The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, March 4, 2001

Mao: ‘the Lord of Misrule’
  Review by Parshotam Mehra

Masterful sketches of servants
Review by Vikramdeep Johal

The red fall-out of green revolution
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

The salt of life and exploitation
Review by Harbans Singh

At the feet of world hegemon, really
 Review by D.R. Chaudhry

Berlin is a voice, not Capital
Review by M.L. Raina

Snap tricks to survive women
Review by Priyanka Singh

Tasks for tomorrow
Review by Kanwalpreet

A glorious Army unit
Review by Randeep Wadehra



Mao: ‘the Lord of Misrule’
Review by Parshotam Mehra

Mao by Jonathan Spence. Phoenix paperback, London. Pages xviii plus 205. £ 6.99.

IN his lifetime and since his passing away almost a quarter century ago Mao, the "great helmsman" as he came to be called, attracted no end of attention. His achievements were prodigious: unifying with an iron hand a vast country torn apart by decades of bankrupt political leadership, foreign imperialism and war. And a virtually unending civil strife.

In the event, the birth of the People’s Republic of China which Mao proclaimed on October 1, 1949, was in itself no mean feat. What was more remarkable was that China soon emerged as a powerful state both at home and abroad. The Soviets courted and spurned him by turn. And yet dared not ignore him.

And after all the fire and bile it spewed for two decades and more, the mighty Uncle Sam eventually knocked at his door (1972) to seek a rapprochement. By then, Mao’s China had already taken its place as a great power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

In the bargain though, the price Mao exacted from his land and his people had few equals. The famine and the privations of the Great Leap Forward (1958-60) were unprecedented; millions more were to perish in the mighty cataclysm of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1968-74). In the process, China’s polity and economy, and its traditional hierarchies, were turned upside down. Both in their nature and scope, and the havoc they wrought, these were titanic upheavals whose impact still reverberates in China. Nor has the last word been said on what elemental forces — for good or evil — they represented.

Some biographical details help to put Mao in perspective. He was born (1893) in a small farm village, Shaoshan, almost 30 miles south and slightly west of Changsha, the capital of the province of Hunan. It was a large peasant household of seven children, of whom only three survived, all boys and; Mao being the eldest. Despite his father’s lack of support, he managed some schooling and graduated to reading not only the traditional Confucian canon but a wide range of books, especially historical novels about his country’s past.

By the first decade of the 20th century, China’s ruling Qing dynasty was teetering on the edge of collapse. And when the massive military mutiny at Wuhan (October 10, 1911) toppled it, Mao briefly enrolled himself in the republican army. This was an aberration, for presently he joind a normal school, with its free tuition, cheap room and board. A five-year stint at the school gave Mao support and focus through his language and social science teachers he both admired and respected. And helped him to a clerical job in the Beijing University library. Not that it lasted. Mao was soon back in Changsha teaching history in a primary and middle school and was part of the "May Fourth (1919) Movement", keeping his students and the people up to date on developments. He campaigned hard too for the ouster of Hunan’s ruling militarist General Zhang Jingyao, organised a students’ association and turned into a small businessman, book-seller and school principal.

By the end of 1920, Mao was part of the Changsha Communist "small group" which had emerged in four other cities — Beijing, Wuhan, Jinan (in the province of Shandong) and Canton. And at a public meeting he violently contested Bertrand Russell’s formulation that while communism was alright, he was against "war and bloody revolutions". Mao’s dictum: "This is all very well in theory; in reality, it can’t be done". In July, 1921, he was to attend the first Communist Party congress in Shanghai which laid stress on the overthrow of the capitalist class and the establishment of a classless society with all means of production under "social ownership".

The Comintern-enforced "united front" between the Communist Party and the Guomindang did not carry much conviction with Mao and for a while he withdrew from all party work. By the spring of 1927, however, Chiang struck back — and hard. And with the help of a local secret society and criminal organisations, and the connivance of western powers, he swooped down on Communists and labour leaders. Thousands were killed in Shanghai alone and the Communist movement in the city was nearly wiped out.

Mao’s one lesson from this excruciating experience: the importance of adequate military force to back one’s political goals. Another, to develop the new base area, the Jiangxi Soviet, on the Fujian border where he was to spend the next five years (1930-34). Sadly, it was the subject of repeated assaults by Chiang who was determined to obliterate this main symbol of communist survival.

The decision to abandon it — to which Mao was not a party — was the first step in what later came to be called the Long March.

The March itself, hailed as a great achievement in Communist history was "a nightmare of death and pain" while it was in progress. The huge column of some 86,000 fleeing Communist troops was bogged down with equipment, party files and weapons. And exposed to devastating attacks by the Guomindang artillery and air force which carried away nearly half their number in casualties.

At the end of it all, a bare 7000-8,000 of the column survived to reach the village of Wayahao, in Shagnxi just south of the Great Wall (October, 1935). By the fall of 1936, the Communists had made their headquarters at Yan’an; Mao’s major preoccupation now was to preserve what was left of the Communist organisation and deepen his own hold over the party power.

Meanwhile, the Japanese onslaught in the wake of the notorious Marco Polo Bridge incident, near Beijing, persuaded Chiang to suggest a unified national resistance in which the Communists would also join. And Mao did, with a modicum of "enthusiasm" partly because his base area was insulated from the most desperate zones of fighting — the north China plain, Shanghai, along the Yangtse river.

Chiang and his men suffered the most; the "rape of Nanjing" (December 7) was a mortal blow as were the retreat to Wuhan and later deeper inland to Chongqing.

In a short breathing spell, Mao began to grapple with the adjustment of Marxist philosophy to the ground realities of the Chinese situation even as Lenin had earlier to Russian realities. And here he had the good fortune to avail of the inestimable services of a master theoretician, Chen Boda. The long years of war were indeed a triumph for the Communist Party which emerged stronger and more numerous with powerfully effective techniques of mass mobilisation in China’s rural settings. And genuine skill at the manipulation of belief through well-conceptualised propaganda.

By 1943, there was emerging in Yan’an what may best be called a "cult" of Mao; he was now chairman of the Communist Central Committee and of the Politburo at the same time. The men who had opposed him earlier now hailed him as "the helmsman of the Chinese revolution". An inner core of Mao’s senior colleagues now began to rewrite Chinese party history so that the chairman would forever be at the centre.

One by one, the other rivals of the present and the past were denigrated, their "incorrect lines" exposed and Mao’s wisdom pushed ever further back in time. The party constitution now stated without much ado that it took Mao’s "thought" as the guide for all its work and opposed all "dogmatic or empiricist deviations". As Spence puts it, Marxism was now "signified; the leader was the sage".

The end of the war and the Japanese surrender gave Mao the chance he had been long waiting for. From their Yan’an base and guerrilla units based in Shandong, the Communists moved troops into Manchuria, much faster than the KMT could. And with active Soviet help made deep inroads. In September, 1947, Mao issued what came to be seen as one of his most important pronouncements on military strategy and announced a nationwide counter-offensive to seize the initiative by moving from "interior lines" of warfare to "exterior lines".

His strategy was astonishingly successful; by 1948 Communist troops had totally routed Guomindang armies in Manchuria and were ready to move south. Before long, their military morale collapsed, dogged by civilian revulsion with the financial chaos brought about by rampant corruption. Beijing fell in January, 1949, Nanjing in April, Shanghai in May and Changsha in August. On October 1, 1949, climbing to a reviewing stand on the Tiananmen Gate, Mao proclaimed the birth of the PRC.

