The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, February 11, 2001

The Bihar we are not aware of
Review by Padam Ahlawat

Back to Shakargarh with prejudice
Review by Gobind Thukral

Economists, tall and talented
Review by G.V. Gupta

An avoidable "errcyclopaedia"
Review by Vikramdeep Johal

A varsities guide book
Review by M.L. Sharma

Herbs of health and cure
Review by Uma Vasudeva

War and war memories
Review by M.L. Raina

Watch out: WTO is coming this year


The Bihar we are not aware of
Review by Padam Ahlawat

Bihar is in the Eye of the Beholder by Vijay Nambisan. Viking-Penguin Books New Delhi. Pages 286. Rs 395.

BIHAR today is known for all the wrong reasons. It is taken to be the state in which administration has collapsed, where crime and ganglords call the shots and scams are of a gigantic scale.

It was, however, once the capital of the Mauryan empire, the heart of the most fertile region. In 2500 BC it was the region where wheat and rice were cultivated. Rice cultivation was then not known in South India and it was from Bihar that rice cultivation spread to South India.

Even today Bihar is one of the most fertile regions, irrigated by numerous rivers. Vijay Nambisan writes: "The first winter we were there, potatoes and onions sold for a rupee a kilo. I have seen roses and dahlias the size of cauliflowers and cauliflowers the size of footballs. Bihar is equally fortunate in its coal and mineral deposits (when this book was written the separate state of Jharkhand had not been carved out). South Bihar has a number of large industries.

What then ails Bihar? It is the lack of a work culture and its lawlessness that have made Bihar synonymous with a sick state. "Its irrigation is positively medieval. There are no canals to drain away the vast quantities of water which stands in the fields to places where they might be more useful.Neither are there many tubewells in operation in the dry months."

Tractors and tubewells are a rare sight in the fields. The landlord does not like to waste money on mechanised farming since labour is so plentiful and cheap. Even the old fashioned wells are operated by hand.

Land is concentrated in the hands of a few while the teeming population has not seen any land reforms. Labour is not paid in cash but only a fraction of what is harvested, perhaps a kilo or two of dal or a small bag of grain.

Vijay Nambisan takes time off from journalism to live in a small town, some 100 km east of Patna. The town on the banks of the Ganga has a large missionary hospital where his wife has come to serve as a surgeon. Nambisan discovers Bihar from his 18-month-long stay and this delightful book is a result. For once, the reader is spared the diadactic sermons with loads of facts and data. And yet one can make a point and present the conditions without recourse to data.

During harvest time crowds of the village poor flock every morning to the field, to slave in the sun and bring home a small fraction of what they picked. Not a paisa is paid in cash.

It is this servile attitude that Laloo Prasad Yadav has tried to demolish by his one-point programme of upper caste bashing. In this regard, Bihar is following the anti-Brahmin feelings prevalent in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu. And it seems that the same feeling is spreading to Uttar Pradesh. In smashing the power of the upper castes, Laloo Prasad has been successful.

But Bihar has remained poor without a work culture and a lawless society, in which caste wars leave women and children massacred every now and then.

The author comes to Mokhama Ghat, a small mean little town, where his wife Kavery is to work as a surgeon in the missionary hospital. He finds the town has two gangs both of Bhumihar, they being the dominant community. He was warned not to go out after dusk and not to go to town too often.

In Patna, the only people who seem to be active are rickshaw-pullers and even their body language suggests they would rather laze around chewing tobacco. Married women are mostly addicted to chewing paan. Lazy and inactive people is the author’s dominant image of rural Bihar. The mass of men and women squatting, idly talking, doing nothing.

The other enduring image of Bihar is its teeming population. As the Kurla Express pulled into Patna, he saw hardly any of the train was visible. "Roofs, couplings, windows were all one struggling, writhing mass of people."

Nambisan had a pleasent stay at M........ where he lazed around the house, supervising work of the maid servant while Kavery went out to work. The maid was hard-working and docile. The milkmaid was cunning and dishonest. The hospital was a pleasent place to stay and despite the rare case of rape and murder of a missionary, the Christians were left alone to do their work at the hospital. Pushpa, the maid, comes out as an endearing person who toils from early morning, accepting all injustice as part of life and cheerfully going about her job. She is honest and conscientious, refusing to demand things which she could have easily asked for.

There are others likethe sensitive school teachers who have concern for the poor people. Mrityunjay Kumar Sharma, the Brahmin teacher in a Musahar school, defied his caste leaders to work among the low caste people. Dedicated to his job, he wanted in his own way to spread literacy.

Laloo Prasad Yadav started with many new ideas but all have fizzled out. His charwa schools for the cowherds has failed and crores of rupees has gone down the drain. The same is true of his idea of giving the poor a bath and a set of clothes.

The author’s relationship with the missionary staff is not all pleasant, as they soon found out, when he and his wife are denied promised perks. He also writes about the missionary activity and the tribals, who had embraced Christianity and were undergoing training to become nurses.

On the whole, Kavery enjoyed her work at the hospital and Nambisan found Bihar not so unpleasant to live.


