The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 21, 2001

Toppled Gods and Godots
Review by Rumina Sethi

Art: how do you relate and respond to it?
Review by M.L. Raina

Diary notings, no insight
Review by Parshotam Mehra

Leadership in Army: an insight
Review by Rajindra Nath

Write view
Adrift on fund crisis
Review by Randeep Wadhera



Toppled Gods and Godots
Review by Rumina Sethi

Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot/Endgame by Peter Boxall. Icon, Cambridge. Pages 192. £ 9.99.

WHO has not heard of the Theatre of the Absurd, particularly its champion playwright Samuel Beckett, whose Godot became the polysemic symbol everyone and no one could identify with, whose arithmetic of pairs was baffling yet symmetrical, whose language was pointedly Irish and also nightmarishly meaningless? Boxall’s "Samuel Beckett" attempts to find the missing link between these seemingly disjointed readings of Beckett. A well-researched book, it offers less of traditional criticism and more of analysis of the difficult relationship between Beckett and his critics.

Beckett’s bold and hugely controversial play, "Waiting for Godot," arrived in the 1950s into a Leavisite Europe. Its major criticism came from Martin Esslin, Ruby Cohn and Hugh Kenner who continue to be widely read. "Godot" flouted every conceivable dramatic convention and audience expectation in its presentation of "trivia", and unfortunately created a perplexing situation for its reviewers and critics who found it difficult to pass an educated and sound judgement. For, here was an uninterpretable play which radically denied the processes by which theatre becomes meaningful. The locale was a country road in the dusk; the stage props included a dead tree; and for heroes, two disgusting tramps/clowns! Not surprisingly, the critical terrain for "Godot" as much as for "Endgame" the two flagships of the Beckett oeuvre, is strewn with theoretical and political drama.

Martin Esslin is placed at the centre of this rugged landscape. Esslin concentrates a good deal on the formal qualities of Beckett’s drama: he looks for beauty and symmetry, for qualities of vision and redemption. The evident confusion of Beckett’s universe is turned over to liberal humanist principles of organisation and decorum to make his negativity life affirming.

Thus it is that Esslin can say that Beckett’s work is "an act of affirmation" which continues to confront the "void": "The blacker the situation, the deeper the background of despair against which this act of affirmation is made, the more complete, the more triumphant must be the victory that it constitutes. The uglier the reality that is confronted, the more exhilarating will be its sublimation into symmetry, rhythm, movement and laughter." Clearly, Esslin is looking for accuracy, universality, and timelessness, and more than all, for reason in the midst of linguistic anarchy.

And this shape and symmetry, this balance, rhythm and weight is special and artistic and can thus stave off or prevent the chaos that so alarmed Eliot.

The manoeuvre by which Esslin recasts Beckett’s negativity as affirmative is reproduced repeatedly by a plethora of scholars who have produced some of the best Beckett criticism because the hegemonic critical field within which they wrote imposed its demands on them. Boxall argues that the work of Ruby Cohn and Hugh Kenner in the 1960s and 1970s, through John Fletcher, John Spurling, Michael Robinson and Bell Gale Chevigny in the 1970s and 1980s, to the exemplary work of James Knowlson and John Pilling, which has been dominant in Beckett studies from the 1970s through to the 1990s, has been largely contained within the boundaries of a liberal humanist critique".

A scene from "Waiting for godot"Such defence of the "human condition" is not confined to Beckett studies alone. As Terry Eagleton shows us, Lawrence proved a scapegoat for his critics too when he was absorbed into the new critical canon of great authors of English fiction from Jane Austen to George Eliot, Henry James to Joseph Conrad. Lawrence was skilfully reconstructed as a liberal humanist who epitomised thoroughly the undefineable quality of "life" even as he had only contempt for liberal and democratic values.

Bertolt Brecht, too, had a rather chequered career at the hands of critics: his admission into the "great tradition" of western literature could succeed only when "Brecht the artist" could ride over "Brecht the politician". In other words, Brecht must be neutered in order to be saved for the West.

Boxall draws the reader’s attention to the recent expansion of critical perspectives and directing the student of Beckett towards the more valuable secondary materials. These are provocative accounts of Beckett’s intricate doodles offered against the "core" group identified above who take the Reading archive as their special monolith. A recent study by Rabinovitz (which Boxall does not mention) tends to be unsure of the tonalities of Beckett’s fundamental sound and "deeper meanings". Rabinovitz is comprehensive and clear and rightly suspicious of truisms, but not very analytic. More complex are Leslie Hill’s "In Different Words" and Lawrence Miller’s "Samuel Beckett: The Expressive Dilemma," both of which may be seen in the context of the post-modernist movement so poignantly illustrated by the oft-repeated sentence from "Godot": "Nothing to be done".

And yet, a post-structuralist reading is not so simple: Beckett is studiously avoided by Foucault, Kristeva, Barthes and even Blanchot. A notable exception is Derrida. Derrida writes in "Acts of Literature": "This is an author to whom I feel very close, or to whom I would like to feel myself close; but also too close. Precisely because of this proximity, it is too hard for me, too easy and too hard. I have perhaps avoided him a bit because of this identification." It is Beckett’s language which causes Derrida’s dilemma, for Beckett "robs the critic of the moment of deconstruction".

The chief of liberal humanism was to find a stable theoretical launguage, and Beckett’s language strikes at the very heart of that language. It has frequently been suggested that Beckett’s works "are the closest we have to texts that deconstruct themselves". "Waiting for Godot" and "Endgame" constantly engage with the notion of difference what with repetition, carnivalisation, wordplay, lauguage games, circularity of structure, and so on. "Endgame" constantly defers the consummation of its ending while "Godot" may be seen as either thelament for the loss of the grand narrative identified with Enlightenment thought or the celebration of the absent signified.

Beckett’s writing does not run contrary to the spirit of much of the post-structuralist and deconstructive theory that was emerging in the 1970s and 1980s. While in Joyce, or Eliot, or Virginia Woelf, "the signifier tends to float free of the signified in order to develop alternative meanings, in Beckett the signifier tends to rid itself of significance altogether". Thus Beckett’s plays offer themselves quite willingly to the deconstructive critic.