His visit to the Soviet Union (December, 1949-January, 1950) was a landmark of sorts. Spence reveals that Mao’s "most frank" exchange with Stalin was over Tibet when he confided that Chinese troops were "currently preparing" for an assault and asked to continue the loan of Soviet aircraft to ferry them. Stalin’s response that Tibetans "need to be subdued" pleased Mao.

It is "almost inconceivable", Spence argues, that Mao wanted the Korean war but once it had come, he followed the campaigns with "meticulous attention" and intervened "countless times" with his orders and tactical suggestions. As "instigator and manipulator" of the war in Korea, Mao slowly began to assume the same total roles in his "supervision" of the Chinese people. For by late 1953 he was not only chairman of the five million-strong CCP but of the Military Commission that controlled the armed forces as well as chairman of the PRC. Presently, the end of the Korean war and Stalin’s death (1953) left Mao in a virtually unchallenged position in the world communist pantheon.

The long text of Mao’s four-hour speech on "Contradictions" (February, 1957) was the harbinger of the Great Leap Forward campaign launched towards the end of the year. In the chairman’s mind, the GLF was to combine the imperatives of large-scale agriculture with a close utopian vision of the ending of distinctions between occupations, sexes, ages and levels of education. The end-result though was catastrophic; the 1960-61 famine alone claimed 20 million lives.

Sadly, as Spence underlines, Mao was now "more and more" divorced from the ground reality and seemed to care "less and less" about the consequences that might spring from his own "erratic" utterances. He had never visited any foreign land apart from the Soviet Union (1949 and 1957). And at home, he was increasingly intolerant of all opposition to his views. Deng was dismissed as editor of the party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily (June, 1957) and Marshal Peng Dehui consigned to the doghouse in the wake of the Lushan plenum (summer of 1959). The crisis deepened as the party continued to enforce its laws on grain procurement from fields "where almost no crops grew". The Maoist vision had "finally tumbled into a nightmare".

In the 1960s as he grew older, Mao had apparently further increased his isolation from his own people even as he "claimed to speak in their name". Later while he "did not precisely orchestrate" the Cultural Revolution, he "created an environment" that made it possible. The violence of the revolution was manifested at two levels. From the political centre controlled by a small group totally loyal to Mao; and unorchestrated revolutionary violence in a vaguely designated direction in search of rightists or "feudal remnants", "snakes and monsters" and "people in authority taking the rightist road". The number of victims from this uncoordinated violence was "incalculable". But "there were many millions", some killed; some committed suicide; some crippled or scarred emotionally for life.

Shortly before his death, the chairman rated his two achievements; battling Chiang for years and finally chasing him off to that "little island" of Taiwan. And making the Japanese return to their ancestral home. As for the cultural revolution it seemed unfinished, the task must pass to the next generation — peacefully if possible; in turmoil if necessary.

What will happen to the next generation if all fails? he asked. There may be a foul wind and a rain of blood. How will you cope? Heaven only knows?

A slim volume with less than 200 pages of text, it offers an excellent sum-up of Mao, his "thought" and all that it stood for. Based on the most up to date research, the objective is to show how Mao was able to rise so high and sustain his eccentric flight for so long. Mao’s "terrible accomplishment", it argues, was to seize "insights" from earlier Chinese philosophers and combine them with "elements" from western socialist thought. And to use both in tandem to prolong a long drawn-out adventure in upheaval.

Recalling a well-worn European tradition of the Middle Ages about a Lord of Misrule in great households who presided over the revels that briefly reversed and parodied the conventional social and economic hierarchies, Spence underlines that in sharp contrast to that tradition, Mao was to prolong his misadventure for far too long. More, this Lord of Misrule could not be "deflected" by criticisms based on conventional premises, his own sense of omniscience being too strong.

Refraining from any overall assessment, Spence furnishes a balanced and reliable array of facts and makes them speak for themselves. He offers an illuminating insight into Mao’s development through a close and careful examination of all that he read and wrote during his early formative years. One of the toughest and strongest in China’s long tradition of formidable rulers, Mao possessed "a relentless energy and a ruthless self-confidence"; his rhetoric and inflexible lead to the mobilisation of millions of his people.

Jonathan Spence, rated "one of the greatest historians" of China, has written extensively and authoritatively, both on the old and new China; among his better-known works two stand out: ‘’The Gate of Heavenly Peace" and "The Death of Woman Wang". Spence teaches Chinese history at Yale University and in 1994 was appointed honorary professor at the University of Nanjing.




Masterful sketches of servants
Review by Vikramdeep Johal

Servants of India by R.K.Laxman. Viking Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 136. Rs 195.

Why shouldn’t they have their employers at their mercy, when all involvements and dirt they wanted to eliminate from their lives passed through their hands? — From "The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso".

BARRING covetousness, if there is one deadly sin that the Indian bourgeoisie commits with effortless ease, it is sloth. Laziness comes naturally to our middle (and upper) class, especially with regard to doing household chores — cutting vegetables, preparing food, cleaning rooms, washing dishes and clothes, etc. Most bourgeois families avoid such "menial" jobs like the plague, in order to devote their time to "important" tasks like partying, gossiping, shopping and watching TV.

However, it is necessary to get these jobs done, so that one’s household keeps functioning like a well-oiled machine. To ensure this, the shirking class relies heavily on the working class. Cook, chauffeur, gardener, manservant, maidservant, retainer — they are yours for the taking. You can pick specialists or an all-rounder, depending on your financial status. For a heavenly household, a good job, a good house and a good spouse are not enough. You got to have a good servant as well.

It would be one’s good fortune to have someone like Jeeves, who can solve any problem his master faces. Or like Rajesh Khanna in "Bawarchi" who resolves conflicts between the family members. Unfortunately, one usually gets servants not much different from those seen in Moliere’s comedies, as well as in many Hindi masala movies — cocky, unreliable and eccentric domestics who exasperate their bosses and make things even more unquiet on the home front.

In the book under review, Ganesh, a freelance journalist (and a stand-in for Laxman), gets an idea from his wife Geetha to write a series called "Servants of India". Drawing on his personal experience with servants and those of his friends, he pens colourful character sketches of ten domestics.

Laxman, as we all know, is one of our leading cartoonist-satirists. His ‘‘Common Man’’ cartoons in the Times of India have become an integral part of our collective consciousness. "Servants of India" is certainly not his first excursion into the world of words. With several short stories, two humorous novels — "The Hotel Riviera" and "The Messenger" — and a much-praised autobiography, "The Tunnel of Time" to his name, he has already established his credentials as a writer.

In the book under review, it is the lazy bourgeoise which bear the brunt of his gentle satire. Employers are able to take their servants for granted, treat them as mere props, only as long as the latter keep doing their job in a docile way and efficiently. But once they start arguing, shirking or asserting their individuality, it is a whole new ball game. Then, realising that servants are indispensable, too valuable to let get away, the employers try hard to cope with their whims and eccentricities. In most of the stories, it is the servant who dictates terms the employer, not the other way round.

Narasimha, a catering supervisor, threatens to walk out with his team of cooks when he overhears jokes about him. As all hell breaks loose, "Operation Pacification" is launched by the hosts. "With folded hands they begged him to forgive them . . . They even offered to pay more than what had been agreed upon. But he stood like a rock unmoved !" Their desperate efforts ultimately bear fruit. Narasimha the Terrible smilingly relents and a disaster is averted.

