The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 29, 2001

The father of the hegemony concept
Review by Shelley Walia

Punjabi Literature
Neurosis as spring of contemplative poetry
Review by Jaspal Singh

Khamosh! Zindagi zaari hai!
Review by Kuldip Kalia

An offensive Bhagwat in his defence
Review by Rajendra Nath

Failed attempts to make Tibet a pawn
Review by Parshotam Mehra

Off the shelf
An orator’s sad story
Review by V. N. Dutta

A peep into Khushwant’s fantasy world
Review by Harbans Singh

You can make life beautiful
Review by Roopinder Singh




The father of the hegemony concept
Review by Shelley Walia

Gramsci’s Political Thought by Roger Simon. Lawrence & Wishart, London. Pages 143. £ 7.95.

GRAMSCI’S influence on contemporary critical and socio-cultural debates is significant in offering a theory of art, politics and culture. Political and sociological writing under the influence of Gramsci has a continuing relevance at a time of widespread retreat from Marxist positions among those on the post-modern Left. The theory of cultural production and critique when applied to cultural criticism, brings out the relevant issues of social domination and the subversion that takes place continuously to resist any fixed notions of cultural behaviour.

The ideas of Gramsci as they evolved in the context of his position as a major leader of the Italian working class movement, and as they took shape during his long imprisonment, lead to a reappraisal of cultural, artistic and literary forces as shown in Roger Simon’s book. It is an approach which seeks to explicate as well as underscore the substantial achievement of one of the most important figures in Marxism.

Many contemporary historians and literary theoreticians have resorted to Gramsci’s major work, "Selections From Prison Notebooks" for their various projects on cultural studies. The defence of democratic culture is central to the understanding of this project of responding to imperial or fascist histories.

His theoretical concerns deal with ideology and Marxist aesthetics within a historical context. Such a view of history requires from Gramsci’s perspective, a good deal of rethinking in the light of unprecedented historical developments unsettling the world around World War I which becomes important for the understanding of cultural change in terms of colonialism and the notion of a single linear narrative of any natural trajectory of history. He reconceptualises the formidable historical events and their representation through the roles of what Renate Holub calls "critical specialist/non-specialist".

Gramsci’s cultural criticism in fact rescued Marxist thinking from determinism and economic reductionism to which it had fallen prey, enabling many critics to take up this Gramscian model for the writing of revisionist history where their foremost concern is the notion of the materiality of ideas, the theorising on political praxis and the concept of hegemony which had mainly one common underlying suggestion: the vitality of language as a dramatic and active social construction that plays a material role in creating the social history of the world.

For Gramsci, as for other critics like Edward Said, history is not "preordained" as it can be influenced by ideas and not solely by the economic base as maintained by orthodox Marxists. Here, universal ideas are not given any importance as all events and ideas are historicised and contextualised in time and place.

Gramsci’s idea of hegemony links the spontaneous consent of the masses to the maintenance of power by a minority class. This consent is caused by the aura and prestige of the dominant fundamental group which constantly manipulates its social and political strategies to maintain the acceptance of a class society which otherwise should go into a revolutionary reaction to such a hegemony.

Gramscian hegemony, through the subtle and unconscious use of persuasion, sways the populace. To achieve this, the imposition of language, and through it, the writing of literature and history, play a significant role in setting up systems and institutions that perpetuate the ideology of the dominant class. British literature and history, for instance, as well as the English language — the carrier of Englishness — therefore, have the function of disseminating ideas that help in contributing to the hegemonic domination of one class by another.

In the light of this argument we can view literary texts and the historical accounts of the West as valuable representations of the ways in which hegemony is achieved. The use of a "deconstructive" analysis of different European texts is an example for Third World critics to understand the possibility of the subaltern interpreting in his writings the methods used for oppression and their reproduction in literature or music. Ideas thus become sites of power relations and knowledge working in tandem with the maintenance of power. This emphasises the need for intellectuals to react to any authoritarian practice and be aware of the strategies of the repressive myths of hegemony.

In these myths of power the subaltern critic has to decipher the combination of coercion and persuasion behind the organisation of political and ideological leadership. It must be understood that Gramsci draws a contrast between egemonia (hegemony) and dominazione (domination). Thus he turns the notion of hegemony as a strategy to hegemony as concept that is a tool for understanding society in order to change it. Hegemony has, in the words of Roger Simon, "national-popular dimension as well as a class dimension" and thus requires "the unification of a variety of different social forces into a broad alliance expressing a national-popular collective will".

