examination of the text used by historians. The text has to be glossed, constructed and interpreted.

Himmelfare emphasises that post-modernism rejects Enlightenment and the values it has fostered—reason, truth, justice and reality. Thus history has no meaning, no purpose, and the distinction between history and fiction is blurred. The idea of working class and progress dissolves into a discourse and comments.

Furthermore, post-modernism offers a severe criticism of grand narrative, capitalism, freedom of thought and expression. Thus post-modernism is a complete rejection of a rational enquiry and dismissal of the fixity of the past. All history is therefore flawed. History has therefore no story to tell, no lesson to give.

History is the analysis of the text, rather than the understanding of the past. Derrida has said, “Nothing exists outside the text.” Even primary sources are considered spurious.

Himmelfare has identified some of the key words in post-modernism such as power, knowledge, deconstruction and plurality of interpretation. Knowledge is identified with political notions of domination and oppression. History is thus trivialised by fragmenting it, lacking in coherance.

Post-modernism celebrates differences, discontinuities, ambiguity, irony, anarchy and chaos. Thus there is a farewell to reason, coherence and consistency. Himmelfare regards post-modernism “as an intellectual and moral suicide”.

Personally I welcome post-modernism because it heightens our consciousness about the reality of history but we have to go beyond and see the social reality. The challenge to the discipline of history is not startlingly new. The grand narrative produced and published by some of the so-called Whig historians like Lord Macaulay and G.M. Trevelyan and the literature on the French and Industrial Revolutions were subjected to criticism. Some of the meaning of the text has to be rescued.

Post-modernism has its own value in making us somewhat careful in using technical skill to comprehend reality. It also suggests a new line of approach, bringing the individual back to history and alerting us to our own limitations to our craft.

This scholarly, highly stimulating and provocative study leaves the impression that “We can more or less understand the past”, and that an understanding of the past requires “a typical seriousness of purpose”. 


Slow road to Indo-Pak sanity
by Rakshat Puri

INDIAN and Pakistani representatives are expected to meet at Islamabad in a conference under SAARC auspices to discuss a proposal for the creation of a free trade zone and eased transport links. The meeting — reported by The Hindu quoting Pakistani media — is scheduled for January 6-7, in the midst of the ceasefire. If the report is correct and if New Delhi does keep to the schedule, this will be the first official delegation from this country to visit Islamabad after India frustrated the Pakistani attempt to encroach upon Kargil. The meeting could turn out to be the most positive development for an eventual, mutually acceptable Indo-Pak compromise on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir.

Among other implications of this would seem to be India’s acceptance of the Musharraf regime as legitimate. It may be recalled that General Pervez Musharraf — under probable Chinese inspiration — led the Pakistan Army into violating the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir by intruding into the Kargil area in an obvious attempt to thwart any settlement following the Lahore Declaration signed by Prime Minister Vajpayee and the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Indo-Pak friendship did not fit into China’s plans, interests and ambitions. Pakistan is beholden to China for various favours, including nuclear development, nuclear accessories, missiles and other kinds of armament. These came to Islamabad at Chinese friendship prices. What evidently did not come to Pakistan from China — possibly contrary to Pakistani expectations — were any significant degree of civilian benefits. True, there has been trade between the two countries to some extent — including the trade on the primarily strategy-related mountain road via Kashgar through the Khanjerab Pass. What Pakistan has imported from China includes electrical appliances, textiles and other consumer goods. This has not been enough. In the result, the regime at Islamabad has invariably turned with outstretched palm to traditional aid-givers such as the IMF and other institutions, and its Western allies. Last August, for instance, reports estimated that out of $ 1.1 billion in the coffers of the Musharraf regime, $ 450 million were private foreign currency deposits placed by local banks, and over $ 300 million were deposits placed by friendly Arab countries as support for Pakistan’s balance of payments. This was in addition to nearly a billion dollars in supplier’s credits to enable Pakistan to import fuel from them. In 2000-2001, Pakistan’s trade deficit is expected to be in the region of $1.8 billion (it was $ 1.77 billion in 1999-2000).