Then there is Anthony the chauffeur, who uses the car of Krishnan, his employer, as a taxi whenever an opportunity comes his way. Although Krishnan tries to warn him in a tactful way to avoid the risk of losing his service, he merrily continues his "extra-vehicular" activities on the sly.

One man tries to blackmail his servant in order to retain him. ‘‘If you have any idea of running away from here, forget it. I will report to the police that some silver vessels are missing. If the police catch you that will be the end of you!’’ he says. The ploy doesn’t work. The servant flees, after hitting the employer with an iron pestle and fracturing his shoulder bone.

Soon after she joins as a maid, Shanti literally shatters the peace of the house, as she bangs and drops dishes repeatedly. When Ganesh shouts at her, his wife exhorts him in a hushed tone: ‘‘If she leaves, it will be your job to find a substitute. It is all very well for you to sit there under the fan and write your article. But I will have to bear the burden of running this household if she leaves. Have some sympathy for me and show some tolerance." Surely a ghar-ghar ki kahani!

The employer’s predicament is succinctly put : "Both of them know they could not dismiss a servant, however bad their work might be. The choice of leaving was always the prerogative of the employee." However, there is not a single story in which the employer fires the servant. Seems a bit unrealistic.

The employer-servant relationship does not remain constant from story to story. While Kumar, a cook, gives his master a piece of his mind while leaving the job, Swami, another cook, not only leaves in a dignified way, but also makes a point to visit his former employer again and again. In "Parvati the Ayah," the domestically inactive mother gladly gives full responsibility for the child to the nursemaid, and herself becomes socially active.

In the "Saga of Ramaswami," an incredible tale with plenty of mush, the relationship is marked by mutual affection and love. When Ramaswami, the servant boy, leaves, his employer thinks: "We were sorry when Ramaswami went away. He was not a member of our family but he left behind an emptiness as if he had been one." As the story progresses, the emotional ties gain in strength.

The book, speaking in modern parlance, is user-friendly. The breezy prose amply demonstrates Laxman’s storytelling skills. The illustrations, surprisingly, are not very impressive; they fail to enrich the text. Ironically, Laxman the writer overshadows Laxman the cartoonist. Just one image stands out — Narasimha sitting in a chair like a wrathful god, surrounded by the worried, helpless hosts.

It goes to Laxman’s credit that he is able to impart a distinct identity to each domestic and gives the reader several amusing stories and unforgettable characters.




The red fall-out of green revolution
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Sikh Ethnonationalism and the Political Economy of Punjab by Shinder Purewal. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages 215. ix + Rs 545.

THE rise of a powerful secessionist movement in Punjab during the 1980s was an unprecedented development in the post-independence India. Never before had the Indian state experienced such a serious crisis of political legitimacy as encountered while dealing with the Sikh militants. Though a border-state, Punjab had been quite a well-integrated part of the country. There had never been any doubts about the nationalist credentials of the Sikhs. Not only did they participate in the freedom movement with much enthusiasm, the people of Punjab, along with those of Bengal, were also the ones who suffered the most during partition. No other regions of India had to pay such a price for independence from colonial rule!

Punjab had also done quite well economically in the post-independence period. Apart from the prosperity that the success of the green revolution brought to the people of Punjab, it also played a very important role in solving the vexing problem of food scarcity in India. Though occupying merely 1.6 per cent of the total land area of the country, Punjab contributed nearly one-fourth of the total foodgrain production of India and approximately two-thirds of the entire central pool of foodgrains. In 1980-81, for example, the share of Punjab in the central pool of wheat was 73 per cent and that of rice 45 per cent.

As an offshoot of its success in the agricultural sector, Punjab also emerged as the most prosperous state of the country with the highest per capita income. The state has also had the distinction of having one of the lowest proportions of population living below poverty line. Punjab indeed was a success story, a model to be emulated by other states!

Not surprisingly therefore, the rise of a secessionist movement in the state was a puzzle. Explaining the "Punjab crisis" became a challenge for the academia and an obsession with the press. A large volume of literature was generated during the early 1980s on the "Punjab crisis". Events taking place in the state occupied the front page of virtually every Indian newspaper for more than a decade. The academia applied all available framework and perspectives to understand the "crisis".

Many Marxist scholars working on the region pointed to the political economy of the green revolution as being responsible for the crisis of the 1980s. Many of them argued that the emerging economic contradictions between different classes, particularly between rich farmers and urban traders, and the nature of the demographic spread of the Sikhs and Hindus in the state were "behind" the communal mobilisation. Rich farmers of the Sikh community raised the question of autonomy and identity for their private economic interests against the Hindu traders.

Shinder Purewal’s recent book on "Sikh Ethnonationalism and the Political Economy of Punjab", in a sense further advances this thesis. Purewal argues that those who "explore the realm of identities and culture without taking into account the material context in which identities take shape" fail to answer some obvious questions such as "why certain aspects of identity become hegemonic at a particular historic moment"? "Whose interests are served by the politics of identity"? Or, in other words, "what constitutes the content of these cultural identities and symbolic politics and who defines that content?" For example, Sikh reformers during the late 19th century had advocated a "non-Hindu Sikh identity", while the agenda for the "kulak-based Sikh leadership" during the 1980s was to propagate an "anti-Hindu Sikh identity".

Like most Marxists, he insists that it was necessary to look at the politics of ethnicity and identities from the perspective of the political economy. "The political economy approach was better because it studied the phenomenon of identity formation and ethnonationalism in its material context by explaining what constitutes power and what gives rise to conflict in society. It sought to understand the relationship between economics and politics, and explain how the relationship between the two worked".

Though his study is perhaps the most comprehensive of all those in the genre, his central arguments or the "thesis" is not new. As has been earlier argued by several Marxist scholars, Purewal too locates the crisis of the 1980s in the contradictions and new class alignments brought into the Punjab economy and politics by the success of the green revolution.

Putting his core thesis in a rather simple and unambiguous language, Purewal asserts that the crisis was the doing of a "small but powerful class of capitalist farmers (the kulaks)". They were the ones who had benefited the most from the green revolution technology. In their struggle against the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie for domination, Sikh kulaks invoked the ideology of Sikhism and their religious identity to build a common bond with the marginal and landless Sikh peasantry who had been further marginalised by the green revolution. In the name of Sikhism the kulaks sought to strengthen their domination over the home market of Punjab through getting the Anandpur Sahib Resolution implemented or through seeking a separate state of Khalistan.

Through a historical survey, Purewal shows that though the question of a separate Sikh identity was also raised during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its socio-economic base had undergone a significant change during the past 100 years or so. From the urban petty-bourgeoisie — the urban upper caste Sikhs — the advocacy of the separate identity had shifted to the rural dominant caste, the Jats. This shift had taken place during the 1960s. It was in the 1960s that the Jat Sikhs, who were earlier closer to the Congress, switched their loyalty to the Akali Dal and eventually came to dominate the party, and also the SGPC.

The rise of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the demand for Khalistan, according to Purewal, were clearly in accordance with the logic of the kulak politics. Though Bhindranwale recruited youth from marginalised peasantry, his political programme of uniting the Sikhs against the Hindus served the interests of the kulaks. From the Anandpur Sahib resolution to the declaration of Khalistan, the political demands of the 1980s movement were all to serve the interests of the kulaks. Thus, for Purewal, the Sikh ethnonationalism of the 1980s was, literally speaking, not a fundamentalist movement in the sense that it did not ask for a return to the fundamentals of the Sikh faith, which Purewal contends were in fact pro-poor and inclusionary in nature.