Viewed from this standpoint, colonial discourse, for instance, is itself a process of extensive reorganisation which is needed in order to establish western hegemony. It is a way of transmuting popular consciousness, of people’s ways of thinking and feeling, of their conception of themselves, their moral standards and their history. A wholesale transformation of popular consciousness brought about by western hegemony serves the purpose of stabilising foreign rule.

The concept taken from Gramsci that informs contemporary theory highlights the confused and contradictory ideas "absorbed from a variety of sources and from the past, which tend to make (the subaltern) accept inequality and oppression as natural and unchageable". This Gramscian notion of "common sense" which enables the West to create myths of power and dominance is revealed in western constructions of history.

"Common sense" is purely a negative term in the Gramscian sense as it becomes the site of ideological construction and conflict or resistance. Criticism of this inculcation of "common sense" is the task of a "contrapuntal" critic who reveals the national-popular struggles and the nature of ideological resistance.

Gramsci’s concepts of "civil society as the sphere of class and popular-democratic struggles, and of the contest of hegemony between the two fundamental classes" has enabled many historians to give a new dimension to the study of imperialist historical accounts and cultural resistance to them to finally understand the theory of political power and of the revolutionary process in the making of history.

Roger Simon’s book is a coherent account of the rigorous and polemical life of the 20th century’s most original and wide-ranging Marxist thinker who, through the use of terms such as hegemony, civil society and historical bloc has added a new dimension to the vocabulary of political thought. As Stuart Hall points out in the introductory essay, "it is from Gramsci that we learned to understand — and practise — the discipline imposed by an unswerving attention to the peculiaritis" and unevenness of national-cultural development. It is Gramsci’s example which cautions us against the too-easy transfer of historical generalisations from one society or epoch to another, in the name of ‘theory’. Indeed Gramsci has taught the political and theoretical Left to reread Marx from a new perspective and show ways of developing and living constantly renewable stream of ideas. The cultural and political logics of Gramsci’s notions on liberation and ideology have helped in reconceptualising the nature of class, power and the conditions of existence in modern societies."


Punjabi Literature
Neurosis as spring of contemplative poetry
Review by Jaspal Singh

WELL-known Punjabi poet Manjit Tiwana is a restless soul, lost in the inscrutable maze of life. She has done six collections of poems, though "Ilhaam", "Ilzaam" and "Dargah" are more popular. Now she has come out with a long poem, "Jin Prem Kiao" (Navyug Publishers, New Delhi) dedicated to her Guru Dev, with an epilogue, "Tun kithe hain".

For Manjit "poetry is more important than breathing, being the conscience of an age, a mirror of the times, a means to reach the invisible, an expression of love and an epistle of the dead and the departed. Poetry is the voice of the soul and a chronicle of the different stages of mind.... It is a melody of suffering that casts a spell over me... It is a bridge to reach the beyond and the transcendental."

She believes that a person without love is the poorest of the poor and she has encountered freedom, love and death at one and the same point of time and space. She has spent most of her life in her own company since there is a wide gap between her dreams and reality.

Karen Horney, a neo-Freudian psychologist, says that neurosis manifests in individuals in the form of withdrawal, aggression or indifference and the main source of neurosis is the gap between the ideal and the reality. The wider the gap, the higher the degree of neurosis, which Manjit Tiwana tried to bridge through the medium of her poems. If she were not a poet, she would have been in a lunatic asylum.

She has a lot to curse in her life that gave her loneliness, exile and rejection. The life-situations, she avers, brought her terror and oppression though as a college teacher, she has been secure economically.

Her "neurosis" is manifested more prominently when she compares herself with God. She says, "Iam alone even in a crowd. God himself is alone like me. Had he not been alone, he would not have created such a beautiful world." Solitude is the first condition of a creator, though it can be both a boon and a bane.

In fact, Manjit Tiwana is a rebel who fights for undefined freedom. She claims that throughout her life she has been fighting for light against darkness and that she undertakes the responsibility of presenting her poems to the world as a genuine translation of the consciousness of the epoch. A tall claim indeed!