The most provocative part of the book is its post-colonial reading of "Waiting for Godot." There is a sense in which "John Bull’s Other Island" is itself the victim of the vice of English compartmentalisation which it satirises. As Declan Kiberd puts it, "Beckett’s essential character, the Tramp, was a representative of the now rootless Anglo-Irish middle class, neither English nor Irish, but caught wandering in a no-man’s land between two cultures."

"You should have been a poet," says one of the tramps in "Godot". The other, pointing to his own rags in the manner of an Aogan O Rathaille, replies: "I was once. Isn’t it obvious?"

The locales of Beckett’s world remained recognisably Irish too, as did his continuing love affair with Hibernian skies and landscapes, a classic strategy of the Irish Protestant imagination which, discomfited by its own history, sought to impatriate itself through a heightened sense of geography.

Self-exiled in Paris, indignantly critical of the censorship laws imposed in Ireland, Beckett’s work is "undeniably Irish" because the stage of "Godot" itself is a "placeless void", an anonymous landscape, which would naturally be Ireland colonised by the British, an Ireland deprived of its history and identity. The silences may be interpreted as a debasement of native culture and the outpouring of words, as in Lucky’s torrential speech, the futile attempt to write themselves back into history, to invent traditions when the past cannot be remembered. Despite an empty landscape and a meaningless language, the two tramps try their best to restore their memories and recover what has been taken from them. But there are just too many gaps caused by a life of poverty and displacement.

Undoubtedly these new approaches are abrasive to the conventional critic but, as Peter Boxall amply demonstrates, they are urgent reminders of the need to dismantle long-standing ideological state apparatuses.


Art: how do you relate and respond to it?
Review by M.L. Raina

Marxist Literary and Cultural Theories by Moyra Haslett. St Martin’s Press, New York. Pages ix+323. $ 19.95.

The Dematerialisation of Karl Marx: Literature and Marxist Theory by Leonard Jackson. Longman, London and New York. Pages viii+312. $ 35.25.

The Politics of Literary Theory: An Introduction to Marxist Criticism by Philip Goldstein. The Florida State University Press, Tallahassee. Pages ix+242. $ 25.

"Any system can become a prison: a tradition we have inherited, a style we have adopted, an official terminology that tells us what to think." — Dennis Donoghue.

TIME was when we could invoke just Marx and Engles’s scattered remarks on Greek sculpture, Balzac or Eugene Sue and Lenin’s observations onTolstoy to put together a Marxist approach (not theory) to literature and art. Then came Lukacs, Labriola, Max Raphael, and Gramsci. They did not have a full-fledged theory of art either. They used Marxist philosophy of historical materialism to understand the historicity of art works and their relationship to the society in which they were produced.

Though they differed in their readings as well as their assumptions, they shared a belief in the integrity of the work and its status as a privileged creation. Unlike their successors professing to build a "theory", the early historians and aestheticians possessed taste, a flair that helped them discriminate between good and bad art.

Now times are dragon-ridden and the dragon stalking our lives is discourse. Discourse is all there is. We are "constructed" by it, are mere subject-positions and not fully conscious subjects. We are only "texts" and Derrida, that wily serpent in humanism’s underside, hisses that there is nothing outside the text. The new university wits let loose their Foucault at us, who screams that we do not speak but are spoken, that the author of a text is a myth sedulously cultivated by various discourse formations and that what we thought was aesthetic value is a conspiracy by vested interests to keep their hegemonic control over us.

Of the clutch of books under discussion here Haslett’s is the least satisfying. Not because it is not well-written but because it does not add anything to our understanding.It is expository and aims to make available to a first time reader all the major issues that have come to dominate the debate on Marxist aesthetics.

The other two books take definite positions on the issues that form the subject of this debate. Goldstein looks at contemporary theory from the Marxist angle. Jackson, perhaps the most combative of the three, holds out on behalf of the founding fathers of Marxist aesthetics. His defence of Christopher Caudwell against the attacks of his detractors is a welcome feature of his argument.

In his 1933 study of Marxist aesthetics, "The Demands of Art", Marxist Raphael attacks the simplistic conception of vulgar Marxists in which art is represented as proceeding directly from and on the same plane as the determinant level of economic production. He was echoing the belief held by Marx and Engels that art is not a one-to-one reflection of social or economic reality. He was combating the deterministic tendencies of the socialist realist hacks who would harness art to production.

Though Lukacs was more for a reflectionist model of art criticism, he saw in the mediating power of all human endeavours a liberationist potential. A stickler for critical realism for which Haslett takes him to task, Lukacs did not reject the tradition of art and literature coming down from antiquity. Indeed he regarded Greek art as an integrated form compared with the novel which he described as an alienated mode.

My quarrel is not with the early aestheticians such as Lukacs and Caudwell (who also comes in for considerable flak in Haslett and Goldstein). Their deficiencies are attributable to the insufficient development of a Marxist aesthetic in their time. It is the way the later Marxists appropriated this tradition of aesthetic thinking that needs a response. Those of us who hold the belief that art works have their own hierarchies of value must not allow these to be usurped by the cold-historicising of Althusserian Marxist like Terry Eagleton, the straw-targeting of ultra-Left movements such as those in Cuba, or the dumbed-down philosophising of post-structurialists, post-modernists and deconstructionists.

Haslett reproves Lukacs for what she calls his "despotic" versions of critical realism.French and German Marxists had already recognised this failing. One has to read Roger Garaudy’s classic "Realism without Walls" or the "realism debate" among Brecht, Adorno and Ernst Bloch to note the Marxist concern for a broader concept of realism. Haslett’s tacit underwriting of Althusserian Marxism, however, calls for a fitting response.

Althusserian Marxists, taking their cue from the master’s apocryphal "Ideological State Apparatus" essay discover three types of ideologies in the texts of art: general ideology and textural ideology and in the case of Egleton authorial ideology. As to any hierarchy of artistic value, which would distinguish one work from another. Pierre Macheray and Terry Eagleton as good as deny it. For them artistic value has to be sought within the interactions of general, textual and authorial ideologies.

Since for Althusserian Marxists we are all "interpellated" within ideology and are "constructed" by it, any ethical consideration of value are also constructions. What makes us culture-specific constructions is language. Any artistic text, apart from being "produced" rather than created by an individual, is caught in the prison of its own language or medium. This is another way of saying with MacLuhan that medium is the massage.