The economic situation in Pakistan remains thin and threadbare — for all the political bravado exhibited. The private remittances and foreign exchange inflows in bank deposits, which are said to have been around $ 3 billion, a year dropped almost abruptly after Pakistan tested its nuclear devices in May 1998. Private direct and portfolio investments, which were said to have been about $ 5 billion between 1994 and 1996, are reported to have come down to a trickle. In this kind of situation — a situation, especially, in which some other parts of South Asia too need economic heave and support desperately — the proposal of a free trade zone in the SAARC region is not to be dismissed loftily.

If the Musharraf regime does dismiss the opportunity offered by the reported meeting scheduled in Islamabad — which it could, under the influence or diktat of, say, the jehaadi groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Ansar-e-Mujahideen — it will not only keep Pakistan in the thrall of conditionally aiding powers and institutions, but will also be implicitly encouraging the jehaadi groups to try and bring Pakistan under a Talibanist dispensation. Those Muslims who are genuinely devout, and not merely fanatical slogan-shouters and arms-wielders, should understand without difficulty what this would mean. Mobs are led to shout religion-related and other slogans loudest when their stomachs are empty, their bodies mostly bare, their roof the sky, and when they have nothing to lose but their cynicism.

If Musharraf and his colleagues do have at heart the health and welfare of Pakistan and Pakistanis, they will devote some sincere attention to the discussion reportedly scheduled at Islamabad on a free trade zone. The discussions on a free trade zone and on ways to ease transport links may, as mentioned above, have welcome implications for an India-Pakistan compromise on the J-K issue. A free trade zone and improved transport links will have their own logic, driving events in a direction that has never been considered seriously by the two sides. The prime implication would be a compromise — either permanent or temporary, say five to 15 years — on treatment of the LoC as international border, the decision to be re-examined after the stipulated period if the compromise is for a temporary modification.

Meanwhile, it is hardly necessary to state, energies would be devoted in collective and single-minded endeavour to answer the desperate need of socio-economic upliftment and political stabilisation in every corner of South Asia. Certainly, this would require courage in government’s of countries such as Pakistan and India — more in Pakistan, where sections of the people appear to have been made almost psychopathic from politically motivated stress on Jammu & Kashmir. The issue has been used blatantly to divert public attention from corruption and authoritarian misrule. Many ills ensued from this — one of them being that Pakistani identity today is based almost wholly on hate and suspicion of India.

The alternative, if the opportunity offered by the reported meeting scheduled for January 6-7 at Islamabad remains unutilised, would be a dreary continuation of the festering Indo-Pak situation; Pakistan’s continuous dependence for economic, and therefore political, support from the USA, China, Britain, international financial institutions, and other sources; continuous misery for the people of Jammu-Kashmir who are being targeted by non-Kashmiri terrorists of jehaadi groups in Pakistan, justifying and prolonging thereby repressiveness by the Indian forces; and so on. Indeed, it is likely that demands will be made in India for giving the Pakistan-based jehaadi groups their own medicine — whether it be by sending in commandos on missions such as the Lashkar’s at Red Fort last week and, more recently, at 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar, or by other ways. So far, India has shown exemplary patience and restraint for success of the ceasefire. How long does Islamabad expect the restraint and patience to last?

Two things are certain: first, that the terrorist missions from Pakistan will not succeed in their stated design. There is no instance yet of terrorists having succeeded in their aims anywhere. Secondly, in the circumstances that obtain, a war to settle any dispute between India and Pakistan is unthinkable. Brazen and exhibitionist Pakistani talk about human rights in J&K; about outdated and now-irrelevant UN resolutions (for the passing-by of which Pakistan was itself responsible); about the Hurriyat leaders alone being the peoples representatives on the Indian side (this bit of democratic protest from dictatorial military rulers!); and such other balderdash dished out much of the time will not essentially affect the kind of response to terrorism from Indian security forces that is being witnessed. The response may have to be intensified. Nor will such talk and balderdash bring the situation to the kind of solution desired by Islamabad, by the Pak-based jehaadis and terrorists, by the Hurriyat leaders in J & K, and by others who think like them.

A settlement in Jammu & Kashmir can only come gradually, and will only come by compromise. In the obtaining situation, the way to a compromise is unlikely to lie in direct talks on Jammu & Kashmir. It would seem to lie in Indo-Pak discussions on their general relationship; in discussions on subjects such as the proposed creation of a free trade zone and the easing of transport links. These point the direction to emergence of a South Asian community. It is these discussions that will lay the foundation for a J & K compromise settlement.