His instrumental logic and complete economic determinism apart, Purewal seems to also suggest a complete unity of purpose and ideology between the Akalis ("the kulaks") and the Khalistani militants/terrorists. Equating the two was not only empirically contestable, it may also be politically wrong. Though the Akali leadership today is largely made up of rich farmers, their regionalism, like the political programmes of many other regional parties, has not always been communalist in nature. The Anandpur Sahib resolution, for example, though primarily articulated the interests of the rich farmers of Punjab, also talked of the question of decentralisation of powers and resources, a demand that has often been raised by other peripheral regions of India as well. Even the leftwing political formations have raised such a demand.

Interestingly, Purewal avoids reference to the oppressive structures of the Indian nation-state in his book. In fact he seems to work with a rather sharp distinction between the Central/Union Government, on the one hand, and the regional/Sikh elite of Punjab, on the other. The two are projected as representing completely contradictory politco-economic interests, presumably the former being democratic and the latter sectarian! Though Purewal rightly points to the need to look at ethnic identities holistically and in relation to the material processes, his own analysis however seem to leave too many questions unanswered. For example, questions such as "what explains the appeal or charisma of Sant Bhindranwale", do not even get raised, leave aside being explained satisfactorily! The issue is not of replacing socio-psychological explanations with a materialist one, but to deal with the totality of the phenomenon.

At the end of his study there emerges no alternative theory of looking at ethnic identities. The only actors he recognises as being relevant in the political battlefields of Punjab are the classes. Ethnic identities appear to be mere deceptive masks that the classes seem to wear to further their own economic interests. Such an explanation comes very close to the elite manipulation theory. Such theories fail to provide any analytical tools that can help us understand ethnic self-images and explain why ethnic slogans appeal to the common people. The so-called common masses, in such formulations, tend to appear as bunch of fools, ready to be manipulated by the cunning elite and wily classes!




The salt of life and exploitation
Review by Harbans Singh

The Great Hedge of India by Roy Moxham. Constable Publishers, London and distributed by Rupa. Pages 232. £ 14.95.

THE story of "The Great Hedge of India" is not simply a tale of the improbable hedge created by the British colonial rulers as a mark of tribute to the thorough, dedicated and disciplined approach to the job at hand, but to the horror of the reader, it is more of a chronicle of the ruthless and inhuman implementation of a tax on something as essential as salt, and the consequent fatal effect on the health of the common Indian. Ironically the author has used throughout the book the symbol of the scales with the Persian word "adel" meaning "justice" written between the scales.

Much before the end of the book, the extent to which the word has been perverted is fully evident. The book is not just an idiosyncratic search of a hedge running 2,300 miles from Torbela near the Indus in the north of Pakistan to Burhanpur in the east near the Mahanadi, and manned by 12,000 men, who were often ill-paid and, therefore, rarely honest, but often rapacious and insolent, grabbing any chance to extort money.

Staying away from their womenfolk and families, they would at times end up quarrelling with the local people over women. Not surprisingly, many among them were rendered unfit because of the venereal diseases that they contacted. These men were led by young Englishmen with footloose tendencies and an itch for the gun and, not surprisingly, the most celebrated among them was Alan Octavian Hume, Commissioner Inland Customs, but better known as the founder of the Indian National Congress. He had a fabulous collection of 65,000 birds. But, neither this nor the search of hedge by the author is the gripping story narrated in the book.

Written in a racy and easy style, Roy Maxham traces the greed and rapacity of the British colonial rules which began during the days of the East India Company and continued well into the modern times. Having realised that with such a huge population taxing salt was an easy way of raising revenue, they pursued it with single-minded devotion, and neither famine nor pleading of doctors made them ease their hold on this goldmine, which with time evolved to be an instrument of tyranny.

It all began during the times of Robert Clive who devised ways to raise funds and taxes for the Company and the Crown, and also make a fortune for himself and his peers. It all started with the Permanent Settlement of Bengal which with time left the revenues of the Bengal Presidency stagnant, thus prompting the control of production, distribution and taxation of salt in British India. Searching for the elusive hedge, which acted as a barrier between the Bengal Presidency and the rest of the country, the author finds from the various reports of the period the increasingly sordid story of the degradation of the Indian peasantry. He also discovers the connivance of the wealthy classes of India whose urgings to the Viceroy to increase the salt tax rather than raise tax on their landholdings were found so repugnant that the Viceroy responded with an instant rap on their knuckles!

Equally depressing is the reading of the willing submission of the kings of Jaipur and Jodhpur to the demands of the British, thereby subjecting their own citizens to a tax without gaining any advantage from the tax since their kingdoms did not fall under the British domain.

The monopoly over salt created an incredible situation in which the Indian peasant had to spend two months of his yearly earnings on purchasing salt. This happened when the countryside suffered repeated failure of monsoon and a resultant shortage of food, often because of the greedy authorities. With the price of rice soaring as high as Rs 13 at a time when the earnings were barely Rs 2 month, the peasants often starved to death.

There is a macabre aspect to the deaths during those two centuries. The number of deaths that the voluminous records of the British attribute to cholera, malaria, diarrhoea and other diseases may actually have been caused by the deprivation of salt. Were it possible to correlate the deaths caused by these diseases and the deaths during the great famines beginning with 1770, the monstrous dimensions of the tax would pale the holocaust of the Nazi era into insignificance.

The author has with his painstaking study of salt explains a number of inexplicable responses of the times. He has also made a comparative study of salt taxes in other countries and has found that it was only France which came anywhere close to the high taxation in India. The peasants there needed the wages of six weeks for buying salt, but they were better off than their counterparts in India, and they rebelled against the authorities when the tax was raised. In contrast, the peasants of India, had been paying low taxes on salt during the Mughal administration, suffered without demur the cruel and oppressively high tax imposed by the British colonialists. Could this meak sufferance be attributed to the gradual slipping into the rut of failing crops, inability to pay land revenue and subsequent loss of land, poverty, famine and the general apathy induced by the low level of the salt in the body?

Unlikely the Europeans, Indian food contains little salt and has to be added while cooking. Salt deprivation, the author tells us, besides reducing resistance to diseases, causes inertia. This could be the reason why Indian peasants never rebelled against the British for a cause of their own, or that, the nonviolent agitative approach of Mahatma Gandhi was more suited and acceptable to a people who were not ready for an armed confrontation.

These are awkward questions not likely to be faced by a future generation, because during the intervening centuries food habits and lifestyle have so changed that the problem is not of what is the minimum quantity of salt required for the body, but of what is the highest limit.

Eminently readable, the author needs to be complimented not only for having succeeded in identifying the "great hedge", but, in the process, recording the history of British oppression in India, as well as educating the reader on the various aspects of salt, especially the physiological and political aspects. At the end of it all, one is left a little puzzled as to how the salt tax, initially a byproduct of greed, assumed such oppressive dimensions that it finally manifested itself in the great hedge, has been missed by Indian historians. It is unbelievable that even after the Dandi march no one thought of studying salt as a tool of oppression in the hands of the civilised British.




At the feet of world hegemon, really
Review by D.R. Chaudhry

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomos L. Friedman. Anchor Books, New York. Pages xxii + 490. $ 15.