On this view substantive ethical and aesthetic discourse about an artistic text is dissolved in the anti-humanist rejection of art as having ethical content. We are caught in a new formalism that discounts artistic content as nugatory compared to the fetishising of the medium as a generator of value. If, as Macheray claims, a characteristic of literary language is "that it deludes", there can be no criterion which would guarantee the significance of an artistic text. It is not the delusion or "fictiveness" of art that makes it a radical departure from raw reality in the sense of Aristotle’s imitation. It is that the delusions of art are created by the reflexiveness of the medium itself and cannot be wished away. Thus art as a creative activity is thrown overboard.

The other difficulty in accepting Althusserian Marxists’s contention is what Leonard Jackson calls the "Raymond Williams disease". Though I would not include Williams with his deep sense of tradition among the neo-Althusserians, it was his thesis in "Keywords" that literature as a separate category is the creation of the bourgeois epoch. This leads to a strange dilemma for the Althusserians. If literature and art as separate categories are a late insertion, should we discard Greek and Indian epics, Aeschylus, Shakespears, Kalidas and others who belong to pre-bourgeois ages?

Eagleton struggles to make a strong case in "Criticism and Ideology" as well as in "Ideology of the Aesthetic" for the uselessness of aesthetics and literature as distinct categories with their intrinsic qualities that make them valuable to us as humans. Here he may have been answering Kant’s arguments for the existence of aesthetics as a separate quality. By making literature and art part of a whole complex of material practices in society. Eagleton and his fellow cultural materialists deny any intrinsic quality to literary and artistic texts.

Here it is relevant to aver that every work of art can be understood within its own cultural context or practice as anthropologists understand it. But it is quite another thing to say that art works as such just don’t exist or that the artist as an individual with his or her established identity or signature is a bourgeois myth. As Jackson puts it, cultural materialists such as Eagleton "dematerialise" Marx by taking away the Hegelian basis of his understanding of culture and art.

Since literature and art as separate entities do not exist in the Althusserian Marxist programme, it is a natural next step to dethrone canons. True, canons are not god given. They are created by critical practice. Thus in the critical market-place artists go bullish and bearish in turn. We may throw away one writer for another depending on what passes for critical practice at a particular time. But we do this for political, social and other non-artistic reasons. The discarded artists keep coming back in prominence.

Althusserians by rejecting canons (Williams is less willing to jettison the cultural canon altogether, hence his acceptance by non-Althusserians) have not been able to account for the continued acceptance of the classical writers in all epochs. The new university wits rail against the canon but continue to teach it, as is shown by the great books programme at American campuses. I don’t think it is all a capitalist conspiracy!

True, there are no universal rules that fix canons permanently. There are, however, discriminating practices that determine the staying power of a work of art. These discriminating practices derive their persuasiveness from the capacity of a particular critic to reveal the verbal and artistic structures that, in spite of the artists’ conscious intention, account for the peculiar salience of their work. One has only to mention Williams on the English pastoral tradition and even Edward Said (not my idea of a satisfying critic) on "Kim" to prove the point. They read their texts ideologically but do not fail to delve into the particular configurations of form in them.

A visible phenomenon in contemporary literary theory has been the emergence in the eighties and nineties of last century of what is called cultural studies. Moyra Haslett’s exposition of the new trend raises critical issues that any Marxist aesthetic theory (or theories) has to reckon with. Whereas Althusserian Marxism is concerned with the production of texts, culture studies focus on their consumption. This naturally leads to a discussion of popular and mass culture, fields that the Frankfurt School Marxists had already denounced as pacificatory and conformist.

Here again the new university wits show the same lack of ethical discrimination that characterises their rejection of art as a separate category. Marxism as a liberationist practice may have been defeated, as the adulators of capitalism proclaim with glee. But Marxism’s utopian aspirations still remain in tact. Mass culture, far from enhancing our resistance to the existing order, makes us simply conform to its undeclared assumptions.

By replacing canonical texts with soap operas, television serials and other forms of mass entertainment, we are simply abetting in a sociological inquiry rather than furthering a literary or aesthetic cause. We are surrendering the primacy of artistic effort to the blandishments of pseudo-democratic non-elitism. We are becoming willing victims of bourgeois ideology that we are supposed to combat by breaking cultural barriers. The proponents of cultural studies have meekly gone under to the post-modernist project of abolishing demarcations between various forms of cultural artefacts.

Richard Hoggprt, Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson, pioneering the study of working class mores, rightly laid emphasis on cultural rather than on ideology. Like the Frankfurt School Marxists, they saw canonical texts as permeated by popular forms and modes (Thompson on Blake, for instance). The new orthodoxy of cultural studies programme, on the other hand, neither offers such an accommodation between modes nor is able to justify the disproportionate attention being lavished on everything new or newfangled. Haslett claims that culture studies have saved us "from the condescension of vulgar Marxists". She seems silent on the consequences of that charity. Far from saving us, cultural studies have duped us into assenting to the capitalist order.

Marx was basically a humanist and he recognised in art and literature an instance of human expressivity. He would certainly not apologise to the Luddites, as is clear from his defence of Greek art. He would have endorsed Frederic Jameson’s rebuke to the latter-day Luddites in the last paragraph of "Marxism and Form": "Even if ours is a critical age, it does not seem to me very becoming of critics to exalt their activity to the level of literary creation, as is being done in France today." For France, read America.


Diary notings, no insight
Review by Parshotam Mehra

An Afghan Diary: Zahir Shah to Taliban by J N Dixit. Konarak Publishers, New Delhi. Pages xviii + 525. Rs 500.

EVEN at the best of times, Afghanistan has been a troubled land. And for a variety of reasons. On the physical plane, its rugged, inhospitable, barren hills have made communications an awesome task. And the few fertile valleys that traverse its largely hilly terrain just about produce enough to feed its sparse population. Oil or other mineral resources are conspicuous by their absence; industry non-existent.

Worse, a completely landlocked country with no opening to the sea, Afghanistan is heavily dependent on its not always friendly neighbours, both for trade as well as normal human intercourse.