Back to Shakargarh with prejudice
Review by Gobind Thukral

Pakistan Splits — The Birth of Bangladesh by J.R. Saigal. Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 216. Rs 495.

A NUMBER of retired army officers have taken to writing. Mostly on defence matters. Some are indeed proving to be quite prolific. Some do serious research and using their military experience, provide not only much sought after information but also a deep analysis. They try to be objective and present an informed view. The people and the nation always benefit from this kind of effort. Since security issues are receiving a lot of attention in the media, this has encouraged many retired officers to also write regular columns.

The wars India fought with China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 have inspired many retired soldiers to take up the pen. There is a plethora of books. One such book, "Pakistan Splits — The Birth of Bangladesh" is by J.R. Saigal, a retired Lieut-Colonel. The jacket of the book claims that ‘‘No one has written till date about the Pakistan army in detail as also why the Kargil intrustion took place. The book explodes the myth of a stalemate in the western sector, which was largely responsible for Pakistan having miscalculated the Indian strength in the Kargil. There would have been no intrusion in Kargil sector had the 1971 war with Pakistan been fought professionally in the western sector.’’ This is indeed a major comment on our security concerns. One looked forward to some kind of credible answer to this claim in the book, despite its poor style and errors.

The book opens with the growth of the Indian Army and is followed by a chapter on Pakistan army. One could reasonably expect a sharply focused analysis of the forces of the two countries which have fought two full-scale wars and could start another any time. But the writer is too obsessed with why officers and men of the Indian Army were influenced by western ideas. "Interest in wine, women and parties dominated the life in the officers mess (during the British times).......this trend has taken roots in the Indian Army.’’ He finds the Army to be less committed and somewhat devoid of patriotism. Western influence and the penetration foreign agents even at higher levels is perhaps responsible.

Similar sweeping statements mark the assessments throughout the book. One is entitled to such observations. These could be true also but the author offers no evidence. One or two reports are discussed. By and large the treatment is sketchy whether the subject is Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw or officers like Lieut-Gen Sagat Singh. One could agree with him on the British recruitment style and also the contribution by the INA in fighting for freedom. He says, "Politicians seem to lack both character and understanding to remove the iron curtain between (sic) the armed forces, press and the public’’ and it has a grain of truth in it. But it has to be substantiated.

How the two countries fought in 1971 and how Generals and soldiers fared is now well documented. In-depth studies by the two governments are also out. Recently Hamidur Rehman report on the role of the Pakistani army and political masters has been released. So any writer on defence affairs has to take those reports into consideration. But it cannot be evaluated on the strength of what happened in the battle of Shakargarh or other small details thrown up here and there.

The writer makes sweeping statements like "India is at present in a position to fight a war for an indefinite period depending entirely on its indigenous resources. While Pakistan forces are likely to grind to a halt within two weeks if its supply of ammunition and other essentials were cut off." Any country in the world were not even the mighty USA, can fight a war for an indefinite period, much less an underdeveloped and poverty stricken country like India. What happened to France in Indo-China and to the USA in Vietnam proves this. Both had to pull out. War is as much an economic proposition as a military one. There is only casual mention of nuclear capability. The two countries are now nuclear powers.

How the press has covered last two wars does not satisfy Col Saigal. But to say that the press is ignorant is a little too much. The writer has every right to like or dislike some Generals. But his prejudice dominates his observations when he broadly condemns Field Marshall Maneckshaw (despite half-hearted praise here and there) or when he praises Lieut-Gen Sagat Singh. One can also agree with the author that parochialism and communialism are rampant in the Army. But he should support it with case studies and not by just writing one paragraph.

The book though titled "The Birth of Bangladesh", mainly talks about the operations of I Corps in the Shakargarh sector. The author seems fairly confused about what he wants to present or convey. Written in a "vernacular" language style, the book aims at exploiting the "anti-higher military hierarchy" sentiment, a post-Kargil conflict development. Uncharitable, unsubstantiated and irrelevant references to Field Marshals Carriappa and Maneckshaw are in bad taste and so are comments about the decorated heroes of the Shakargarh battle as well as about his own regimental officers.

The treatment of the subject is devoid of depth and content as expected of a well-researched book. Chapters on the growth and evaluation of the Indian and Pakistan Armies and analyses of the terrain, space, relative strength and nuclear capability are often factually incorrect and amateurish. It will be apparent to students of military history that the author obviously lacks the ability to historically comprehend the geo-strategic and national compulsions and complex strategic planning at the top level. Even in recounting operations of I Corps he ends up trying to create an impression that probably he was the only fearless and rational senior officer and all others were panic-stricken professionals. They were fighting among themselves rather than with the enemy.

It is an established fact that the operation of I Corps in Shakargarh was not as swift as the North African assault by Rommel, yet to see an international conspiracy in the slow progress is unjust. The demand of the author for an inquiry into it after 30 years of the event is whimsical. The book is more an effort to wash dirty linen in public than a coherent analysis of a major military operation.