She even resents her birth in a family that had a "curse of thinking like slaves" which precisely is the reason of her being a rebel. She has "lost a lot in her domestic warfare". She then justifies her way of thinking with the words, "I have not come to this world to tend my kinship relations. I have come to the earth to serve a great cause; to fulfil a great calling which I am trying to execute through my poems.... I hate being a slave and I do not know what words like peace, harmony and rest mean."

Now with these claims and confessions, Manjit Tiwana says in "Jin Prem Kiao" "Main rojh wang/Rohian ghumdi han/Shaid mai koi kahani/kahn lai hi aai han." (I am wandering aimlessly in the moor like a nilgai. Perhaps I have come to the world to tell an untold tale.)

In fact this long poem is an epic on the self, a story of her quest, her navigation and her drift. She states, "Iwalk for miles together to quench my thirst which remains unsated and after a time thorns grow on my body.... my own venom poisons me. And this is my malediction, my own curse."Her life-long wandering adds to her restlessness. She realises "all kinship relations are false. Hunger is a curse that leads to endless anguish. As I walk along, the distance to the indistinct destination increases leading to still greater trepidation."

But she moves on to meet her Guru Dev like a buck chasing a mirage in the desert. Then she compares her condition with the wayward clouds in the sky which may disappear in strong wind. These straying clouds are also homeless like the poet. She longs to shower her Guru Dev like rain does so that he may flourish. But he does not care to respond.

The poet is growing old fast and she feels tired inside. Now at times she carps at herself and many derogatory epithets pour out of her. She leads an "artificial life". She can shed "crocodile tears". Her smile is equally deceptive. She feels that there would be nobody around to weep when she dies. She declares "Panchhian nu kaho/Mere ghar ‘ch aalna pa lain/Eh chiran ton khali pia hai." (I invite the birds to weave nests in my home which is lying vacant for ages.) In such desolation, only "birds" can console. The poet confesses, "Phaisla karna mere lai/Sabh to vaddi sirdardi hai/Ise lai sabh gaddian langh gaian? Mai hale vi station te kharhi/Harek gaddi chon/Aun wale nu labhdi rahindi han." (Ihave always been indecisive which is why all trains have passed by and I am still waiting on the platform for the arrival of somebody.)

At such times poetry comes to her rescue. She tries to climb the stairs of words and structures to reach the top where she walks cautiously along the semantic boundaries. But the one she waits for never turns up. The impending decay and decline pester her.

By and by she learns to live with herself. She remarks, "Phir hauli hauli/Jadon mai apne aap nu/khali kita/mai athru/Samundar nu saump aai/Main haase phul nu de aai/Bol kavita nu de aai/soch mai aakash nu de aai/Es tarahn panje tatt/Mai panje tattan nu/Morh aai han."

(When I loaded off myself I handed over the tears to the ocean, smiles to flowers, words to poetry and thinking to the sky. Thus returning all the elements to their sources.)

As a defence mechanism, she wears an armour of "Om". She says, "I have veiled myself in ‘Om’. I can hear its echos from my heart. Only this name is inscribed in every cell of my body. I don’t need the help of the sun to see it. Words have lagged far far behind. I have wrapped ‘Om’ around myself."

But her quest goes on without respite. There is no response from the other side. The poet gets impatient. She implores, "Tun kadon bolenga/Mai tan vairaag de akheerle dande te /Khaloti han/Jithe mai reh rahi han/Ithe sach bolan/Sach sunan di aadat nahi." (When will you respond?Iam standing on the edge at the top staircase of angst caused by separation. Where I live the people are not in the habit of speaking the truth nor of listening to it.)

Again she complains that he does not at all respond to her prayers. She states:"My dreams have been waiting for you since ages. Do pay me a visit, at least to see my condition and to learn how inexorable times have violently tossed me about like grain is winnowed. Fate has stabbed every cell of my being from where thorns have sprouted. What a cursed being I am! ...... You are my other self.... our relation is eternal, beyond body, beyond shapes, wealth and races..... you are beyond tradition, religion, language and even time....Ihave nestled you in my consciousness."

So ultimately Manjit Tiwana’s alienation comes to an end and she realises herself within her own self.

The blurb of the book has something written in English about the poet. The ten lines carry more than ten howlers. Navyug Publishers have to be very careful about such things if they want to retain their reputation.


Khamosh! Zindagi zaari hai!
Review by Kuldip Kalia

For the Soul: Silence — a Book on Self-Empowerment compiled by M.M. Walia. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 64. Price not mentioned.