Islamabad might do well to consider, meanwhile, that when the discussion does turn eventually to the core subject of J & K, after a compromise has been achieved (whenever it has), there will be much else relating to J & K to be touched upon. There will, for example, be things to discuss such as the ceding — despite J & K being under UN consideration — of the Shaksgam valley area to China, in exchange for de facto Chinese recognition of the Pakistani claim over the Pakistan-administered side of Jammu-Kashmir; the arbitrary separation from the original J-K State territory of the northern areas; and so on. — Asia Features.


What yellow teeth you have....
by Nicci Gerrard

A grandmother, is a lady with no children of her own. She likes other people’s little girls and boys. Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except to be there. They’re old, so they shouldn’t play too hard or run. Usually, grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take their teeth and gums off.’ says one anonymous child quoted early in The Vintage Book of Grandmothers, written and compiled by Penelope Farmer (published in the UK by Virago), pp 422.

‘She was picture-book perfect,’ says another interviewee. ‘She washed Monday, ironed Tuesday, Wednesday was bedrooms, Thursday baking, Friday fish and floors, Saturday polishing, Sunday God and sewing.’ Grannies are old. Grannies have grey hair and wear specs. Grannies are plump, calm, kind, patient, smiley, selfless. They don’t work. They don’t dress up and look glamorous. They stay indoors. They don’t have a sex life. They bake and knit and wear soft, shapeless clothes. They move slowly and they have all the time in the world for their grandchildren.

Mothers can be cross and busy and exhausted and screechy and full of furies — but not grandmothers, who are at the quiet end of their life and have put aside their rage and desire.

Grandmothers and grandchildren; age and youth; wisdom and innocence; past and future; memory and hope. The stereotypes flood into the words. You only have to look at children’s picture books to see how the little old lady hangs on - except when she has been turned into her opposite, and become the absurdly trendy granny.

In Britain, women most commonly become grandmothers in their late fifties or early sixties. A hundred years ago, that was quite old, near the end of a life; now it is still young, with decades of life to go. The cliched image of the granny is contradicted everywhere you look.

What’s more, as the role of the mother changes, so too does that of the grandmother - more and more grandparents are providing child-care while their children work. They are no longer the people whose job is purely to love their grandchildren, as so many of the contributors to this book would have it; they have a clear and sometimes begrudged function.

According to the charity Age Concern, twice as many grandmothers now act as childminders as in the previous generation; two-thirds of today’s grandmothers say they are more actively and officially involved in the lives of their grandchildren than their parents were. It’s no longer just simple and sweet, but perhaps it never was.

In her timely anthology, Penelope Farmer sets out to acknowledge the different ways that there are of being a grandmother; the different emotions that a grandmother may feel - the tenderness and love and pride, the nostalgia, the resentment, the anxiety, the tendency to interfere.

She jumps across generations and centuries. She has quotations from anthropologists, writers, politicians, painters, poets, historians. She adds surveys, newspaper articles, letters. She uses extracts from novels and fairy tales and folklore. She has the useful granny, the traditional granny, the lively, the eccentric, the sexy, the powerful, the heroic and the hellish one (the witch, the malevolent crone with yellow teeth). Stern grannies and grannies on the razzle.

Some of these are splendid, of course, because here we find Euripides, Willa Cather, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Simone de Beauvoir and the great Anon. The majority are less resonant, like space-fillers (‘I love love love being a grandmother,’ says Donna Karan).

Farmer has another project running alongside the garnering of quotations, which is more of an oral history than an anthology. She has interviewed groups of women about being a grandmother - one from a sheltered housing project in Birmingham, England, one Chinese group from another housing project; she has interviewed friends and colleagues and intercut quotations with comments; she writes a personal introduction to each section of the book, giving her own experience as an enthusiastic grandmother.

Her own voice is insistent, emotional, intrusive, unbuttoned. Perhaps she added it to counterbalance the overall impression of the book’s randomness.