HERE is one more treatise on globalisation — a buzz word these days. Lexus is the luxury car produced by a Japanese company. It symbolises globalisation — a drive for improvement, prosperity and modernisation through high-tech. The olive tree stands for old culture and tradition, community and family. There is an underlying tension between the two. The biggest threat to age-old tradition and culture comes from anonymous, transnational, homogenising, standardising market forces and technologies which drive today’s globalising economic system.

The core thesis of the book is that globalisation is not simply a trend or a fad but is, rather, an international system which has replaced the cold war system. To characterise the cold war — a state of tension between two or more opposing forces at the international plane — or globalisation — a technological triumph in several crucial fields — as systems is a gross oversimplification and a travesty of the basic concept. More on this later.

Globalisation’s overarching feature is integration of markets, nation-states and technologies never witnessed before. It has its own set of rules which revolve around opening up market deregulation and privatisation of economy in order to make it more competitive and attractive to foreign investment. It has its own defining technologies: computerisation, miniaturisation, digitalisation, satellite communication, fibre optics and the Internet. It has its own demographic pattern — a rapid acceleration of the movement of people from rural areas and agricultural life styles to urban areas and urban life styles, intimately linked with global fashion, food markets and entertainment trends. What is more, it has its own defining power structure. During cold war there were two super powers, the Soviet Union and the USA. Now the USA is the sole and dominant power and all other nations are subordinate to it in one degree or the other.

So far so good. Globalisation is the steamroller, a bulldozer and the USA is the giant pusher. But the quarrel begins when the author takes it as the ultimate culmination of the march of history. It is difficult to agree with his formulation that free market capitalism is the omnipotent and ever lasting new-found God and all major ideological alternatives to it has been blown away for good. This is free market fundamentalism at its worst and is riven with many infirmities like any other fundamentalist postulate.

In fact, the book is a journalistic version — the author is the foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times — of Francis Fukuyama’s controversial concept of end of history. History is too hard a task master and it keeps its whip always raised and is perpetually full of surprises, in spite of all the smart theorising of Fukuyamas and Friedmans.

Perpetual unrest is located right in the core of capital. Capital has the inherent tendency to multiply itself and rush wherever it can proliferate itself. Thus, globalisation is as old as capital itself. The only new element in the present situation is its supersonic speed, ever enlarging reach and global pervasiveness, thanks to the revolutionary advances in the field of transport, communications, computer, Internet and related technologies. The author himself admits that from the mid-1800s to the late 1920s, the world experienced a similar era of globalisation. Great Britain was then the dominant global power and was a huge investor in emerging markets. The author stresses that the fall of the Berlin Wall marks the end of the cold war and the beginning of the era of globalisation.

What is new today, he admits, is the degree of intensity with which the world is tied together into a single globalised market. But how does all this usher in a new system, as he claims? Did the earlier phase of globalisation under the hegemony of Great Britain led to the emergence of a new system? The author makes no such claim as the subsequent events in the international arena would belie it.

Then how does the second phase of the same process under the hegemony of the USA mark a new system? Does it mean that all social contradictions and conflicts in human society have disappeared? Does he imply that an everlasting era of peace and harmony has dawned on the world with the onset of the second phase of globalisation ensuring a blissful existence of mankind for all times to come? An affirmative answer is implied in the arguments of the author though he does not say so in so many words.

The only rider is that a mechanism of safety nets must be evolved to provide succour to the victims of what he calls "the brutalities of globalisation". But brutalities are never humanised through palliatives. What the author dreams is world capitalism with a human face. But history is witness to such sweet dreams often turning into nightmares.

The book under review is highly readable as it is replete with vivid stories, anecdotes and experiences gathered through the author’s extensive, travel — a privilege generously available to a reporter of a newspaper like The New York Times. But anecdotes are no substitute for serious arguments. It sounds all the more jarring when travel stories and incidents become a basis for drawing conclusions in such a way that the line of demarcation between cocksureness and fundamentalism disappears altogether.

Globalisation is no choice; it is a reality. The historical debate is over. There is only one road and that is free market capitalism. Thus argues the author. One has to traverse this road or one is doomed. Globalisation understood in the context of a set of technological advances is one thing but to say that free market economy is synonymous with it and thus inescapable is quite another. Free market is never friendly to the poor and the deprived and it must be regulated if it is not to degenerate into a tool to fatten the coffers of the affluent and the privileged.

Mere technological advance and innovation does not usher in a new social system. The invention of the Persian wheel was as revolutionary in ancient times as the Internet is in our times. But the Persian wheel by itself did not mark the beginning of a new social system; nor can the Internet and other innovations in our times claim to do so.

The author claims that globalisation as unfolded under the hegemony of the USA leads to democratisation of technology, finance and information and it breeds accountability and transparency. Noam Chomsky’s book "Profit over People" is enough to prove the hollowness of these tall claims. Globalisation as practised today produces consumers instead of citizens, shopping malls instead of communities, resulting in an atomised society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralised and powerless, as stressed by Chomsky. There is no possibility of unfolding of genuine democratisation in any walk of life in such a situation.

The electronic herd of today — global investors linked through the Internet — is, in the author’s opinion, the driving force behind globalisation. But this herd is an accumulating and consuming monster and there is no end to its greed. It poses a serious threat to ecology, environment and social harmony. The author’s argument that "being green, being global and being greedy can go hand in hand" is not sustainable. Greed would have to be curbed if sanity has to be restored to the troubled mankind. American society with little of history may not provide an answer. One may fruitfully seek an answer in eastern civilisations. Teachings of some eastern savants like the Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and others put a high premium on a life of simplicity, austerity and incessant striving to have access to realms other than the mundane, can provide an answer to the garbage society being created by the electronic herd.

The author is emphatic that the only way the poor and the deprived in the world can live down their misery is through knocking at the portals of globalisation with all its attendant value system. The "wretched of the earth", observes the author, "want to go to the Disney World — not to the barricades. They want the Magic Kingdom, not Les Miserables". This amounts to putting the agonising dilemma of human misery into a binary position. The division is too artificial to be overlooked. There is also a third way out — neither the realm of Disney make-believe nor the world of misery and hardship. There can be a world based on mutual love, harmony and compassion for each other wherein the people are contented if their basic needs are met, though they may not have the glamour of the Disney World.

America’s unique position as the only super power in today’s unipolar world breeds its own conceit and arrogance among those who treat it as the high watermark in the march of history. "We Americans are the apostles of the First World", proclaims the author, "the enemies of tradition, the prophets of the free market and the high priest of high tech. We want ‘enlargement’ of both our values and our Pizza Huts:" The modern world is "stabilised by a benign super power with its capital in Washington, DC", the author further claims.

In other words, America is the Mother Teresa of today’s world. It can also act as the world gendarme if need be. American power is there to be used "against those who would threaten the system of globalisation — from Iraq to North Korea. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist", pontificates the author.

Would America have used its "hidden fist" in the Gulf war if that zone had produced oranges instead of oil? Such questions would never strike the apologists of American hegemony. For them "America is the ultimate benign hegemon and reluctant enforcer", as stressed by the author. This is the dollar land speaking. Are you listening?




Berlin is a voice, not Capital
Review by M.L. Raina

The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays by Isaiah Berlin. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. Pages xxxvi+667. $ 17.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan/the proper study of mankind is ma n. — Pope

Only truth matters; to die in a false cause is wicked or pitiable — Berlin

BERLIN is right. Only truth matters. Philosophers, ideologues, scientists and humanists have all said this before. Berlin cautions us against the demagogue and the propagandist who claim that only their truth matters. Is he, then, a relativist? These essays, chosen by his pupils and editors, Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer, from the entire corpus of Berlin’s writing, may help us to answer the question.