Nor are the neighbours easy to deal with. To Afghanistan’s north and west stretch the Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan which until about a decade ago, and for the best part of the 20th century, were part of the mighty Soviet Union. And to its east, the huge if empty landmass of the fabled Chinese Tartary, or Chinese Turkestan. Now, more prosaically, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Farther to the south, there is Pakistan and India. And to the west, beyond Herat, Shiite Iran.

Situated as it is in the very heart of Asia, each of these lands — Russia, China, India and Iran — have impinged directly or indirectly on Afghanistan’s historical evolution. And the impact has been the more profound in that the Afghans do not by any description constitute a cohesive ethnic group. For even though the Pakhtoons predominate in and around Kabul, the north and the west have in and around Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, large and powerful Uzbek and Tajik minorities. As if it were not already obvious enough, one should hasten to add that Afghanistan is an artificial construct brought into being by a military adventurer, Ahmad Shah Abdali, towards the last quarter of the 18th century.

Was it any wonder then that for Afghanistan the 19th century was witness to decades of mounting political uncertainty? For even as the Czarist Russian empire from the north moved in, slowly if inexorably, to fill the power vacuum in the rickety khanates of Khiva, Bokhara and Samarkand, the British Empire in India felt not a little concerned. For it hated to think of a common land frontier with the men who ruled in St. Petersburg.

And largely, the Raj argued, because the Cossacks were so thoroughly unreliable. In the event, the British built barricades. Bolstering up Iran on the one hand and coaxing or cajoling the Chinese on the other to fill in the vast empty spaces of the heart of a continent.

An important if integral part of the exercise was to persuade the rulers of Kabul to accept a modicum of British tutelage. A pliable Afghanistan, Whitehall reasoned, was the best guarantee for halting the Russian advance as far as could be managed from the frontiers of its Indian empire.

Sadly for the British, the Afghans were invariably not willing to oblige. And after almost a hundred odd years — from the mid 1830s to the early 1920s — in the wake of three bloody wars with their heavy toll in men, money, munitions, and human misery, the Raj drew a complete blank. Afghanistan remained factious, poor, hungry but singularly stubborn and resilient. And refused to kowtow to the British, much less become thier protege or satellite.

By the time the Raj began to wind up in the aftermath of World War II (1939-45), the global balance of power had undergone a complete metamorphosis. Briefly, Uncle Sam took over and, in the process, reduced John Bull to the position of a second-rate power. While with the demise of Nazi Germany in Europe and the virtual eclipse of the Japanese co-prosperity sphere in Asia, the Soviet Union emerged as a mighty power that bestrode the world almost as a colossus.

In the cold war that was to rage at white heat in the later half of the 20th century, the two super powers fought hard at their nearly interminable bouts of attrition. But, mercifully, and for most part, through proxies.

In the early 1970s, Afghanistan overthrew its ramshackle monarchy and after a rash of short-term coups, graduated to a half-baked communist regime in the wake of the "Great Saur Revolution" (1978). Moscow calculated that a good opportunity had presented itself to bring Kabul into its fold and with a modest investment in material resources, reap a rich harvest.

Starting in December, 1979, the Soviets moved in, initially to prop up a fractious Afghan political outfit, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Its rivalries more ethnic than ideological, the PDPA sadly enough was not able to garner sizeable popular support. In the event, the more troops and armour the Russians poured in, the weaker and increasingly unstable the Afghan regime became.

Even as the Soviets had planned to use an outer Afghan facade which they sedulously fostered, the Americans pitched in with vast quantities of their latest weaponry and a liberal supply of greenbacks. And armed and sustained a not-always popular but well-fed, if badly faction-ridden, militia in Afghanistan. And, across the border in a not-unfriendly Pakistan.

Slowly but surely the Afghan Mujahideen, despite all their bickerings gained an upper hand. And this harsh ground reality forced the Russians to rethink strategy. There was little room for manoeuvre and even less that was retrievable from a near debacle. In sum, after almost a decade, Moscow had beaten a retreat (February, 1989) with little to show for its massive investment in manpower and weapons of mass destruction.

Dixit’s "Diary" recaptures the story of the Russian intervention during the years 1982-85 when the going was still good. He arrived in Kabul while the Afghan regime of Babrak Karmal was yet politically viable and wielded considerable authority not only in Kabul and its environs. By the time his tenure drew to a close, the Russians still held the upper hand but reading between the lines, it was apparent that however imperceptibly, the scenario had begun to change. And for Moscow so much for the worse.

A few random entries from his massive tome help illumine the Afghan scene during Dixit’s brief, if eventful, tenure. Thus, just before he left for Kabul, the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, told Dixit.

January 11(1982)

"We must try to increase Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan. If not all over the country, in Kabul at least in selected fields of activities....You must assure the Afghan leadership that we are not going to go overboard with Pakistan regarding the forthcoming No War Declaration dialogue. There is still a long way to go before we accept Pakistan’s bona fides.

March 12-14 (1982)

Had a long conversation with Russian ambassador. ..The main point he made was: "We have come here to stay. We would not allow the Pakhtoons to dominate the other tribes of Afghanistan who have linkages with the people of Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union. We will maintain necessary force levels to keep this country under control; we will achieve initial consolidation of our position, both military and civil, by August/September, 1982."

November 28-December 31 (1982)

I checked with Delhi. Foreign Minister Rao said that we share Soviet apprehensions and that Karmal not leading the delegation would contribute to lessening of disharmony at the conference... (Karmal) asked me whether he himself should lead the Afghan delegation. I played wooden and said that the invitation is addressed to him personally. He said: "I am giving deep consideration to this question and will let you know." I kept a straight face. Zille Ilahi Tabeev (the Russian Ambassador) already having decided that Karmal should not go. All this pretence was redundant. Ambassadors should have compulsory training in playing possum and straight guy in all diplomatic comedies.

April 18 (1983)

The government carried out successful operations against insurgents in Balkh, Mazar-e-Sharif and Badakshan. Anti-insurgent operations continued in Paktia, Gazhni, Kandahar, Pakhtika and Nangarhar. Soviet and Afghan forces faced greater resistance in the southern provinces. An additional handicap affecting these operations is the conflict between the soldiers of Khalqi and Parchamite affiliations. It is

reported that Khalqi-Parcham differences even turned violent in some army units operating in Paktia and Gazhni. As a Soviet official put it, the Afghan army at times finds it difficult to make up its mind whether it should fight the counter-revolutionaries or within itself.