"SILENCE!", the teacher ordered. Then everything was frozen in silence. Does such silence mean a confession or giving a consent? Is it more eloquent than words?Does it have a healing impact on ailments? Whatever you may call it, silence is certainly a strength and it never betrays.

Beware! For everything there is a season, a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. This is what the Bible teaches us. Truly speaking, most misunderstandings are a byproduct of carelessly spoken words. So always avoid falsehood, scandalous or excessive speech. This is good for both society and the individual as well. At the same time, do not forget that "silence is synonymous with peace". It is in fact, the way to achieve"universal happiness and eternal bliss".

Since time immemorial, silence has always been used by saints and philosophers as a mode to "attain communion with the higher self". Not only this, the access to an "inner sanctuary" which is hidden from the materialistic world is made easy. There is also a belief that sages had a gift for prophecy and bless others, particularly when they become munis or silent ones. Moreover, the practice of silence does not mean "merely refraining from speech. The body must be without motion and the mind has to be serene and furthermore the heart should be tranquil".

Caution! "Energy is wasted in idle talking and gossiping," Swami Sivananda warns. So mauna conserves energy. It develops"will force" and the power of "endurance". Also helps in observance of truth and controls anger. The word mauna comprises two syllables — ma and na. Ma signifies manas (mind) and na means nalu(no). So it is that state of mind when this is no mind — in simple words, in such a situation mind is never disturbed by emotions, thoughts, desires and feelings. Thus at the stage of "mindlessness", one can hear the "antaratma" or the inner voice. That is why silence is considered to be "as deep as eternity".

Vak mouna (abstention from speech); manomouna (free from mental activity); karana mouna (keeping external organs like feet and hands motionless); kasta mouna (abstention from all the external and internal organs including mind) are the types of silence mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures. There can also be physical and mental silence. Physical silence restores our body and sense organs whereas the mental one refreshes our mind.

For efficient and concentrated thought, silence is the basic ingredient. It is the definite factor because it helps to coordinate our body, mind and faculties to move in rhythm. Moreover one must keep in mind that the great things are always done silently. That is why the Mother says, "It is only in silence that true progress can be made".

Then the question arises: how to practise silence!It can be done in two ways: through the absence of thought (mental depression, melancholy and insanity) and through the fullness of thought (tranquility and strength). Thus through a persistent practice of "discriminative elimination and concentration" the mind acquires silence.

Undoubtedly, silence is a precious commodity so one should learn to distinguish between the "vital and non-vital, the real and unreal". Frankly speaking, in silence there is always strength, wisdom, peace, poise, joy and bliss. In the words of the Buddha, "Better than a thousand useless words is a single useful sentence, hearing which one is pacified".

On the spiritual front, silence is his language, so train yourself in the language of God. "Silence is at the root of our union with God and with one another."This is how Mother Teresa describes the very essence of silence. "Sadhana" is perhaps the first step towards cleansing of one’s speech. For Mahatma Gandhi,"Silence is a great help to the seeker of truth and thus a part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth." That is why control of speech is always considered the first lesson in the premier of spiritual text.

Silence from words is always "good" because it helps one away from scandal-mongering or anything that leads to other evils. But the "better" thing is if one could succeed in "silencing desires and passions" and, above all, silence from wandering thoughts is the "best" (one could ever think of or imagine). Anyway "soft and sweet speech is the expression of genuine love because "hate screeches, fear squeals, and conceit triumphs".

Moreover the Buddha rightly said, "A word spoken in wrath is the sharpest sword".

It is better to learn the "vocabulary of love" and unlearn the "language of hate and contempt". How can we ignore Sathya Sai Baba when he says, "Words should be used only to see symmetry, harmony and beauty".

Thus true wisdom lies in the deeper theme of life which can in no way be achieved without silence.

For George Bernard Shaw, "Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn".But to Hazlitt, it is "one great art of conversation".

But whosoever it may be, he always keeps the advice of Pythagoras in mind when he says, "Be silent or let your words be worth more than silence". Perhaps nothing can be better said than this sincere advice.