"The Birth of Bangladesh" is a book based only on the author’s personal perceptions and infrequent and informal personal interaction with some, mostly insignificant players in the battle of Shakargarh. The analysis is thin and skimpy.


Economists, tall and talented
Review by  G.V. Gupta

Nobel Economics — A Historical Commentary from the Classic Angle by P.R. Brahmananda. Himalaya Publishing House, Bombay. Pages 424. Rs 950.

THIS book, probably the first of its kind, studies the post-war developments in economic science by way of critically looking at the work of 38 Nobel laureates starting with Frisch and ending with Amartya Sen. A chapter is devoted to the thoughts of Nobel peers — Kalecki, Harrod, Robinson, Kahn, Kaldor and six others.

And all this is founded on a brief but very valuable survey of the thoughts of leading economists of England and other countries of Europe during the inter-war period. Major economic theories in the post war period are summarised before taking up the thoughts of individual economists. The relevance of these thoughts to the developing countries is also critically examined and new light is thrown on the tradition of classical economics by an exclusive study of Sraffa. Chamberlain’s study of "monopolistic competition" is also taken note of. It is a work of large dimensions and monumental scholarship. Treatment throughout is abstract. Virtually no economist of importance of the 20th century has been ignored even though the focus is on Nobel winners. A bibliography of 1350 references is a virtual library of economic theory.

The classic tradition is the tradition of utilitarianism as represented in the writings of Marshall, Pigue, Robertson and Sraffa. Largely it accepts the principle of diminishing returns. On this is founded the theory of general equilibrium as an aggregation of partial equilibrium. It is this general theme for which is based maximisation of consumer surplus.

According to the author, Schumpeter visualised the history of economic analysis as a linear development from the "implicit marginalism of Ricardo, the matrix of production transactions of Quesnay’s tableau economique", the invisible hand coordinating mutual exch-anges at decentralised levels to aggregate harmony as in Smith, etc. to the fully developed marginal utility and marginal productivity theories of Jevons, Marshall, J.B. Clark et al of modern times, the input-output matrices of Leontief and the general equilibrium model of Walras and his successors.

This book does not see the developments in a linear fashion. It views the post-war theoretical developments as multi-dimensional with multiple approaches to the same analytical problem. "Strong causality could not be a characteristic of economics. Probably that was why the Nobel Committee used the term economic sciences". The author regards the selection of Nobel winners as fairly representative of the main trends in theoretical developments and has, therefore, chosen to view these through a critical assessment of the works of Nobel laureates from the standpoint of classical economics.

Major developments have been in the areas of mathematicisation, economitricisation, and specialisation.

An important characteristic of modern economics, according to Prof Brahmananda, is its drift towards investigation of pure problems which are independent of time and space contexts. New frontiers have been opened in theories of utility maximisation, demand, general equilibrium, value and production theories, welfare economics, market failures and increasing returns. Growth economics has itself now many theories.

Significant developments in international trade, financial flows and currency standards have created new knowledge areas. It is a tribute to the genius of the author that he has tried to create a common theme through all this.

Let us see it through the example of Amartya Sen, the only Indian Nobel winner in Economics. It all starts with diminishing marginal utility and utility maximisation for the individual. The problem of measurement takes us to indifference curves and revealed preferences. But an aggregation of individual preferences for social choice is not possible. Pareto parity creates some field. We then come to Arrow’s theory of impossibility. Arrow’s assumptions were: Pareto optimality, non-dictatorship, individual and collective rationality and independence of excluded alternatives. Enters Rawls with his theory of justice. We have a new consensus on an index of human development demarcating certain minimum areas of social choice.

The great achievement of Sen was to create a degree of universal acceptance of this index by relaxing the conditions imposed by Arrow. In common with Rawls, he emphasised the importance of increased information and bringing in of generally acceptable ethical considerations. Sen developed the concept of capabilities as a better index of wellbeing than the concept of utilities or commodities.

Capability is defined by Sen as the ability to transform Rawlsian primary goods to the achivement of wellbeing. Rawls's primary goods are "things that every rational man is presumed to want and include income and wealth, the basic liberties, freedom of movement and choice of occupation."

In Indian conditions even this can be doubted. The action programme of dalit formations such as a the BSP lays no emphasis on education or health. Therefore, the most important axiom in favour of state action — "I know better than they as to what their interests" — continues to be valid. But the author’s comments on the theory of capabilities are worth quoting from a classical point of view:

"...Capability is a normative concept...(it) involves costs to society...therefore, falls in the dimension of social cost-benefit analysis...If capability is ...a commodity.., (it will be) a consumption and/or capital goods... If capability is defined as a measure of surplus in human beings, classical economic analysis can be applied to it. The precise bundle of goods to be identified with capability acquirement is itself subject of dispute.

We may have conflict between the specific types of functioning desired by individuals and what society wants to endow them with. The heterogeneity of human beings in their desires...creates difficulties in operationalising the minimum equal capabilities of all. The case of Kerala is a prabable illustration of how the measurement of poverty as defined in India cannot be positively corelated with high per capita capabilities." We get back to the good old marginal utility theory.