August 19 (1983)

President Karmal returned to Kabul after a five-week absence from Afghanistan on August 15. .. Though the internal conflict in the party has been tenuously patched up, the controversies simmer. President Karmal faces the prospect of presiding over a fractious party affected not only by Khalqi-Parcham difference but also by divisive tendencies within each faction.

December 30 (1983)

The British Charge d’Affaires here, Garner’s comment on this interview was interesting. He said, "that fellow Hikmatyar is a bounder. I don’t know why the BBC interviewed him instead of some other opposition leader. Nobody will believe Hikmatyar’s exaggerated claims of success." .....

Having seen the violence that afflicts Afghanistan at the end of nearly two years of my stay here, I can only say about the present generation of youth of Afghanistan regardless of their political affiliations, what T S Eliot said to the young people of Europe at the end of First World War: "After such knowledge, where is the place or mood for forgiveness."

May 25 (1984)

Military operations in and around Panjsher Valley continue with approximately two divisions of the Soviet army and one division of the Afghan army deployed for the purpose. High altitude bombing of the side valleys also continues. The rebel forces of Masood are certainly in disarray and on the defensive. .. The casualties on both sides have been heavy though precise and reliable figures are difficult to ascertain.

May 3 (1985)

Reports come from Peshawar that a fight between the followers of insurgent leaders Hikmatyar and Rabbani resulted in Hikmatyar’s followers destroying a large military arms and ammunition dump at a place called Rangali near Peshawar belonging to Rabbani. One should tentatively conclude that from this the recent attempts at unifying insurgent groups has again run into difficulties.

Two brief criticisms may be in order. One, a grossly misleading title. Dixit’s "Afghan Diary" spans the period January, 1982, through May, 1985, nearly three and a half years; no more, no less. King Zahir Shah abdicated in 1973, on the morrow of Daud’s coup and the Taliban do not come into their own until 1996. In other words, out of almost a quarter century, 1973 through 1996, the "Diary" relates to a little over three years.

Nor is the device of using a brief prologue or an equally sketchy postscript take the place of a record of events to which one bears witness. Short surveys are useful in their own way. But they do not, and, in fact cannot, stretch the "Diary". Sad to say, the unwary reader has been taken for a ride!

Sadder still, in the process of stretching its canvass, the "Diary" itself has been a major casualty. Its wealth of date and any number of useful insights by an observer of Mr Dixit’s maturity and knowledge has remained a closed book, untapped and unexplored. Here too, it is the reader who has been denied his due.

For the "Diary" could have made an excellent study if its author had taken time out to essay a broad summary as well as a detailed analysis of all that was happening in Afghanistan during those fateful 40 odd months that he had the privilege to be in the midst of such momentous events.

An objective assessment of the Soviet offensive as it was in the process of developing only to taper off so soon after he left; the gradual withering away of the PDPA under the weight of its own contradictions.

Above all, the slow if steady rise of the Mujahideen despite their endless internecine quarrel and conflicts.

Kabul offered an enviable observation post while New Delhi’s close rapport with the Soviets as also the Afghan leadership was unparalleled. Few could have enjoyed the vantage point that the Indian ambassador commanded.

The "Diary" provides the raw material; it would have been ideal if its author had sat down to assess its value and its import — in the larger perspectives of Afghanistan’s fast-changing political scenario.


Leadership in Army: an insight
Review by Rajindra Nath

Leadership: Written and published by Army Training Command, Shimla. Pages 248. Rs 150.

THE Army Training Command (ARTRAC) was raised on October 1, 1991. The aim, as the charter of the command says, is to develop and disseminate concepts and doctrines for current and future warfare scenarios and to be the nodal agency for institutional training in the Army.

The Army authorities normally publish manuals which are well written and useful for military personnel but do not make interesting reading for the public. However, the Army Training Command has done commendable work by producing a very intersting and instructive book on a subject which is equally important for both military and civil personnel.

Nowadays, leadership as a subject is being given great importance in industrial houses as well as in the management field all over India. The corporate sector is of the view that the role of a leader itself is changing. "There is nothing called a proven leader. Each day you are proving yourself again," Gopala- krishnan, Director, Tata Sons, has been quoted in an article. The command and control leader who had his roots in family business culture has become obsolete now. "Today a leader is someone who is willing to give up to lead," he adds.

Human resource managers of large companies and groups like Tatas, Birlas and multinationals are furiously putting together detailed procedures to identify, track and develop future chief executive officers. The future and potential leaders are being selected at various levels, well in advance, so that they can be given specialised training as well as out of turn promotion to guide the destiny of the companies at the highest level.

Management experts, after eager enthusiasm about management being the ultimate skill to run industry and its organisations, have thus realised the importance of leadership. As they say, "we manage things but have to lead people" in order to achieve decisive results against all odds. If so much importance is being given these days to the leadership aspect in the business world in India, the armed forces, which attach the highest importance to leadership, have to study the subject in a very careful manner.

The Army has an excellent system of training, grooming and education to impart knowledge, skill, tools and techniques about the art of war to its future leaders. The nation is no longer sending the best officer material to the armed forces, particularly to the Army, due to a variety of reasons. So the future leaders have to be trained with greater care. That is where this excellent book on leadership produced by ARTRAC comes in handy for the Army in particular and the public in general.

The purpose of maintaining a military force by any country is that it should always be ready to go to war and win. War veterans tell us that this capability depends to a very large extent on the quality and morale of leaders at all levels of the service. Finest arms and equipment are useless unless unit and formation commanders have trained their men to be skilled, cohesive and highly motivated outfits. To achieve this goal, every officer in the Army should understand the unique human capability called leadership.

Acquiring the necessary strength of character so as to act effectively needs long and careful preparation. But what is character? There are many definitions of character given by various commanders. General Ridgeway of the US Army has given an apt answer. "Character stands for self-discipline, loyalty, readiness to accept responsibility, and willingness to admit mistakes.It stands for selflessness, modesty, humility, willingness to sacrifice when necessary and, in my opinion, faith in God."