An offensive Bhagwat in his defence
Review by Rajendra Nath

Betrayal of the Defence Forces by Vishnu Bhagwat. Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 415. Rs 595

GEORGE Fernandes, the then Defence Minister, and also the BJP-led alliance government, came in for a lot of criticism when Admiral Bhagwat, Chief of Naval Staff was dismissed in 1998. It was the first time any government had dismissed a chief of staff. Admiral Bhagwat blamed Fernandes for receiving kickbacks in defence deals as also for his dismissal. However, the government did not take much notice of kickbacks in defence deals. But the recent Tehelka episode, which really shook the nation and proved the prevalence of kickbacks in defence deals, has revived to some extent the debate on Bhagwat’s dismissal.

Admiral Bhagwat has basically written this book to put forward his point of view before the reading public, in which he has blamed the government and Fernandes in particular, for dismissing him even without a court of enquiry. But he has covered many other aspects dealing with the Navy as well as the security of the country.

The first half of the book makes better reading, in which the author deals with the ethos of the armed forces, the threats to the country in the Indian Ocean and the kind of navy the country should have to deal with those threats. Dealing with the ethos of our armed forces, the author states that the guiding factor of an officer in the armed forces has been and will remain "duty, honour and the country".

In spite of many ups and downs that the republic has faced, the armed forces have retained their core tenets and values. The history of our democracy has never been sullied by ugly chapters of adventurous colonels and Generals trying to wield power in the name of democracy, the author states with legitimate pride.

However, since 1991 the country’s defence budget has come down in real terms. It has declined from 3.4 per cent of GDP in 1989-90 to 2.2 per cent in 1997. Successive weak and irresolute governments have endangered national security, the book states. There is a mistaken view that there is a conflict between national security and economic development; in fact, the two go hand in hand.

The author notes with concern the inadeqate pace of defence research and development. He is critical of the way in which the Defence Ministry bureaucrats function. According to the author, civil and not civilian control meant control and accountability to the Cabinet Minister, the Cabinet, the Parliamentary Committee and finally to Parliament. It did not mean by any stretch of imagination the bureaucratic control of the armed forces. This is reflected in interference in the matters of transfers, postings and promotions. To support his view, the author quotes former Defence Minister Mulayam Singh who has stated "we Ministers move on, it is you bureaucrats who form the permanent government and know all the tricks of the trade".

The author writes about the Navy and the threats to the country from the sea in a thoughtful and logical manner. He states that the Navy has been a neglected service compared to China, the USA and even the UK and that it clearly requires a special effort to make it an effective force.

It was the perception of most strategic thinkers that the 21st century would be the "century of the oceans".

According to him, China has designated the PLA Navy as the first and senior service, allocating it one-third of the defence budget, despite an army-dominated leadership. The Chinese had declared that as a matter of policy, ship-building would be the springboard to China’s industrial development. China has in fact overtaken India and is now more than three times ahead of India in every index of maritime competitiveness.

Admiral Bhagwat strongly recommends building of warships and submarines in out shipyards which are working at less than 50 per cent capacity as ship/submarine building orders provide stimulus to engineers, designers and research and development teams.

The book states that very few in India pause to reflect that two-thirds of the world in covered by oceans, 70 per cent of humanity lives within 150 miles of the sea and 80 per cent of the world’s industrial and economic activities are located on sea shores. The fulcrum of power is situated on the littoral. Therein lies the importance of the navy to look after India’s long sea coast, along which industry is developing.

The author regrets that our high-ranking political leaders have little or no military background, while in the USA, almost all Presidents, with the exception of only three have served in the armed forces or seen actual fighting. They therefore understand the problems of the armed forces. The foreign delegations, including the Chinese team at international negotiations and at UN headquarters, always have military representatives. But it is not the case with India for reasons which are not clear. No wonder India loses at the international negotiating table.

Admiral Bhagwat also discusses the sensitive subject of defence purchases and construction of ships in India. In this connection, he states that the navy’s plans to build an air defence ship (ADS) at the Cochin Shipyard were delayed for a long period as the import lobby wanted to purchase an old aircraft carrier from Russia. Initially, the price quoted by the Russiana was $400 million but then middlemen like Admiral Nanda entered the game, the price of the Russian ship was raised to $ 700 million. It was a clear case of kickbacks in a defence deal.

The author talks of a politician-arms dealer-bureaucratic nexus in the Ministry of Defence in respect of defence purchases. He has also accused Farnandes of deliberately turning a Nelson’s eye to gun running in the Bay of Bengal, where several shiploads of weapons destined for insurgent groups in Myanmar and the North-East, were allowed to go through. Conceivably, some of the weapons may now be used against the Indian Army in the North-East, the author claims.