Nevertheless, two things shine through its generous clutter. The first is the poignancy of growing older. The second is overwhelming joy. — ONS


A millennium seed bank
by Claudia Pritchard

PLANTS have a vital role to play in the future of both human kind and the planet as sources of food, medicine and building materials and a new seed bank in a specially-built bomb-proof bunker 50 kilometres south of London, England, will go some way towards ensuring their survival.

The Millennium Seed Bank, the world’s largest collection of seeds, already holds 260 million seeds representing more than 5,000 species, and within the next 10 years aims to stock seeds for 10 per cent of the world’s flora, or 24,000 species, principally from the drylands.

At the high-tech centre in West Sussex, south of London, botanists and scientists are collecting seeds from all over the world and germinating them to see whether their conservation methods are indeed guaranteeing the future of endangered species.

Most of the seeds are deep-frozen, at temperatures as low as -100 C, which arrest the organic material’s natural degradation; some seeds can be kept for up to 500 years. Even in natural conditions there are examples of 1200-year-old old lotus seeds being successfully germinated .

The US $ 120 million project has practical as well as academic aims. Seed Bank researchers can work with local communities worldwide to develop valuable endemic food crops, and plants used for herbal medicine and building, explains botanist Tim Pearce, one of four co-ordinators, who has responsibility for seed-gathering in East Africa, India and Australia.

He points to the example of a fleshy, apricot-coloured fruit from a single kisaya tree on a farmer’s land in the Mwingi district of Eastern Kenya. The fruit’s seeds would not germinate after the long delay between harvest in February and the rains. Mr Pearce is working with local agencies to find conditions in which the seed of the nzaaya fruit, as it is known in the Kamba language, can be successfully preserved locally and germinated - so more fruit-bearing trees can be propagated.

The Millennium Seed Bank is also rescuing medicinal plants such as the horseradish tree, at risk from habitat destruction but a powerful weapon against typhoid and cholera, especially in Malawi. The prickly juniper, on the other hand, is precious in Western Asia and the Mediterranean as a sand stabiliser, which can encourage reforestation and arrest the encroachment of desert.

Until now, most of the world’s seed banks have been dedicated to commercial crop species; the Millennium Seed Bank concentrates on wild plants, and already holds seeds for 90 per cent of the United Kingdom’s indigenous flora. Where a plant is in danger of extinction, the seeds can be ‘cashed in’ - germinated and reintroduced to their natural habitat. A recent success for the bank was the revival of the delicate white-flowered creeper strapwort, a plant so fragile that it could be unknowingly scrubbed out by an over-enthusiastic hoof or hoe. Seeds from the bank were germinated and the plant re-established.

The Millennium Seed Bank, housed in a low glass and steel building is the sophisticated and enlightened heir to centuries of botanical exploration, of which the United Kingdom has a long tradition. But far from bagging seeds and taking them home as curios, today’s seed collectors are committed to working with local people.

There are showcases at the Seed Bank, which can be visited by the public who can watch the experts at work in their glass-walled laboratories, but exhibits are designed to educate rather than merely entertain. There are examples of the world’s smallest seed, taken from the lady’s slipper orchid - a tiny phial contains literally millions - and of the biggest seed in the world, the football-sized double coconut, which can survive for months in seawater.

Discovering the conditions in which seeds like to germinate is partly a process of trial and error and if there is less than a 75 per cent success rate the experiment is counted a failure and different germination conditions are tried. Some, such as eel grass, thrive on oxygen-deprivation; the green winged orchid needs a fungus to get it going; shepherd’s purse likes to be warmed, redshank to be cooled, while the celery-leaved buttercup takes off when it senses light.

‘I am opening the Bank of England of the botanical world,’ said Prince Charles at the opening of the seed bank earlier this year, ‘a place where the reserve currency, in this case life itself, is stored.’ — ONS


Putting India on world Chess map
by Harihar Swarup

THE tradition of chess in India goes back to the days of “Nawabs”. The game is believed to sharpen skills, enable the players to solve riddles and help them learn the technique of manoeuvrability. Some consider chess as inauspicious and a sort of addiction almost like opium which destroys families. During the rule of the last Nawab of Oudh, Wazid Ali Shah, the obsession for the game was at its peak. Munshi Prem Chand in his celebrated short story — “Shatranj ke Khilari” — had given a graphic account of the fixation of courtiers and “jagirdars” for the game that hones the mind. Two courtiers of Nawab Wazid Ali were so obsessed with “Shatranj” that they laid down their lives to protect their respective Kings on the chess board but did not shed a tear for their ruler who was taken in custody by the British troops and deported from his capital, Lucknow, without a drop of blood being shed.