The author, along with C.N. Vakil and B.R. Shenoy, was a strong critic of Mahalanobis model followed for the second Five Year Plan. He argued for priority to the production of wage goods in a labour surplus economy. In this volume he positions it as a further development of growth theory in the context of the ideas of Ricardo and Piero Sraffa. This is in the pure classic tradition and can be regarded as a significant contribution of the author.

According to the author, "Classical economics has its own tradition in the theories of value, distribution, development, money, international trade, public finance and economic policy. This tradition has been revived and rehabilitated by a number of economists in the post-fifties, the most prominent among them being Piero Sraffa. Sraffa’s book on ‘Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities’ (1960) has opened new possibilities of an alternative and more universal approach to economics."

After presenting the bare essentials of Sraffa’s approach, he provides a brief account of wage goods paradigm, as he calls it, which seeks to open a new door to the economics of developing countries. It is not possible to present this paradigm in any meaningful way in a review article except to say that its essentials have been crisply summarised in articles in two pages of chapter 17 of the book. This has been developed into a very versatile and useful tool.

Reasonabley priced, this book should find a place in the bookshelf of every student of economic theory and history along with Schumpeter’s "History of Economic Analysis".


An avoidable "errcyclopaedia"
Review by Vikramdeep Johal

Encyclopaedia of Women in Sports compiled by Satinder Sharma and Indra Sharma. Reliance Publishing House, Delhi. Pages x +365. Rs 395.

ACCORDING to the compilers of the book, it is a pioneering work. To some extent they are right. The idea of bringing out a book of profiles of well-known and little-known Indian as well as foreign sportswomen is novel and the task is, challenging. Unfortunately, the Sharmas have made a complete hash of it. The book is a huge disappointment, especially when one compares it with their previous work, "An Encyclopaedia of Sports", which was a useful compendium. The book under review is bad in almost every department. It is shoddily compiled and poorly edited (if at all edited), in spite of the fact that the compilers have a library science background.

An encyclopaedia ought to be a reliable source of information. Not this one. Almost every chapter contains dozens of spelling mistakes, some of them appalling. Tennis star Chris Evert Lloyd is repeatedly mentioned as Christ Evert ("In 1972 Christ turned Professional"). Monica Seles appears time and again as Monica Sales. Long jumper (Heike) Dreschler becomes Greschier. As far as syntax is concerned, the Sharmas don’t seem in the least concerned.

There are goof-ups of other kinds too. The US hurdler Gail Devers is included in the high jump category. Olympic long jump champion Jackie Joyner Kersee’s name does not figure in that event list. Disgraced German sprinter Katrin Krabbe is also conspicuous by her absence. Just two lines are devoted to swimmer Kristin Otto who won six gold medals at Seoul Olympics.To top it all, Sergei Bubka and Linford Christie are listed as sportswomen (!)

The profiles are more often than not full of banal and superfluous information. Some of them appear to be lifted from newspaper reports. A typical example is the profile of hockey player Surinder Kaur, which mostly contains irrelevant details of the 49th women’s hockey championship at which she represented Punjab. The one-line profile of javelin thrower Gurmeet Kaur reads : " Jurmeet Kaur (sic) and the women’s 4x400 relay team also could not do anything considerable." Inexcusable.

All we are told about several of our distinguished kho kho players like Achala Parikh and Sushma Sarolkar is that they have won the Arjuna Award. Similar treatment is meted out to outstanding Indian volleyball players.

The book goes from bad to worse in the chapter on the SAF Games. Why over 30 pages are wasted on detailing the performance of Sri Lankan women in the games is beyond the reviewer’s comprehension. Pray, of what use would the resumes of obscure Lankan athletes be to the reader?

Last but not the least, the chapter on sports officials features Princess Diana (!) and Mother Teresa (!!). The former is included, according to the authors, because she used to watch matches at Wimbledon, the latter because she had once met some South African cricketers in Kolkata.

A few worthwhile chapters, like the ones on hockey, cricket and lawn tennis, fail to compensate for the flaws of the book.

In its present form, the compilation is unacceptable. Only if the errors are rectified, which is a herculean task, can its next edition prove to be of some use to sports buffs.


A varsities guide book
Review by M.L. Sharma

Directory of Universities and Colleges of India compiled by Manish Bhatia and Geeta Saxena, and edited by S.K. Bhatia, Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 880. Rs 1500.

ALTHOUGH there is no dearth of standard works providing useful information on careers and job opportunities in India and abroad and on various competitive examinations conducted in all states, a need was felt for a comprehensive compilation for guidance on various academic institutions, universities and colleges throughout the country. Reliance Publishing House, which has specialised in the production of such works providing valuable guidance on this subject, has fulfilled that need.

The task involves strenuous efforts in approaching all institutions spread in different states and even countries to get the relevant and of course the latest information with regard to the courses, faculty and the staff and other conditions. The publishers have done a yeoman’s service in providing all relevant information useful for students seeking admission.