However, once the author starts dealing with his bitter quarrels with Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh, Vice Admiral Sushil Kumar, the then Defence Minister Fernandes as well as the then Defence Secretary, Ajit Kumar, the sordid aspects of working of senior politicians, bureaurocrats and naval officers come to light. He is critical of General Malik, who was his course-mate and was then Chief of Army Staff, as Malik opposed him. No wonder somebody remarked that the only time the three Chiefs of Army Staff, Navy and Air Force had fully agreed in recent times was when they decided to allow young girls to join the three services as officers.

The dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat was a serious mistake on the part of the government. I wonder if the government considered its effect on the morale of the armed forces.

This is an interesting and well written book which contains useful information regarding not only the dismissal of Bhagwat but also analyses the threats to India from sea and the naval strategy that India should adopt to look after its maritime security.


Failed attempts to make Tibet a pawn
Review by Parshotam Mehra

Tibet: the Great Game and Tsarist Russia by Tatiana Shaumian. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. Pages xii plus 223. Rs 545.

ALL through the later half of the 19th century and the opening decade of the 20th, the "great game" was the subject of voluminous outpouring from the press and the platform. Of learned disquisitions and not-so-learned rhetoric and pamphleteering. And no end of lively, even animated debate.

Essentially, the "game" concerned the gradual — and not always so gradual — expansion of Czarist Russia into the vast, empty spaces of the heart of Asia. Into fabled Samarkand and Bokhara and Khiva, and on to the shores of the Caspian. Across the Pamirs, to the frontiers of Great Britain’s much-coveted Indian empire.

Both Persia and Afghanistan felt the heat and the Raj was unnerved no end. What Whitehall feared most was that through the soft underbelly of these hitherto largely inert, sleepy regions, the Cossacks might creep through, threatening the Raj and all it stood for.

To build barricades and mount defences against this seemingly unstoppable advance, the British employed all their skills. A good deal of adventure, and spying, was in order. So were small wars. From the late 1830s to the early 1920s, the British waged three such wars in Afghanistan alone. Their principal objective was to install a regime that could stem the Russian tide and at the same time be amenable to Whitehall’s dictates!

Nor was the Afghan Amir the sole target of the Raj’s attention. Nearer home, across the Himalayas, the Dalai Lama too attracted notice. Through the to-ings and fro-ings of the Buryat and Kalmyk Mongols who were subjects of the great white Czar, and among the most fervid of the Dalai Lama’s followers, the Russians may build up in Tibet a danger zone, threatening the peace and security of Pax Brittanica. Tatiana Shaumian’s thin volume under review concerns itself largely with this intriguing if fascinating facet of the "great game".

The broad outlines are easily mapped out. In Lhasa, in 1895 or thereabouts the young and ambitious 13th Dalai Lama had attained adulthood after a bitter struggle with an unscrupulous regent and his cohorts. Among his many advisors, one close to his person was a Buryat Mongol, Aguan Dorjieff.

As if by coincidence, the youthful Lord Curzon, barely 40 and fresh from his laurels as an author of no mean repute and a rising Tory parliamentarian, became Indian Viceroy (1899). His one major obsession, both as a student at Oxford and later as an indefatigable traveller in an around Persia, the Gulf and the Far East, was Russia. And the danger it posed to Britain’s Indian empire. His singular ambition was to stem the tide and keep it as far as he could from India.

Even before Curzon arrived on the Indian scene, there had been some minor skirmishes with the Tibetans across the Sikkim frontier. A few boundary pillars had been knocked down and some disputes had arisen about the border trade. Characteristically, the Viceroy magnified the incidents, sought out the Dalai Lama and demanded premptory action.

Meanwhile with a view to forging a closer link between the land of his birth and that of his spiritual guru, Dorjieff had made a couple of visits (1899-1900) to the Czar. This was no small cause for anxiety to Curzon; what deepened his suspicion was the knowledge that Dorjieff had undertaken these journeys — undiscovered — through India!

Livid with rage, even as the mystery surrounding the Buryat failed to unravel, the Viceroy was shaken by the unbelievable. On his doorstep, the Russians were threatening to obtain a toehold in Tibet; its Dalai Lama willing to buy the Czar’s patronage.