For Vishwanathan Anand, winner of the world crown, “Shatranj” has been a passion. He is now the king. Addressed by his friends and admirers as “Vishy”, Vishwanathan has single-handedly put India on the world chess map. Madras-born Anand developed the addiction for chess when he was barely six and learnt the game from his mother, Sushila. The turning point , however, came when his father was deputed by the Indian Railways to a project in the Philippines. It was in Manila’s chess-obsessed atmosphere than, Vishy perfected his aggressive and rapid-play style. He turned out to be India’s youngest International Master, winning the Asian junior title in 1986 and was a full-fledged Grandmaster before adulthood. At 17, he became Grandmaster and at 27 emerged as world number two.

His assets have been lightning speed of play and intuition which enabled him emerge as the youngest national champion at the age of sixteen. His speed earned him the nick name — “Lightning Kid”. He is, doubtlessly, a prodigy and gentleman sportsman yet remains modest about his manners. And, no defeat in his not-too-long chess career has ever demoralised him or dealt a blow from which he could not recover. He always retains his sense of humour that is so much part of his character. It is generally believed that this “super achiever” has restored the pristine glory of the “shatranj” and , among the fans of the games, are those who believe that pawns only belong to politics.

Anand, who has truly become “one man Indian chess revolution”, has other hobbies also and they include swimming, listening to music and reading. He lives in Spain with his wife Aruna. He has also been recipient of many prestigious awards in India and they include the Arjuna Award, the Padmashri (the youngest to get the title) and also he was honoured with Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award ,the Soviet Land Nehru award and adjudged “Sportsman of the year 1995”.

According to the career description of Vishy written by his wife Aruna, he has been a world champion challenger in the PCA (New York 1995) and FIDE (1997 Lausanne) cycles. He has also the distinction of winning the strongest knockout tournament in recent chess history in December 1997 and also emerged victorious in the Linares Super Torneo in 1998, the strongest tournament at this point. His other great victories include the Melody Amber tournament ( 1994 and 1997) and the Credit Suisse Masters (1997).

Anand has quoted in a recent interview advice of his father which always stays in his memory. As the young Vishy was introducing a chess aficionado to his parents, he told them “how best my (Vishy’s) talent was among the world’s greatest.” Anand says “my father replied it is not the chess but being a nice person untouched by fame that made me (Anand) great .This compliment stays very dear in my memory”.

Having won highest-rated tournaments, Vishy has now been crowned as the world champion but it is still difficult to gauge his standing. An illustration may give an idea of his stature. Each year 250-odd chess journalists vote to decide who wins the year’s Chess Oscar. In an era where Kasparov and Karpov have reigned, where, says the writer, Arvind Aaron, “50 per cent of the voters are Russians, Anand won in 1997 and 1998.” This is, perhaps, the best way of judging his standing in the world chess.

In Vishy’s home state-Tamil Nadu his example has proved catalyst in bringing up new talents. According to K. Murli Mohan, Joint Secretary Tamil Nadu Chess Association, 10 years back an average of 100 children entered local chess tournaments. Now their number has gone up to 400 and more. “The catalyst has been Anand, the giver of dreams, his reputation and a sort of elixir of greatness that young players drink from. As Vishy rose, he has taken Indian chess with him.” Today India has over 20 International Masters and two Grandmasters. They include such prodigy as Koneru Humpy, Aarti Ramaswamy and P. Harikrishna, all group age world champions.


Big B to stick to business

ONCE bitten twice shy. Mega star Amitabh Bachchan is a lot wiser after he burnt his fingers in politics. Riding high on the success of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, the Big B has decided that he would confine himself to the business of entertainment. Of late, there had been speculation about another comeback by Bachchan in politics as he has been seen regularly in the company of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his trusted aide Amar Singh.