My recollection of Isaiah Berlin goes back to the winter of 1972 when, as a member of the Gauss Seminar at Princeton University, I attended his lectures which were later published as "Vico and Herder". Speaking in a tone varying from introspective to admonitory, he kept his listeners revetted for two long hours, his words flowing in swirls of precisely inflected sentences.

Displaying a characteristic gravitas quite becoming his reputation as a philosopher, historian and political savant, his presence enhanced by a natty grey suit, he stood before us on that bleak evening like a biblical prophet telling us what to expect from our follies as human beings.

Up to that point I had only read what I still think is his unsurpassed masterly essay on Tolstoy, "Hedgehog and the Fox" (reprinted in full in the present collection). I later began to read him more deeply and extensively; and having re-read the Tolstoy essay for the umpteenth time recently for a class lecture, I can say with a deep sense of responsibility that Berlin is among a handful of seminal minds of our time, sharing this honour with Hannah Arendt, Bertrand Russell, Andre Malraux and a few others.

Like the authors of "The Human Condition", "Anti-Memoirs" and "Sceptical Essays", he made freedom his life-long concern. This representative collection demonstrates his concern in essay after essay.

One of Berlin’s singular achievements has been the way in which he uses the genre of the essay to convey the most recondite of philosophical ideas without the froth and fudge we notice in much contemporary academic discourse. In his "Notes to Literature", Adorno says that the essay "does not play to the rules of organised science and theory and is rooted in the present moment". Berlin, like Adorno and Hans Mayer, manages to make himself accessible to his readers without wringing words by their necks, as happens in some of our more avant-garde theorists of today. In spite of using the form of essay as his vehicle, his prodigious virtuosity is never in doubt.

Yes, he bludgeons you with his brilliance. Yet at the end of a veritable solo dance of ideas and insights you come away with the feeling that you have witnessed a performer eager to "make you see" in the sense in which Conrad used this phrase. This was my reaction to his lectures at Princeton. And this is the general reaction to his vibrating incandescent prose, laced with wit and occasional irony, but always bristling with lucid verbal felicities. Its rhythmic iterative cadences reveal an agile and tenaciously rigorous mind. Who says the "metaphysic of presence" is passe?

If I have first dwelt on Berlin’s style rather than on his subject matter, it is because this aspect of his achievement is not being too strongly emphasised. Fed as most of us are on the inane word-mongering of post-modernism and other brands of reductionism in current discourse, it is salutary to be reminded of thinkers who know the art of drawing the reader’s sympathies towards what is of lasting value in human culture. Berlin, like his younger contemporary George Steiner, never tires of pointing our gaze away from the tinsel glitter of contemporary writing towards what Steiner calls the "real presences" in human thought.

Berlin raises the question: what is truth. But, unlike Jesting Pilate, stays back to look for answer in the whole repertoire of European thought from the ancient Greeks to our own day. Except for an essay on Tagore in a previous collection, "The Sense of Reality", he concentrates mostly on European thinkers. In essay after essay he sees a curious paradox between different versions of truth — between officially sanctioned truths of theology, ideology and the state, and the truths revealed to people not in the echelons of power, either in the Church or in the ruling political-ideological establishments.

Against the grandiloquent narratives of ideologues, reformers, preachers, conquerors and other kinds of the powerful and the mighty, he discovers small narratives, local truths and communal wisdom in societies not within the immediate ken of the dominant forces. Against the abstractions of system-builders, he reveals the potency of what is unsystematic and wayward. He supports Johannes Herder in asserting the validity of "the imponderable and the impalpable", of that which science disregards, "Herder and Enlightment".

In the Tolstoy essay, he compares the novelist’s urge to search for a Christian pattern in life with the peasant’s uncanny sense of a flowing unceasing stream bypassing this system. The novelist mocks at the "absurdity of rational system, the universal failure to understand the non-rational springs of action and feeling, the sufferings to which all flesh is subject..."

In the essay on the Romantic Will, also included in an earlier collection, "The Crooked Timber of Humanity", he shows how some important thinkers like Herder, Hamann, Herzen and Vico, challenged the Eurocentric assumptions of the Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire and de Maistre, and laid the basis for comparative anthropology and literature.

They challenged them on grounds of their supposed infallibility as also for their dictatorial assumption of racial, class and gender superiority. These proponents of "Counter-Enlightenment" "denied the doctrine of timeless natural law", and spoke of the languages, myths, rituals of different cultures as "self-expressions" of their individual and collective lives. They also stressed "the plurality of cultures and the fallacious character of the idea that there is only one structure of reality", only one method of understanding truth.

His approval of these views in almost all essays in this collection (most forcefully in "Pursuit of the Ideal" and "The Divorce between the Sciences and the Humanities"), cuts at the root of empire-builders, racists (Nazis are singled out), colonialists of all hues and sundry other big and small peddlers of single-shot panaceas of western vintage. Endorsing Eric Auerbach’s plea that each culture is to be judged separately, he speaks for pluralism and not simply relativism which regards cultures relevant in their own contexts.

There is danger here of equating primitivism with progress. Berlin is in direct line of historians of ideas such as Franz Boas and the author of "The Great Chain of Being", A.Lovejoy. Boas’s study of primitivism shows the Romantic predilection for the exotic and the outlandish. In our own era of political correctness, we tend to condone some of the barbaric practices of some non-western societies. Neither Hamann nor Berlin would acquiesce in such nostalgia. Nor would they acquiesce in shallow cosmopolitanism of the kind that the Universalists regard as valid.

This is why Berlin, in spite of his admiration for Turganev and other Europhiles among the Russian intelligentsia, could find only Tolstoy, Herzen and, in the present time, Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova to his liking. They, like him, derived their inspiration from non-rationalist traditions, from the wellsprings of people’s deepest faiths unconsciously held, and distrusted the official version of things.

Berlin’s thinking is located in the contrast between the ideal and the actual, between a sense of reality and the dreams of utopian fantasists. In the essay on the "Originality of Machiavelli", he praises the Italian’s sense of what is possible at a given time. Rejecting the accusation of opportunism against him, Berlin suggests that though Machiavelli was aware of the ideal of rulership, he also knew that ideal rulers could not be found. It is this pragmatism (not opportunism) that makes the Italian a kindred spirit.

Also Berlin rejects fundamentalism of all kinds and berates the cult of nationalism actively encouraged by some oppressed peoples. Calling nationalism "a pathological infliction of a wound on the psyche" (see the essay "Nationalism") Berlin warns against its dangers. In this respect his essay on Tagore in "The Sense of Reality" makes a salutary reading. His observations on this subject would certainly show up the hollowness of our own Hindutva hordes bent upon rewriting our history and calling the desecration of a mosque "the expression of a national sentiment".

There is in Berlin’s theses a familiar ring, that is familiar to those who are exposed to the post-modernist onslaught on thinking and behaviour. His advocacy of local communities and their small narratives against the overarching but schematic projections of earlier thought recalls Jean-Francois Lyotard’s opposition to the entire Enlightenment philosophy of progress and civilisation. Does it mean that Berlin is a post-modernist before his time? Obviously not.