Sadly, the Tibetan ruler proved singularly unresponsive to the Indian potentate’s repeated overtures for a direct relationship. Worse, the Dalai Lama was rude and even failed to acknowledge the Viceroy’s communications. Nor was the Manchu Amban any help. Not that he was unwilling; he was, to all appearances, powerless.

For once, Curzon found himself at his wit’s end. To break this logjam, he decided on a march to Lhasa under the command of an old friend and fellow traveller, Francis Younghusband. And in the bargain, he led a reluctant and stoutly unwilling regime into a plan of action it had no heart to underwrite.

Once inside Tibet, Younghusband’s principal effort was to establish and convincingly substantiate — the existence of a Russian conspiracy to overawe the domain of the Dalai Lama, by sap if not by storm. And make the Tibetan ruler into a Russian protege, no less.

He was deeply disenchanted. To his great embarrassment and that of the overbearing Curzon, the evidence to hand proved to be very thin. There were no Cossacks hanging around and hardly any Russian arms or ammunition. Nor any drill sergeants training a Tibetan army for battle against an assault from without. As a matter of fact, there was no armed resistance worth the name and as Younghusband and his men marched into Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and Dorjieff had made good their escape.

The Lhasa convention (September, 1904) which Younghusband "negotiated" with the runaway and deposed Dalai Lama’s regent, concerned itself largely with making Tibet a vague British protectorate. In ratifying it, however, Whitehall took the sting out by reducing the stipulated 75-year occupation of the Chumbi valley to three and withdrawing a proposed British resident hovering around Lhasa. A couple of years later China became a party through the Adhesion Agreement (1906) which largely restored the Amban’s authority. Presently, the British concluded a deal with the Russians (1907) which in more ways than one brought the long saga of the great game to its unceremonious, if also unromantic close. As far as Tibet was concerned, both the powers agreed to a hands-off policy.

That is where the major thrust of this brief story tapers off to an end. The author does however continue the narrative over the next half a dozen years to comprehend the frustrations of the Dalai Lama’s first exile (1904-09) with its futile attempts to win Russian support. And takes note of China’s major assault on ethnic Tibet’s well-entrenched hold on Khamp, which it now sought to incorporate into the mainland. Above all, an ill-disguised attempt to suborn the Dalai Lama and extinguish the authority of his government.

Sadly for the reigning Ch’ing rulers, they had bitten more than they could chew. While happily for Tibet and its ruler, their seething in discontent, bordering on an open rebellion, synchronised with the October (1911) revolution in the mainland. In its aftermath, China came round to accepting the British proposal for a tripartite, India-China-Tibet conference at Simla to sort out the problem of regaining a modicum of control in Lhasa. Where the rebellious Chinese army had beaten an ignominious retreat.

Apart from playing an honest broker between a defiant Dalai Lama unwilling to compromise and an equally stubborn China refusing to barter away its theoretical claims to a virtually non-existent authority, the British were keen to obtain Russian endorsement for a partial return to a measure of control in Tibet.

The Czar’s government, even though inching closer to Great Britain in the then fast looming European contest against imperial Germany proved singularly unwilling to give its nod of approval on Tibet until Whitehall agreed to a quid pro quo in Afghanistan. This was not acceptable to the British rulers who argued that the concession they sought in Tibet had its counterpart in the near-control Russia had earlier acquired in Outer Mongolia. Despite a flurry of intense diplomatic exchanges in London as well as St Petersburg, the talks remained deadlocked. Nor in the final count were the British prepared to pick up the Russian tag, for with China’s stubborn refusal to sign the Simla convention, Russian adherence to its terms held no major attraction.

The "central theme", to use the author’s own words, is that both Russia and China concealed the true motives of their interest in Tibet: its favourable strategic position in the heart of central Asia. While it is true that Russia never contemplated any direct military intervention in Tibet, it "skilfully and often successfully" exploited the Tibetan question to exert pressure on Great Britain and thereby obtain concessions in other regions more germane to its military-strategic and political interests. And to substantiate her arguments, Shaumian points to the existence of a special clause on Tibet in the Anglo-Russian convention of 1907.

All this is old hat and as the author would doubtless bear out, unexceptional. Even a casual glance at any good map — sadly conspicuous by its absence in this book — would clearly demonstrate that Russia’s closest strategic interests in Asia in the 19th century, as indeed in the 21st, were Afghanistan and Mongolia. Not Tibet.