It is a difficult question to measure good leadership. One yardstick is the culture of enduring excellence which a leader leaves behind after he is long gone from the scene. The book breaks new ground when it states that leadership is a byproduct of spirituality. This thoughtful book brings out in detail the difference between management and leadership, as stated by the doyens of management in the USA. "Management is a bottom line focus. How can I best accomplish certain things? Leadership deals with the top line. What things I want to accomplish? Management efficiency is in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." In the words of both Peter Ducker and Warren Bennis, "Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things."

According to Field Marshal Slim, "the real test of leadership is not if your men will follow you in success, but if they will stick by you in defeat and hardship. They won’t do that unless they believe you to be honest and to have care for them." The best type of leadership is to lead by personal example; to practise what one preaches. Of course style is the reflection of the substance of a man. Character and knowledge, in balance, are the important sources of leadership.

In Indian heritage "only a man whose thoughts, words and deeds are pure and in harmony can become a good and effective leader. Purity means that those are not triggered by lust, anger, jealousy, greed or conceit. He says what he thinks — there is no insincerity or hypocrisy in his deeds. In brief, he is a transparent and straightforward person in speech and conduct." The book also quotes the well known religious leader Satya Sai Baba who states "leadership is idealism in action."

The manual then cites interesting cases of military leaders whose qualities helped them achieve their goals in the most difficult circumstances. It also narrates the various events in the life of commanders where operations failed due to lack of leadership.

The book emphaises the point that an individual has the power to improve himself if he makes a genuine effort to develop his qualities, as emphasised in ancient scriptures. This is in keeping with modern thinking that leaders are made and not born. Field Marshal Slim has remarked that there is nobody who cannot improve his qualities of leadership by a little thought and practice. The self-development diary well illustrated in the manual is a very useful guide for all of us who want to improve ourselves. It is based on the concept of the Upanishads which state, "If you can change your habits, you can be the master of your destiny."

The various chapters of the book deal with the essential qualities of character, the necessity of sound professional knowledge, capability for dealing with people, motivation for self-development, spirit de corps, the higher leadership requirements and one’s duties towards the nation.

The manual ends on a healthy note when it states that a very large majority of army officers have a sound and positive outlook on life and the profession. They are a vibrant, upright and dedicated segment of our society. It is their duty to assist the small minority who at times get disheartened, mostly by self-generated doubts and strains.

The well-written and reflective book should be read by both military personnel and the general public and is a useful addition to any library. Considering the immense inputs available in the book, the price of the book is very reasonable. It shall provide civilians with an excellent insight into the culture of the Army and its specialised requirements — in war as also in peace — will enable them to realise that at the broader end, the techniques and tools of leadership are the same.


Write view
Adrift on fund crisis
Review by Randeep Wadhera

Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace; Problems and Prospects by Kamal Kumar. APH Publishing, New Delhi. Pages xii + 387. Rs 800.

THE Kargil crisis brought home a lesson — if at all it was needed to be brought home — that we can never afford to lower our guard. International relations are increasingly becoming a struggle for the planet’s ever-dwindling resources, which becomes inexorably vicious. The Shiv Shakti and Tri Amph military exercise involving the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force concluded on December 7, 1998. Though the Navy played its role in the amphibious operations well, it goes without saying that the main emphasis was on land-based warfare.

Our strategic concerns with the north-west frontier are justified. But it would be myopic to allow the southern front — the Indian Ocean — to take a backseat in our threat perceptions. This raises a whole lot of questions. One is aware that attempts are being made to bring about a greater cohesion among the three arms of our defence services, yet certain doubts persist.

Can we take the surface calm of our seas at face value? Do we have enough deterrent power at our command to send the right message to other naval powers in the region and the world? During a future war can the Indian Navy acquit itself well on two or more theatres simultaneously? Is the Chinese threat imaginary, as some doves would have us believe? Is it hawkish to talk of strengthening our defences vis-a-vis unforeseen or even predictable contingencies?

When India gained independence the Indian Navy was perhaps the weakest of the three arms. Unfortunately it remained so for such a long period that our national interests were almost jeopardised. During peacetime foreign vessels could infiltrate into our territorial waters with impunity, both for illicit exploitation of our marine wealth and gathering strategic information. Thanks to the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan and the growing presence of foreign navies, especially the Chinese in the Bay of Bengal, "Indian authorities have realised the folly of having an emaciated naval force." Nevertheless, there is a lot of leeway to be made up.

Unlike India, the Chinese navy has already acquired blue water status. It is further strengthening its fleet by building the Luhu class destroyers fitted with the latest missiles and other combat systems. It has acquired an unspecified number of Kilo class Russin submarines and is also building them under licence. Its future plans include the acquisition of two more aircraft carriers.

The Pakistan navy is also on a modernisation mode. The Tariq class frigates have been fitted with Harpoon missiles. The latest radar and sophisticated EW systems too have been installed in the warships. The China-Pakistan cooperation in this regard is a direct threat to India. Moreover it is inducting an unspecified number of French submarines which are far superior to anything that India has. Thus the Pakistan navy has gained a strategic edge over the Indian Navy.

The Royal Australian Navy is perhaps the most modern fleet in the eastern hemisphere. By 2004 it is projected to operate two squadrons of state-of-the-art submarines. The Adelaide class frigates have been upgraded with enhanced air defence capabilities. Similarly, the other combat vessels — the Meko 200 types, for example — too have been fitted with powerful surveillance radars; and combat-system softrware have added to its formidable punch. Helicopter ships and antimine vessels too are being inducted into the Australian navy. No wonder it has a considerable blue water presence now.

The ASEAN navies too are fast acquiring considerable muscle. It is interesting to note that the naval strength of this region’s countries was no match to that of even the depleted Indian Navy till as late as the 1960s.

Thanks to the shortsighted policies of the powers that be, we started lagging behind while Indonesia emerged as a formidable force. Communist China and Taiwan too started building their repective fleets to secure their shores. In the Arabian Sea under Reza Shah Pahlavi Iran had developed into a formidable oceanic power. In fact the West considered Iran as its policeman in the Indian Ocean region.

The ASEAN and the Australians certainly do not pose any threat to us today thanks to our cordial relations. But when circumstances change and chips are down every vessel ranged against us multiplies the threat several times over. In this context the Indian Navy cannot ignore the increasing strike power of the navies of Indonesia, Taiwan and Singapore in the east and of Iran, Pakistan and other littoral states of the Arabian Sea in the west.