For one thing, in spite of his belief in the legitimacy and singularity of all cultures and in spite of his sympathy for the rituals and mythologies of non-European societies, Berlin remains a rationalist to the core. He is deeply involved in the rational pursuit of freedom for all and understands human behaviour rationally. This implies his antipathy to irrational justifications of the excesses committed in the name of the legitimacy of all cultures. For another, Berlin does not condone reckless action either by individuals or by entire societies.

He credits individuals with the faculty and exercise of choice leading to their freedom ("From Hope and Fear Set Free" and "Two Concepts of Liberty"). He would refuse Lyotard’s espousal of a perspectivist approach to truth and the practice deriving from this approach. He is very much his own man.

For Berlin the authority of his mentors, all those classical and modern philosophers and thinkers who ballast his own thinking, is the authority that his own teaching envisions. His thought seeks succour in them and discovers its own provenance through their ministrations. He is not their mouthpiece, though. There is a core content in his work that remains his and his only. And this content, the bedrock of his belief in liberalism and freedom, is what draws us to him. Like Tolstoy, he is both a hedgehog and a fox.




Snap tricks to survive women
Review by Priyanka Singh

Surviving Women by Jerry Pinto. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 187. Rs 200.

MOST of us, I presume, are familiar with Jerry Pinto, the funny guy with an even funnier imagination. And he is his usual self in "Surviving Women" insightful as he is wacky.

The book is, as the title suggests, about surviving women. It is for all Indian men even though Pinto insists it is essentially for the Confused Indian Man (CIM). If you thought the Indian man comes only in the typically-so kind—that of a self-obsessed, pampered,selfish entity—you will be pleased to know there is a whole lot of them.There is the Average Indian Man, the CIM, the New Man, the Unreconstructed Man and the remainders who fit in a little here and a little there.

Inasmuch as Pinto holds the woman culpable for making a man’s life a rollercoaster ride, he believes he must teach the CIM snap tricks to survive the New Modern Women who thinks of him as an ore. ‘’The man she wants is inside you and she is going to make sure that he finds his way out of the hulking slagheap that you represent in your current self ‘’.

This New Modern Woman is his friend (Incidentally, he has dedicated a whole section on whether a man and a woman can truly be just friends), his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s friend, his wife, his colleague, his mother and his daughter.

The chapter on daughters is, however, laboured and he appears to be in an awful hurry to tie the loose ends for want of something substantial to say. also, there is no mention of how to survive sisters. the cim could have used some help on that front as well.

for those men who do not know if they are the object of Pinto’s attention, he describes the cim as a ‘’ new species of male, usually urban, middle class, and confronted every day by new indicators about his role in... to put it bluntly, life. or those bits of his life that involve women, which pretty much add up to his whole life.’’

in the introduction he seeks to convince the cim how this book would make a paramount difference in his life and equip him to deal with the vagaries of women.

Pinto tells them how to handle being dumped, being divorced, being outbeaten, being outfoxed, being nagged—everything. He even tells if it is all right for the CIM to cry or be a mama’s boy all his life. He lists 10 commandments which will ensure smooth-sailing for the CIM.

Pinto also promises a sequel to "Surviving Women". Thanks to his efforts to make the poles meet, soon we will be rid of divorces, marital discord and broken hearts! It is another matter that he has been married thrice and is due to be married yet again. So much for his own understanding of women!

Pinto had interviewed 100-odd men for this book which is our indigenous version of "men are from mars, women are from venus" and their point of view (prejudice?) can’t help but show.

even then, some observations about women, if not all, are perceptive. It is indeed true that women tend to imagine layers of meaning in a remark no matter how innocous. Inarguably, they almost always complain of their husbands not being at their communicative best and they do delight in the minutest details which often go unnoticed by men. Other than that, women are not the blood-sucking demonic creatures Pinto (all in good humour?) makes them out to be in the chapter ‘’She’s a jerk’’.

he arranges alphabetically the names which describe the ‘’terror in the shape of a women’’—asrai, banshee, chudail, etc. are all there. This was uncalled for as it discredits the book which also attempts to promote harmony between the two sexes.

When he is not being nasty, Pinto is tolerable. He says almost every civilisation is based on the principle of wholeness only being possible when male and female are both realised. It is, however, hard to tell if he means it or is it only intended to confuse the CIM further.

Pinto is extremely crude at places and the innumerable spelling errors in a quality publication like Penguin reflects on its falling standards.

In the chapter ‘’Voices from the other side’’, he incorporates the responses he received from his women friends who had read the book. One of them remarks that the book is an ‘’illuminating account of male psychological illiteracy and ineptitude’’ which is not entirely wrong of "Surviving Women".

How does a women survive this book? Read it with as much light-heartedness as Pinto has written it. He is never really malicious. He is ready, even eager, to champion the cause of the Dalit woman in Bihar and let her have her say.

He only meant to write an entertaining book for men who need a step-by-step rulebook to handle women and situations and manage life. It is a must for women for the same reason—to know what conniving tricks are employed by the CIM or the AIM, whichever, to handle women and situations.




Tasks for tomorrow
Review by Kanwalpreet

21st Century — Development Challenges by Bhagbanprakash. Tata Donnelley Limited, New Delhi. Pages 160. Rs 175.

DEVELOPMENT means to move ahead, it means progress in every sphere of life. It includes not only the people and their standard of living but also the air they breathe, the environment they live in, the cities, the towns and the nation they inhabit. And development takes place only after overcoming hurdles and meeting them head on. This is what Bhagbanprakash has dealt with in his book "21st Century — Development Challenges".

Facts have been collected and placed before the readers in a friendly way. Yes, last century holds the key to the 21st century. The past century was marked by many, many new ideas. And Bhagbanprakash in a very subtle way tells us what lies ahead if we are not careful. The challenges, he says, are not in just one field but in critical areas like biotechnology, energy, ecology and globalisation. In fact, he examines the issues and challenges in the development field. The world has the potential to develop and also to meet the challenges but the problem is that the common man is neither informed nor aware of the dangers if he moves ahead relentlessly.

The writer says in the Preface that he has avoided going into theories and analyses. He has pursued facts looking for a pattern. He talks of assessing human development in three aspects — increasing longevity, learning and living standard — and relates them to the challenges they will bring in the social and economic fields. Knowledge and information are the raw materials of the future and which have to be exploited to make lives better. The author explains how innovation and information will make a sound knowledge economy and vice-versa. But the knowledge should be real and information should be reliable to obtain real benefits. Change and progress can come only through IEC — information, education and communication.

In the chapter, "Families of the future", he expresses himself in favour of close family units as they are ideal and for this trust, spending time together, touch and talk are the essential components. Loneliness and isolation are what we have to be beware of. Money and media will and do connect and affect people everywhere. Quoting WHO reports, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), HRD, market survey of households (MSH) and many more, Bhagbanprakash supports his analysis with figures. Even the jobless turn down the "3-D" jobs — (jobs considered dirty, dangerous and demanding). He talks of avoiding jobless growth and growth-less jobs.

The effect of multinationals their growth, the impact on the nations in which they operate, privatisation, entrepreneurial skill are discussed in "Falling nations and rising multinational". He calls them "global casinos" and sympathises with nations which are helpless.

The chapter "Plying God: bypassing the evolution" is one which is relatively new and difficult to comprehend by the common reader. The author says, "Plants and seeds have caused wealth as well as exploitation, power as well as penury" and goes on to give examples. Mechanisation of agriculture and worshipping land as mother in developing countries are the other subjects discussed. The youth, their problems, how they can be helped to escape loneliness, women and their empowerment through "participation and partnership" are critical issues which need to be delved into. He tackles the problem of ecology energy and economy and how the idea of "green GDP" has caught the attention of Europe.