The directory lists over 240 universities and 9500 colleges throughout the country. Each entry in the book contains (1) the name, address, telephone and fax numbers, (2) year of enlistment, (3) key personnel, (4) list of affiliated, constituent, colleges, aided and non-aided colleges and attached institutes, (5) names of college principal, professors, readers with their fields of specialisation, and (6) state, city-university index.

For example, the information with regard to Birla Institute of Technology and Science is provided in the following way: Its address is Pilani, Rajasthan, cable BITS Pilani, phones 42090 42192, Fax 01596-42184, website: http/, chairman K.K.Birla, Registrar J.L. Arora, Director S. Venkateswaran, Deputy Directors I.J. Nagrath, Dean Vice-Chancellor R.N. Singh. Then follow the names of all deans.

All names of professors, associate professors and assistant professors, lecturers and assistant lecturers of different department like engineering and technical groups, chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer science, electrical and electronic engineering, engineering technology, etc. are provided.

The names of librarians are also mentioned. The figures for enrolment are also provided in all courses.

The names of those universities which have been declared fake by the government of India have been given. However, on a closer examination, the book is found to be not containing the latest or uptodate information on staff members, say, in Panjab University, Chandigarh.

The directory also gives an introduction to the universities of the UK, universities of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh with the names of staff members. This has enhanced the value of the directory. A general reader can get the relevant information about the number and names of universities, say, in Pakistan. There the universities are: Agha Khan University, Karachi, University of Karachi, Lahore University of Management Sciences, University of Peshawar, NWFP Agriculture University, NED University of Agriculture, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad, the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Muzzaffarabad, Bahauddin Zakraity University, Multan, the University of Baluchistan, International Islamic University, Islamia University, Bahawalpur, University of Punjab, Lahore, Quaide-e-Azam University, Shah Abdul Latif University, The University of Sindh, Sindh Agriculture University, etc.

The other publications by the same house are the Directory of Indian Book Indstry, Directory of Libraries in Delhi, Directory of LIS Education in the India, Directory of Scientific and Technical Libraries in India, Directory of Libraries in South India in three volumes (i) Tamil Nadu (ii) Andhra Pradesh and (iii) Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry.

The present work is exhaustive, authoritative, standard and the latest (fifth edition). It will prove immensely useful to students seeking admission in faculties throughout India, the UK and in SAARC countries. The directory is a must for libraries as its higher cost will be a constraint on several students.

* * *

American Melody by S.R. Garg. Published by the author. Pages 36 Rs 20.

"American Melody" is the author’s latest collection of poems, including some new ones. Garg, a staunch believer in humanism, pragmatism and universal brotherhood, does not write in Byronic vein of bleeding heart, in Keatsian vein of beauty and love and like Urdu poets on woman and wine but on nobler and inspiring themes on the lives of great men in words brimming with wisdom and insightful experience to inspire the youth as their friend, philosopher and guide. Garg’s poems have also appeared in several American and Canadian newspapers and magazines.

The book has 30 poems set to music on Jesus Christ, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Emerson, Einstein, William James, Roosevelt; Helen Keller, Dale Carnegie, UNO, art of living, etc. Most of the subjects relate to America. In sheer beauty of verse they are unparalleled, especially when written on non-romantic themes. He is didactic but far from being pedantic. But unlike Toru Dutt, he does not write on oriental themes but having a cosmopolitan and secular outlook, he draws inspiration from global themes.

He seems to be inspired by Longfellow’s "Psalm of Life". His "Global Melody", "a treasure house of knowledge, specially for students of school and college", and the earlier one, "Khalsa Melody’ written to commemorate the tercentenary of the birth of the Khalsa were well received, especially the latter one by the devout Sikhs. In a verse he has expressed his wish and motive for writing the present book: "This is my most earnest desire/To ispire many before I expire".

Garg, an educationist with two US awards, "Poet of Merit 1989" and "Poet of the year 1995" to his credit, writes spontaneously as is illustrated in his poem on Ernest Hemingway: "Hemingway’s life was full of pains,/Adventures, sufferings and strains/Not only a world famous novelist,/Also an enterprising great humanist/possessing a personality versatile/Living a philosophy of his own style." His poem on Marilyn Monroe brings to light many new facts of her life as, "From her infant tender age, she lived in an orphanage/The manager raped this girl at eight/So she had to leave it at any rate".

On Emerson he muses: "He was hooted at Harvard College,/And shouted off for lack of knowledge/He minded the ridicule for his defeat,/But patient, confident he did not retreat".

How finely he lauds George Washington in these words!

First in peace, first in war/A statesman shining like a star/Master of sword and master of pen/He was first in hearts of countrymen. The poem ‘Art of Living’ is a masterpiece written in the style of ‘Essay on Man’ by Alexander Pope. It contains the wisdom of Bacon’s essays.

Dedicated to Americans and NRIs, the book of poems (even with footnotes in verse) will be useful to students of all ages and readers of secular literature.