It is indeed a shame that fund constraints have been allowed to undermine our defence, especially naval, preparedness. A major portion — 50 per cent, according to some estimates — of our vessels are due for mandatory refit. Building of warships in our dockyards has fallen beihind schedule by as many as two years and more. If funds do not become available in time, the surface fleet will be reduced to about one-third of its present size. Thus our vast indigenous shipbuilding infrastructure and skills will remainunutilised. No nation, much less a poor one like India, can afford such profligacy.

After the commissioning of the INS Delhi and the INS Mysore the aging Indian Navy has certainly perked up a bit. In 2001, three Godavari class frigates are scheduled for commissioning. Moreover, the sea versions of recently developed missiles like the Trishul and the Prithvi may be deployed on some selected vessels. Some of these missiles will have a range of about 250 km.

A recent agreement with Russia has enabled us to acquire one aircraft carrier. The Kiev class vessel, the Admiral Gorshkov, is basically a replacement for INS Vikrant. However, it has yet to enter the service with our Navy. But these additions are really not enough to maintain the navy’s present capabilities, let alone prime it for a bigger role in the Indian and Pacific Oceans region. Ideally, a country of India’s size and coastline should have a minimum of seven aircraft carriers equipped with the latest modern warfare equipment. One of the lessons of the recent Anglo-American attack on Iraq is that aircraft carriers lend both punch and reach to a navy.

We should be able to react quickly to any challenges coming from the seas. Let us remember that the Chinese navy has a presence in our neighbourhood and its intentions cannot be totally benign. There is a lot at stake for India, in the form of our overseas territory, underwater minerals, and other marine wealth for the country to remain complacement. The talk of increasing the defence allocation is heartening. But would it translate into a stronger Indian Navy? There is a proposal for building more warships, especially air-defence ships or the downsized version of aircraft carriers, in our own docks. This is a welcome development. It would generate jobs for our educated and skilled youth, make us self-reliant in a vital area of defence preparedness and, in the bargain, save foreign exchange that could be used for development projects.

However, care will have to be taken that every rupee spent on building our defence capabilities is accounted for so that cost overruns do not become an euphemism for pilferage and corruption. If India wants to play its appointed role in international affairs, it must make its presence felt both economically and militarily. To protect its trade routes and the marine wealth a strong navy is a prerequisite.

The author’s suggestion for a confidence-building measure among the littoral states of the India Ocean will fructify only if India takes the initiative from a position of strength. Towards this end we should be adequately prepared, both militarily and economically.

Kamal Kumar’s tome is worth reading for its thought-provoking thesis.

* * *

Contemporary Social Problems and the Law by Prabhat Chandra Tripathi. APH Publishing, New Delhi. Pages viii + 272. Rs 700.

This volume is based on various articles written by the author and published in several national and international law journals over a period of time. Its main thrust is on the socio-legal problems facing our society, especially in relation to women. Needless to say, the level of a society’s civilisation is appreciated by the status enjoyed by its women. So how does India perform by this yardstick?

Every seven minutes somewhere in India a woman becomes victim of criminal offence committed against her person. The author points out that every 26 minutes a woman’s modesty is outraged and every 54 minutes a female is raped. A dowry death every 42 minutes, a kidnapping every 51 minutes...the picture is sordid enough to shake any civilised society’s conscience.

Women become victims of dowry deaths, rather plain murders, within the first seven or eight years of marriage. This phenomenon manifests itself as much in the lower middle classes as in upper middle classes and the stratum in between. The killers get acquitted due to wrong reporting or faulty FIRs. Most of these crimes happen in the husband’s house and thus can be proved only by gathering circumstantial evidence. The author suggests eliminating in the delay in investigating dowry-related offences. He advocates literacy drives among women and building a strong social opinion against this evil.

This volume also deals with such issues as environmental degradation, corruption, social justice for all, child labour, criminalisation of politics, etc. These essays can be very useful for students, especially those who are preparing for competitives exams.

* * *

Human Disabilities — Challenges for Their Rehabilitation by Keya Sengupta, Rakhal Kumar Purakyastha and Digvijoy Nath Pandey. Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages xii+212. Rs 295.

Here is a comprehensive collection of erudite expositions on the challenges facing the physically and mentally challenged people, with a close look at ways and means of rehabilitating them.

As pointed out in the introduction, in order to improve the quality of human life, a creative relationship should exist between people and their physical environment. It is also important that not only the physical environment is preserved but also all groups are provided equal opportunity for growth through a healthy social environment. This is where the focus needs to be sharper on the problem of providing a social environment conducive for fuller development of the disabled persons at par with other members of society.

Though our family system provides adequate emotional support, material support is not within the average Indian household’s capacity. This is where a society’s role needs to be defined and activated. It is not easy to rehabilitate a handicapped person.

Ghanshyam Panda points out that there are many types of disabilities. He defines disability as "want of ability (to discharge any office or function), inability in capacity, and impotence". He also enumerates other definitions such as legal inabilities, etc. He then goes on to explain ecological issues and their influence on disabilities.

P.K. Das avers that disability is a condition or a state that incapacittates or makes a person incapable of performing activity — both physical and mental. He then tells us how genes play a role in disabling a person. M.N. Karna says that a handicapped person requires special training to avail of employment opportunities. He makes an interesting declaration that prevention of disability and rehabilitation go hand in hand.

Keya Sengupta complains that the criteria of success has over the years centred on some economic yardsticks, irrespective of the living conditions and assets. "It has always been very naively assumed that benefits of economic growth will automatically be transferred into better living conditions of its people. It was therefore considered unnecessary to make man, including the disabled persons, the main focus of development."

J.B. Ganguly dwells upon the rights and status of the disabled in India and comes to none too happy conclusions. S.N. Bhargava presents a note on the Disabilities Act of 1995. The other contributors like Tyagi, Choudhary, Jyrwa, Kumar et al dwell on different facets of this intriguing problem that requires a huge effort at the national level to be tackled.

No matter what profession one might be pursuing, if he ignores books like this one, he is doing a great disservice to his society as well as to the coming generations. A thought provoking effort and a must read for all.