In fact, grapevine says Bachchan’s fortune took a turn for the better only after he came close to the politicians. Overnight his dream company ABCL, which went sick, has bounced back and has been obliging grateful creditors by repaying their dues. The latest in the list of Big B’s creditor was Doordarshan. Even when he repaid half of the amount he owed to Doordarshan by cheque, Amar Singh was seen giving him a helping hand in holding the leaf. Speculations are that Mulayam Singh Yadav and company, along with a maverick owner of a large industrial house in UP, which has interests in airlines, media and television, have pulled Bachchan out of the red. The question is for what price? A little bird says the UP leader is holding Bachchan as his trump card for the forthcoming state elections. It is mentioned in political circles that Bachchan would be Mulayam Singh Yadav’s answer for Priyanka Gandhi. The Bollywood actor has denied that he has any intention to join politics. But then does he have a choice to refuse, is the question being asked in the Capital.

For the farmer’s cause

The Indian farmer should be feeling elated at the attention being given to him by all political parties. The poor farmer was in news throughout the last Parliament session with the Opposition parties, led by the Congress, jostling to take up his issue. The parties attacked the government saying it was doing little for the farmers and neglecting the agriculture sector.

Reacting a wee bit late, the Bharatiya Janata Party has now jumped on the bandwagon of those taking up the farmers’issue. The Kisan Morcha of the BJP recently met in neighbouring Haryana and decided to prepare a blueprint for bettering the lot of the farmers. The report would be presented to the party President Bangaru Laxman. The Morcha’s effort would come in handy for the party when it faces assembly elections in several states during the next two years. At least the Opposition cannot claim that the BJP is a anti-farmer party.

Kudos for Indian Navy

The Indian Navy does not take pride only in its attack and destroy missions. It takes pride in letting known its missions on humanitarian grounds. Last week, the Indian Navy received a request for assistance to evacuate a US Naval officer suffering from acute appendicitis from a US Naval warship, USS Hewitt, a Spruance Class guided missile destroyer, which was 110 miles off Mumbai on passage to the Gulf countries. The ship’s own helicopter was unserviceable.

Being a humanitarian requirement, the Naval authorities reacted swiftly and launched a helicopter from the Naval Air Station INS Kunjali with a medical officer and necessary medical equipment. The patient was successfully evacuated and taken to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai as requested by the US Consulate.

Calendar with a motto

It is around New Year that companies come out with calendars, which are distributed to their clients and friends. The Punjab and Sind Bank has taken the initiative this year in bringing out a calendar with a difference. Drawing inspiration from Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the motto of the calendar — the bank calls it the motto of the nation — is “Nischey kar apni jeet karon” (determination to win). The paintings used in the calendar are taken from historical background of unusual courage and determination to fight till victory is finally achieved.

Releasing the calendar, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha observed that “determination to win” is required not only in the battlefield but also in all walks of life, including in rejuvenating the economy. The calendar is also a homage to the armed forces who fought gallantly while defending the frontiers of the country during the Kargil and earlier wars.

Fake or genuine note?

The fake Rs 500-note syndrome, which gripped the country after the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence flooded both Indian markets and those of the neighbouring countries with fake Indian currency, continues even after the Reserve Bank of India has come out with new notes.

While the RBI has asked the public to return all green-coloured Rs 500 notes, it has come out with a new series of Rs 500 notes which are totally different from those already in existence. The new notes are yellow in colour with 500 written on it in green.

The circulation of the new notes has had people confused and some of them are even refusing to accept the new notes. In one such incident a scribe faced a problem when he tried to use the new note to pay for his drinks. The boys at the bar were totally confused and kept looking at the note for a long time.

The scribe had to explain that it was not a fake one and he had just got it from an ATM machine. Even this did not convince the bar boys and it took another scribe to replace the new note with the ones in circulation to facilitate the payment of the bill.
(Contributed by T.V. Lakshminarayan, Girja Shankar Kaura and P.N. Andley)