Herbs of health and cure
Review by Uma Vasudeva

Home Remedies: A Handbook of Herbal Cures for Common Ailments by T.V. Sairam. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 344. Rs. 250.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author has given details for the preparation of resin, gums, jam, medicated oil and fat, nasal and eye drops, application of leaves, burning of plant material and so on. For example, resins and gums exude from branches of several trees, especially acasia. They are generally harvested in the dry season, by making cuts on their branches and trunks. The liquid exudate, which solidifies quickly, is then scrapped off the tree with the help of a knife.

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

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

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

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

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


War and war memories
Review by M.L. Raina

Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History by Jay Winter. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Pages x+309. £ 12.95

Only that which does not cease to hurt remains in memory. — Nietzsche

And someone pitched his burden in the muck/Muttering O Christ almighty I am stuck. — Siegfried Sassoon.

SURVEYING her dead sons sprawled on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Gandhari could only mutter curses on those who brought about the carnage. In Homer’s Iliad the brutal killing of Hector evokes a similar disgust. In Henri Barbusse’s "Under Fire" and Hemingway’s "A Farewell to Arms" the experience of actual battle with its attendant gore and blood is a reminder that war can never be romanticised. Even the cynicism of Bertolt Brecht could not hide the tender grief of Katrin’s death in "Mother Courage", harsh though Brecht’s satire is on the perpetuators of suffering.

A passage from Richard Aldington’s novel "Death of a Hero" (an egregious omission from Winter’s otherwise richly endowed book) should give us an idea of what the actual combat is like. "Men were killed by direct hits, and wounded by pieces of flying metal... All that night and far into the misty dawn the stretchers went down the communication trench carrying inert figures with horrible foam on their mouths." This cures the hero Winterbourne’s idealism and brings him face to face with the grime and misery of warfare. In much war writing scenes like these are noted for the stark factualness of their presentation.

Presentations such as these form the crux of Winter’s book. Jay Winter is a cultural historian, not a literary critic. On the basis of this book I can confidently compare him with Peter Gay whose five-part study of bourgeois imagination "From Victoria to Freud" is a model of cultural history of our time. He also shares with Paul Fussel ("Great War and Modern Memory") and Samuel Hynes ("A War Imagined") the distinction of writing a broad-sweep history of the non-military aspect of what historians such as A.J.P. Taylor and more recently John Keegan have called "The Great War 1914-18".

His singular achievement, however, is that he does not confine himself to literature, as does Fussel, but also takes in his ambit non-literary sources from British, German and French archives. He is at ease with everything from church records, architectural structures, memoirs of surviving soldiers, paintings, musical compositions, films and literary works. Here we have a veritable embarrassment of riches in that his research draws no distinction between the kinds of sources he uses. Hynes also uses contemporary paintings, but Winter’s canvas is much larger and extends to countries beyond Great Britain. Fussel concentrates chiefly on British writing.

Winter is a historian with the patina of religious sentiment. He does not see the history of the great war as the unfolding of a divine scheme of sin and retribution. What he does in this book is to study how the survivors of the war and their families and other kin came to terms with their losses. Considering that casualties were heavy and the mutilations of numerous survivors beyond relief, it was natural that returned soldiers and grieving kin should find means of alleviating their sorrow in mutual sympathy and help.

The various forms of the healling process are Winter’s theme and he pursues it with the frenetic enthusiasm of a committed scholar. What impresses one in Winter’s presentation is a combination of the historian’s need for evidence and the humanist’s belief in the restorative power of human empathy, concern and understanding. The result is a history replete with insights into the working of the human psyche under stress. Since Winter’s provenance is wide enough, his findings acquire the quality of general statements that could well be true in all ages and times. In this way he rescues the history of the great war from the condescension of ideologically motivated grinders of personal axes.

Winter states his purpose in a brief statement: "The backward gaze of so many writers, artists, poets, politicians, soldiers and everyday families... reflected the universality of grief and mourning". This universality of grief is embodied in what Winter calls the traditional languages of mourning. These are languages of religious sentiment—ritual, ceremony and observance—through whose mediations, communities and societies have sustained themselves in their hours of loss.

Winter also calls them "languages of rememberance" of which art is one. As he says in answer to Adorno’s belief in the failure of language to account for the Holocaust, "Literature must resist this verdict... The language of real suffering tolerates no is now virtually in art alone that it finds its own voice, consolation."

Before Winter discusses how different art forms such as sculpture, painting and writing confronted the horrors of war, he evokes the communal rituals in the communities of soldiers’ next of kin, rituals that refreshed the memories of the slain soldiers by evoking their presence individually and collecively. In this context he analyses Gance’s 1919 film "‘J’accuse" in which dead French soldiers rise up to visit their communities to see that their sacrifice has not been in vain.

As it is, "J’accuse" is a moving film in which the rhetoric of patriotic sentiment is weighed against the realities of suffering and pain endured by all. I happen to have seen it recently and can confirm the sheer force of Gance’s condemnation of the war. Apart from the film there are references of war diaries of the dead as well as to church records to suggest that the "dead had come back".