Kaun banega crorepati? The reader of this book

The Penguin India 2001 Quiz Book by Gopa Sabharwal and others. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 222. Rs 200.

Sri Ramakrishna and His New Philosophy by H.N. Sarkar and Manmathanath Roy. Sri Krishna Kendra, Howrah. Pages 160. Rs 60.

The Transparent Mind: A Journey with Krishnamurti by Ingram Smith. Penguin Book, New Delhi. Pages 199. Rs 200.

Kundalini: An Autobiographical Guide to Self-God-realisation by Ravindra Kumar. Sterling Publisher, New Delhi. Pages 231. Rs 150.

Introduction to the Holy Quran by Abdal Rahmani. Pages 174. Rs 150.

Over the Rainbow by Aroti Dutt. Pages 172. Rs 150.

Minds on Fire: an Infotech Entrepreneur’s Vision by Bikram Dasgupta. Pages 138. Rs 300.

All four by Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.

Stress and Coping: The Indian Experience by D.M. Pestonjee. Pages 321. Rs 225.

Liberlisation and Human Resource Management: Challenges for the Corporation of Tomorrow by Arun Monappa and Mahrukh Engineer. Pages 217. Rs 195.

Making Growth Happen: Learning from First-Generation Entrepreneurs by S.J. Phansalkar. Pages 230. Rs 195.

All the three by Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Dynamic Public Administration by Nalin K. Panda. Pages 114. Rs 200.

Global Concern with Environmental Crisis and Gandhi’s Vision by Savita Singh. Pages 281. Rs 600.

Human Resource Development in Universities by Shakeel Ahmad. Pages 326. Rs 600.

Hospital Management by Mohammad Akbar Ali Khan. Pages 252. Rs 500.

Role of Police in a Changing Society by Aparna Srivastava. Pages 291. Rs 500.

Kashmiri Pandits: Looking to the Future edited by M.K. Kaw and others. Pages 296. Rs 500.

Freedom Under Assault by Chitra Kanungo. Pages 314. Rs 700.

Gender Roles by D.K. Sudha. Pages 265. Rs 600.

All the eight by APH Publishing, Delhi.

Indian Immigrants in United Kingdom by K.S. Dhindsa. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 70. Rs 125.

Understanding Language as Communication (Intercultural Context) by Trilochan Pandey. Pages 360. Rs 450.

Counseilling in Industry: A Rational Approach by K.M. Phadke and Rita Khar, Pages 116. Rs 350.

Human Resource and Managerial Perspectives for the New Millennium edited by Satish Pai and others. Pages 170. Rs 375.

International Marketing (including Export Management) by Francis Cherunilam. Pages 325. Rs 450.

All the four by Himalaya Publishing, Mumbai.

Siddha Medicine: A Handbook of raditional Remedies by Paul Joseph Thottam. Pages 188. Rs 200.

Among Insurgents: Walking Through Burma by Shelby Tucker. Pages 386. Rs 295.

Both by Penguin Books, New Delhi.

Captors of Time: Monuments of the Millennium by Achala Moulik. Pages 209. Rs 450.

The Gods of The Hindus by Om Lata Bahadur. Pages 191. Rs 195.

Both four by UBS Publishers’ Distributors, Delhi.

How to apply for a Bank Loan — and Get it Sanctioned by Raghu Palat. Pages 168. Rs 170.

Indian Banking in Transition: Issuse and Challenges edited by T. Ravi Kumar. Pages 356. Rs 495.

Both by Vision Books, New Delhi.

Startegic Financial Management by G.P. Jakhotiya. Pages 376. Rs 395.

Women Enterpreneurship by K. Sasikumar. Pages 204. Rs 295.

Cornerstones of Enterprise Flexibility by Sushil. Pages 544. Rs 595.

The Sai Trinity by S.P. Ruhela. Vikas Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 195. Rs 110.

The 21st Century and Sri Sathya Sai Avatar edited by S.P. Ruhela. Pages 254. Rs 150.

All five by Vikas Publishing, New Delhi.

Reach for the Stars by Gopal Raj. Viking Pengiun Books, New Delhi. Pages 352. Rs 395.

Nine days to Nirvana by Sanjay Grover. Life Positive, New Delhi. Pages 384. Rs 395.

Handbook on Child (with Historical Background) by Pramila Pandit Barooah. Cencept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 396. Rs 500.

India’s Contribution to Management by Pravir Malik. Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Pondicherry. Pages 162. Price not mentioned.

People’s Participation in Sustainable Human Development (a Unified Search) by Kamal Taori. Pages 276. Rs 400.

Decentralised Government and NGOs: Issues, Strategies and Ways Forward edited by D. Rajasekhar, Ashok Kumar Mittal. Pages 178. Rs 300.

Communication Technology Media Policy And National Development by V.S. Gupta. Pages 242. Rs 300.

All the three by Concept Publishing, New Delhi.

Indian Spice: Seven Stories from India by R.H. Bhanot. Pages 117. Rs 120.

Mediscene by Danny L. Travasso. Pages 229. Rs 240.

Shooter’s Companion by Raja David and Apparao Bahadur. Pages 154. Rs 150.

All three by Minerva Press, New Delhi.

Beyond Einsteinian Limits by Javed Jamil. Mission Publications, Quazi Street, Saharanpur. Pages 64. Rs 80.

Women Domestic Workers by A.N. Singh. Pages 144. Rs 380.

HIV Education and Prevention by Gracious Thomas. Pages 252. Rs 495.

Slum in a Metropolis: The Living Environment by Sudesh Nangia and Sukhdeo Thorat. Pages 155. Rs 350.

Culture Democracy and Development in South Asia edited by N.N. Vohra. Pages 309. Rs 550.

All the four by Shipra Publication, Delhi.

Enhancing Organisational Performance: A Toolbox for Self-Assessment, Vikas Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 129. Rs 295.

The World’s Greatest Quotations: An Encylopaedia of Quotations compiled by Tryon Edwards. Crest Publishing House (A Jaico Enterprise), Delhi. Pages 734. Price not mentioned.

The ABC of Chakra Therapy: A Work Book by Deedre Dremer. Motilal Banarasidass, Bangalore. Pages 174, Rs 125.

— Compiled by Manjit Singh