Transparency aspect missing
by Humra Quraishi

BEFORE I write about the rest of the ‘happenings’ of this week, so as to say, let me stress that what we urgently require is transparency, in the very functioning of the different aspects of governance. I write this after spending the last two days talking to people living in the Batla House locality of South Delhi where one suspected Lashkar militant was killed and the other arrested and three suspects picked up and made to spend two days in police custody — this when no formal charges had been framed against these three, and said to be ‘picked’ up because they were tenants in the same building where the militants were putting up. They were released amidst much drama and after the personal intervention of the Shahi Imam. Tell me why has the system crumbled to such an extent or the state of governance reduced to such a level that religious heads have to be brought into the picture for matters related to law and order. Legal experts point out that it is illegal to keep a person in police custody for more than 24 hours and here these three spent 48 hours. In fact there is so much resentment amongst the people of that particular locality that they are not ready to believe the police versions and point out several loopholes. They insist the encounter was fake. An eyewitness, SU Khan, who stays right above the floor where the said militant lived, is said to have even given an affidavit along the lines that he saw the police picking up the suspected militant at 1 am and later coming back with his body at 5 am, although the police says the encounter took place that very time! In fact the entire Id day the residents held a dharna and have demanded an enquiry into the incident. Very obviously a fear psychosis has hit the residents and several of them have openly said they were being harassed because they belong to a particular minority community and even added that the police is coming up with the various details after the media took the initial story with a pinch of salt and made a hue and cry about it.

Even if the police version is factual and absolutely correct the people are in no mood to accept it for there has been no transparency — so much so that the parents of the three boys were not even informed. It is like you or me picked up one fine night just because the people living next door are suspects. Picked up and the nearest of our kin not even informed. Then, they are disgusted not only by the very functioning of the system but also by the Jamia VC, Mr Shahid Mehndi, whom they describe as “the right hand man of HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and so, even though, one of those picked up was a Jamia student but the residents did not approach the VC for intervention. Gone are those good old times where the principal/teacher/ VC was said to be more than your guardian. Politics of the day has ruined even this bit.

And the latest is that the resident association of that locality is moving the court and trying to prevent any political turns or twists given to it. Perhaps that’s why Congressmen Pervez Hashmi and Salman Khurshid have not come out with any statements, although both stay in the colony adjoining Batla House.

And before moving ahead I must write that regarding the transparency aspect I was amazed to witness a campaign /movement ongoing at the grassroot level in Rajasthan. Said to be spearheaded by this year’s Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy (Yes, she is the better half of Tilonia man, Bunkar Roy, and one of those bureaucrats who resigned from the service to work in the villages) to bring about an awareness amongst farmers, to equip them with the confidence to ask the district and tehsil level functionaries the various ‘whys’. I was simply amazed to see young people from upper middle class backgrounds working as volunteers. Perhaps it is time that we wake up and ask for our basic right — transparency in what the government/ the very administration is doing vis-a-vis us, the citizens of this country.

Now to the highs of the week

After this ‘low’ of the week let me take you along towards the ‘highs’. The week has been full of receptions and let me quickly fit in details of two interesting get-togethers, which I attended. The Lebanese Ambassador to India, Jean Daniel, hosted a dinner complete with Lebanese cuisine. For some strange or say not so strange reason, discussions went back to Khalil Gibran and there were guests who swore by him. In fact, Francois Michel Farah, who has been appointed UNFPA representative for India and the country director for Bhutan, was also present and being a native of Lebanon he had a lot to tell us about Gibran — some aspects of his personal life which we didn’t know — Gibran died of cancer at the age of 48 years and was in love with one woman (though he did tell me the name but I have clean forgotten it — blame my midyears for it) with whom he corresponded regularly and the Khalil Gibran museum houses that set of letters. Interestingly, that evening the Gibran believers, so as to say, tried to convert few of those guests who did not know much about him. And they plan to do so by presenting them with copies of The Prophet! Just one simple reading will be enough!

Then, Khushwant Singh hosted a do in honour of Lord Swraj Paul. It was a nice cosy evening and one must salute (sorry for sounding cliched but cannot think of a better word)

Khushwant’s positive streak — hosting these regular get-togethers — this when he is 85 plus and in the midst of writing yet another novel. The guest list was as usual interesting and besides the Lord and his lovely looking spouse (yes, though she must be in her early sixties but has a youthful face) there was writer Jaishree Mishra with spouse, Uma Nair, Ajit Bhattacharjea, David Davidar, Bubbles Charanjit Singh. Swraj Paul sat surrounded by Uma, Ajit and I, and somehow as the conversation moved to the realities of the day, the three of us made Lord Paul hear so much about these realities that he had no choice but to quickly move away from us.

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