Winter does not tell us whether "the dead" have come back in the nightmare experiences of the survivors or as a ritual of expiation of their memories. There is a whole tradition of religious and secular lore in which the resurrection of the dead is seen as a warning to the living. The Hindu practice of shrad is a means of remembering the dead ancestors on their anniversaries. By this practice the immediate grief of their departure is mitigated.

Winter details similar evocations in France, Germany and Britain to suggest that rememberance of the love ones is for the families an act of filial piety.

The author believes such practices became common after the great war. What he does not tell us and what should be common knowledge is the fact of rememberance as a permanent source of catharsis for the bereaved families. Our experience of the aftermath of Kargil is a reminder of the ubiquity of such practices. The building of memorials to the dead is a way of making their presence permanent.

Winter’s best pages are given to analysing war memorials such as the Cenotaph in London, Monument to the Missing at Thiepval in France, Vietnam War Memorial in Washington and other such emblems of commemorative piety.

Here again we find parallels in India, particularly in the commemorative chhatris built by Rajput kings in Rajasthan. The purpose of these structures is to offer sustenance from religious art as well as redemption of the sufferings of war and, at a further remove, some hope of transcendence. Winter’s strength is in reading the traditional motifs in their specific relevance to the present grief. In the process older forms of art were rediscovered and found answering the modern needs for consolation and cheer.

As Winter sees them war memorials enforce a collective meaning, distancing personal grief and merging it in collective remembrance. "In the constructed war memorial death is deconstructed: its horror, its undeniable individuality, its trauma and the ignominy often associated with it, are buried."

But war memorials also present the state’s view of martyrdom in the service of the country, an event that ignores the gruesome fact of individual death and its impact on the bereaved families. As experience shows, abstractions cannot replace the pain of personal loss. Winter seems rather indifferent to this aspect of the institutionalisation of remembrance.

At this stage Winter lays special emphasis on the relevance of the movement for spiritualism that spread across Europe in the immediate aftermath of the great war. Research in parapsychology and other non-rational modes of being were taking place in the 19th century but received a boost immediately after the war. The reasons for this are obvious. People found relief from the memories of the conflict. Madame Blavatsky rediscovered Indian mysticism and in the popular form seances became frequent occurrences in the drawing rooms of the rich.

Literary scholars would conjure up visions of Madame Sosostris in Eliot and Mrs Viveash in Huxley’s "Antic Hay" (to say nothing of Yeats’s own experiments) who seek their own ways of coping with the dead. I would be skeptical about attributing the emergence of spiritualism solely to the great war, and I would want some other explanation such as disgust with scientific temper itself to account for it.

Winter’s descriptions of war paintings and war literature do not offer any new perspective but confirm his own belief in the traditional nature of the means of recuperating normal life after the war. In the chapter "Mythologies of war" he studies films, paintings, sculptures by contemporary artists to support his view that remembrance of the war dead and confrontation with the very fact of death are contextualised in traditional imagery and myth. In this respect his detailed analysis of "J’accuse" reveals the complexities of memorialisation itself.

His passing references to "All Quiet on the Western Font" and other films are designed to buttress his point about the traditional basis of remembering the departed. "From Gance to Kurasawa films have entered the realms of the mythical by telling stories about the eternal themes common to all cultures", he remarks. This is not true of films designed for nationalistic propaganda, such as Soviet films, which extol the heroism of Soviet soldiers alone, like "Battle of Stalingrad", "Fall of Berlin" and "Cranes are Flying".

Winter’s study is packed with detail and is in the best tradition of history that derives not from officially designated sources alone, but from popular sources and oral evidence as well. But it has importance for literary scholars. It revises our notions of modernism and makes us look afresh at our assumptions about what literary historians call modernism. A break with the past, disjunction in language, a questioning of the foundations of belief are attributes commonly given to the modernist movement in Europe. Winter thinks that far from rejecting the old, the modernists (he includes the art of the period in it) retained traditional and customary symbols to explain and make sense of the traumatic modern experience such as the great war.

Speaking of the war poets, he maintains that "their modernism was the product of a recasting of traditional languages, not their rejection". Though this will not be the final judgement on the modernist movement, it does make us rethink our position. Granted that Eliot, Joyce and Yeats were traditionalists in spite of their characteristic modernistic methods, we cannot ignore the fact that the great war was a typically modern event both in its ferocity and its casualties.

Similarly, World War II was equally grim what with thermonuclear weapons wreaking unspeakable destruction. Winter has yet to convince many that the 1939-45 cannot be accommodated the way 1914-18 can be into acceptable traditional terms. Contrary to his belief that the real rupture took place in 1939-45, historians would continue to regard 1914-1918 as an irrevocable point that, to quote Giles Winterbourne from Aldington’s novel mentioned earlier, "ended our innocence for good". It also provided continuity between Ypres and Somme, on the one hand, and Dachau and Treblinka, on the other.


Watch out: WTO is coming this year

This is a chapter from the book "WTO and its implications" by P.K. Vasudeva, published by Minerva, London.