In this well-researched book we come across vital figures and their implication for tomorrow. The writer has not only placed the challenges before the world but has also classified them for the developed and the developing countries.



A glorious Army unit
Review by Randeep Wadehra

The Rajputana Rifles by R.S. Kadyan, Prakash S. Chaudhary, Mahesh Mathur and others. Lancers, New Delhi. Pages 128. Rs 995.

FOLKLORE and tradition often lend an aura to a person, a community or a set-up which endures the march of history. The Rajputs in general and the Rajputana Rifles in particular are beneficiaries of such a potent mixture. This coffee table publication traces the chequered history of the seniormost rifle regiment and one of the most famous of our army’s regiments.

The Bombay Council raised the 5th and 6th battalions of the Bombay Sepoys in January, 1775, in order to ward off the Maratha threat. The next six years saw the 5th battalion display its mettle in enough measure to be rewarded with the honour of being redesignated as 4 Regiment Native Infantry (Rifle Corps) in 1841 to become the Indian Army’s first rifle regiment. When the armies of the three presidencies were amalgamated at the turn of the 19th century the regiment was given the nomenclature of 104 Wellesley’s Rifles.

The next restructuring of the Indian Army took place in 1921 which resulted in the formation of the Rajputana Rifles. The regiment has acquitted itself well in various battlefields — both in and outside the subcontinent. The battle of Kirkee was the regiment’s baptism by fire. It also saw action in Kandahar, Abyssinia, China (the Boxer Rebellion of 1900-02), France, Mesopotamia, etc. The regiment’s post-independence record is equally noteworthy — be it the Kashmir conflict, the 1965 war or the liberation of Bangladesh.

Consequently it has earned several laurels for its bravery.

While reading about the acts of individual bravery of the regiment’s men and officers, one is impressed by the pride that comes out of the narrative. Adorned by excellent photographs and relevant statistics, this is one coffee-table book that you can curl up in the bed with for reading, present it to your aspiring-to-be-soldiers-adolescent kids or proudly display in your drawing room.


Thailand: Political History and Buddhist Cultural Influences by Kanai Lal Hazra. Decent Books, New Delhi. Pages (two volume set) 596. Rs 1000.

Thailand, or "The land of the free people", is the only South-East Asian country which never became a colony of a European power. It was originally known as Siam — a name that finds mention in various Sanskrit and other ancient texts. The present name was adopted in June, 1939, after the Thai tribe that came from the northern hilly regions and eventually became the country’s rulers. The Thais originally belonged to the northwestern Szechwan in China and were compelled to migrate to south due to the conflict with the ethnic Chinese — perhaps the Hans. After going through various tumultuous stages, the country has crystallised into its present geo-political form.

There is strong evidence of Indian influence on the Thai culture and history. Names like Ayuthiya, Rama, Vasudeva, Cammadevi et al, which are so common there have distinct Hindu connotations. Later on there was a profound influence of Buddhism. Both Buddhist sects — the Hinayana and the Mahayana — have flourished here. Today Buddhism, introduced by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, is Thailand’s state religion and 90 per cent of its population is Buddhist. It has played a great role in the country’s political, religious, social and cultural history.

Since the Tharavada or Hinayana sect was introduced — much before the Christian era — it has become the major creed of the Thais.

Other religions that have notable following are Taoism and Confucianism. The hill tribesmen are animists and the people in South Thailand follow Islam. Christianity and Brahminism too have flourished in this land of ochre robes.

The author dwells on the various art forms — both extant and extinct — of Thailand. The present Thai art is a fusion of various art forms that came from India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and other lands. Hazra avers, "Every decorative piece or painting in a Thai religious structure tried to symbolise a particular aspect of Thai Theravada Buddhism..."

Like India, the Thai sculpture too was greatly influenced by religion. "Whether the origin of a figure was purely Indian, Mon, Khmer or Thai or it originated from hybrid influence such as Mon-Indian, Mon-Khmer or Khmer-Thai, primarily for devotional purposes it was done..." Thailand’s traditional arts were inspired by the Indian art. They also adopted many features from Indian, Chinese, Sinhalese, etc traditions.

Hazra points out that even though India had profound impact on the classical Thai Buddhist art; the latter could not get "direct help" from the former. Hazra does not explain this but goes on to say, "In Thailand Indian art and craftsmanship were mentioned as the prototype of the Buddhist art... in the first quarter of the beginning of the Christian era adaptation and imitation from India began in Thailand..."

If the Amaravati school of art inspired the Buddhist art movement in Thailand, later on the Guptas, the Pallavas, the Pala-Senas, the Madurai Pandiyans, the Gandhara art forms made a substantial contribution to the evolution of Thai art.

Books like these help one realise how wide and profound the influence of our culture has been over the centuries. And most of this influence spread not through military conquests or by fire-eating fanatics but by apostles of peace. The process was assimilative and regenerative and not exclusivist, destructive or acquisitive.

This is amply substantiated by John Keay in his celebrated work, "India — a History". "In Thailand and Vietnam the odd Roman coin has been found as well as beads, gems, pottery, intaglios and metalwork of Indian provenance... More emphatically, bronze vessels and a carnelian lion found at Don Ta Phet in westcentral Thailand are said to be Buddhist... Thanks to this trade and missionary activity, there are also the first signs of Indianised cultures in South-East Asia... one such (state) had five hundred families from India plus a thousand Brahmans to whom the native population gave their daughters in marriage... They (the Brahmans) do nothing but study the sacred canon, bathe themselves with scents and flowers, and practise piety ceaselessly by day and by night."


India Through Japanese Eyes by Toshio Yamanouchi. Sterling, New Delhi. Pages 266. Rs 600

Relations between Japan and India are more than a millennium old. More than 1400 years ago Buddhism — probably the most famous export from India — was introduced in Japan. The author points out that the interaction between the two countries "presents various transformations".

During the Nara and Heian periods India was called "Tenjiku" or the holy land of Buddhism. The pious Japanese have since been looking upon India as close to Japan despite the geographical distance. Out of the 60,000 Japanese who visit India nowadays, nearly 20 per cent make it a point to go to Buddhist centres.

But this cultural interaction is only one aspect of the Indo-Japanese relationship. Trade and economic relations too have been passing through various phases over the years. If you thought Indo-Japanese economic relations are confined to the narrow straits of electronics and automobiles, you err. Toshio Yamanouchi points out that he was third generation in his family that worked for Kishimoto Shoten Ltd, the oldest wholesaler in iron and steel in Osaka. Since the early 20th century the company had been importing pig iron from India.

Of course the company later on merged with Itouchu and Marubeni to form Daiken Sangyo Ltd. Similarly, for Nippon Kaishan Ltd the Indian pig iron has been the primary raw material since 1912.

Harking back to the socialist days he points out that like the socialist bloc countries, India had a meagre foreign exchange reserve. Therefore all trade bills were settled at the end of the fiscal year, as part of the overall settlement of the two-way trade. India imported machinery and chemical equipment from Japan and exported iron ore and general merchandise in return.

Now of course the relationship has become more complex. There are joint ventures in the field of automobiles, mining, power generation et al. With the Indian government’s "Look East" policy gathering momentum, trade, cultural and strategic ties between the two countries are bound to improve and become more sophisticated.