THE Human Development Report, 1999, which was released recently talks a lot about the developing and least developed countries (LDC), especially about the pitfalls these countries face, if they do not have good governance and proper regulatory machinery. It has also been brought out in the report that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, which should have been the other way round. The report has given a detailed analysis of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which came into effect on January 1, 1995.

The industrialised world, led by the USA, brought the subject of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for the first time within the ambit of GATT in 1986 during the eighth round of Uruguay talks. Even as the industrialised world was losing its ground in traditional manufactures to low cost competitors, its strength was rapidly shifting to knowledge-based industries and "intellectual goods". They had a clear and decisive lead in new and frontier technologies such as information, communication and biotechnology and investment cost in R & D was rising rapidly, with growing standards in health and environmental protection.

On top of all this,there was the clamour of their industry, especially in the pharmaceutical, chemical, film and computer software sectors, over the piracy of their IPRs as they perceived it, and it was causing them huge losses in the world market.

Development of international trade can be adversely affected if the standards adopted by countries to protect IPRs vary widely from country to country. Furthermore, the lax or ineffective enforcement of such rights can encourage trade in counterfeit and pirated goods, thereby damaging the legitimate commercial interests of the manufacturers who hold or have acquired the rights.

The TRIPS agreement lays down minimum standards for the protection of IPRs as well as the procedures and remedies for their enforcement. The agreement includes copyright, patent and industrial designs, trademark, service mark and the appellation of origin (or geographical indications).

The report further says that big corporations define R & D agendas and tightly control their findings as enunciated in the TRIPS agreement as a result of which poor people and poor countries risk being pushed to the margin in this proprietary regime controlling world knowledge.

The report says, "From new drugs to better seeds, the best of the new technologies are priced for those who can pay. For poor people they remain far out of reach. Tighter property rights raise the price of technology, blocking developing countries from dynamic knowledge sectors. The TRIPS agreement will enable the MNCs to dominate the global market even more easily. New patent laws pay scant attention to the knowledge of indigenous people. These laws ignore cultural diversity in the way innovations are created and shared. In addition, there is diversity in views on what should be owned and by whom, from plant varieties to human lives. The result: a silent theft of centuries of knowledge from some of the poorest communities in developing countries."

The report has given a large number of positive features of the TRIPS Agreement, but it has also given some of the negative features, which have perverse effects undermining food security, indigenous knowledge, biosafety and access to health care. It has strongly suggested reviewing the TRIPS agreement during the next ministerial talks. Some of the suggestions for the developing and the LDC and the strategies they should adopt to counteract the ill-effects of unequal multilateral agreements are as under:

(i) Poor and small countries should actively participate in global dialogue on multilateral agreements.

(ii) They should link negotiations on IPRs with rights to limit emission of carbon into atmosphere and to link environmental assets like rain forests, to negotiations on trade, debt and investment.

(iii) The WTO dispute settlement mechanism can only be fair when the parties to disputes have access to expert services of equal calibre to argue their case. An independent legal aid centre (LAC) is needed to support poor countries.

(iv) An ombudsman should be appointed to respond to grievances and investigate injustice to the developing and LDCs.

(v) There is requirement for a support policy research for poor countries. Countries of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) must arrive at multilateral forums with a battery of policy research to formulate and defend their positions. The UNDP South Centre set up to support the developing countries, is still under-funded.

(vi) The developing and LDCs need to rely more on regional solidarity and regional institutions to develop common positions for negotiations.

(vii) A multilateral code of conduct needs to be formulated by the MNCs.

(viii) The Human Development Report 1994, proposed a world antimonopoly authority to monitor and implement competition rules for the global market. That authority could also be included in the mandate of the WTO.

India must take up these issues at the next WTO review talks and bring out the negative features of the TRIPS agreement in consultation with other developing and LDCs. Because imposition of the capitalist order on the entire globe, exemplified by a free flow of capital, trade in goods and services, protection of IPRs by MNCs and the silent theft of centuries old knowledge should not be allowed under the garb of unequal and inequitable agreements.

The report is silent on the plants and the plant breeders’ rights (PBR) system. The exercise, sovereignty and control over biological resources, establishment of an inventory of biodiversity, free exchange of germ plasm among scientists of the world of strengthen global food security,preservation of genetic wealth and protection against genetic erosion, strengthening of quarantine capabilities, certification of seeds which can be marketed and so on, should be taken up at the review conference.

India should also remember that patenting of micro-organisms (biotechnological inventions) and protection of new plant varieties through a PBR system are closely interlinked. In the industrialised world, the gene sequence gets patented upstream and the transgenic plant variety incorporating them gets protected downstream. That protection exists from the raw material stage to the finished product. India and the other developing countries should not deal with these issues in isolation. Biotechnology patenting and plant variety protection should be carried out in a coordinated manner, including the protection of environment.

India was one of the first developing countries to recognise biotechnolgy as the key technology for the future, much before it became established in western countries. In the process, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other agencies, have established world class (R&D) infrastructure. India should capitalise on it by focusing policies and evolving specific objectives, as it has a reservoir of biodiversity treasure.