A distinguished Russian historian, Professor Kulesov, whose work finds a mention in the bibliography, has in a recent article (not cited) gone much farther than the author in heavily underlining Russia’s "indifference"to the Tibetan problem. For while there may be talk of Tibet’s "plans for Russia", there was no truth in Russia having "plans for Tibet". And he cites the Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov telling his British counterpart, Grey, (1904) that "it does not matter what we do in Tibet, if only it is done sub rosa".

The great value of the present work lies in the fact that the author has thoroughly studied the Russian archives to come up broadly with the thesis long widely held that Aguan Dorjieff and his ilk, and their close proximity to the corridors of power in St Petersburg notwithstanding, the Czarist government refrained from any direct help, much less encouragement to the Dalai Lama or his regime. And that neither then nor later did Russia evince any interest in Tibet of its affairs.

Deputy head of the Centre for Indian Studies in Moscow, Shaumian published her doctoral work, "Tibet in International Relations at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century" way back in 1977. The present study, a "revised and expanded version" in English translation, would appear largely to confine itself to the original in Russian. For despite brave efforts to list some later titles in the bibliography, there is little evidence that more recent research and writings on the subject have been woven into the body of her work.

A brief personal note may be in order. Long before his work on the expedition to Lhasa — the "Younghusband Expedition, an Interpretation" (1968) — this reviewer published a short piece, "Tibet and Russian Intrigue" in the Royal Central Asian Journal (1958). Combined with his later writings on the McMahon Line (1947), Tibetan polity (1976) and the Ladakh frontier (1993), it provoked a lively debate and kept up heightened interest in the subject. This slim volume only serves to underline how very relevant the subject is even today for any meaningful understanding of Tibet’s place in the heart of central Asia.


Off the shelf
An orator’s sad story
Review by
V. N. Dutta

GENERALLY speaking, post-graduate teaching in Indian universities suffers from a serious neglect of European history. In the pre-independence period, some provision for the teaching of European and British history was made but we are now so much swayed by local, regional and national interests that we tend to ignore the study of history other than Indian.

After all, for the benefit of our students the courses of study taught to them for the purpose of examination have to be limited in scope and narrow in range because of the limited time available. While preparing the courses of study, priorities and choices have to be made. However, these constraints in no way justify the elimination of European studies.

History is neither local, nor regional, nor national. It is universal. It is the study of mankind, a story of the rise and fall of civilisations and a convincing account of the steps and slips of man, in his advancement and progress in different spheres of human activity. And in this onward march of our achievement, the Greco-Roman civilisation recorded a substantial achievement. It laid the foundation of European religion, science and literature.

There was hardly a human activity in which the Greeks and the Romans did not achieve excellence. They still enjoy the reputation of having produced great poets, dramatists, philosophers and orators. Oratory was acknowledged as an admirable art which was assiduously cultivated by the elite. Demosthenese and Cicero are rated among the greatest of orators. Cicero said, "Oratory is a song and its power is incalculable. Its object is to persuade and sway the public by the magic of words in the realisation of truth." The book under review is "Cicero: A turbulant life" by Anthony Everitt (John Murry, pages, 344, £ 22.50).

Marcus Tullius Cicero was the most famous writer and orator of his day. Born in 106 BC at Arpinam, he studied philosophy, law, Greek literature and acquired military knowledge. His father enjoyed the patronage of some public men from whom he derived financial benefits. Cicero became a pleader at 25 and visited Greece in 79 BC, conversed with the philosophers of various schools and profited by the instruction of the masters of oratory. At Rhodes he met some of the distinguished orators and cultivated the art of oratory with devotion by example and practice. He believed in the power of words, which he used adroitly.

Everitt provides a detailed account of the principal events in Cicero’s life. It is divided into two parts. In the first there is a meteoric rise, but in the latter, there is a fall which arouses our sympathy. Plutarch, the best biographer of the ancient world, distinguished between history concerned with the narration of events and biography concerned with the portrayal of characters. Regrettably, Everitt is more concerned with events rather than with biography to analyse his character. But this is not to deny the narrative skill and sweep of the author. Everitt does not examine Cicero’s style of oratory or its effect and the many influences which worked on him.

On his return to Rome Cicero’s eloquence proved the values of his Grecian institutions. He became a distinguished and admired orator of the day. In 76 BC he was appointed Questor of Sicily and behaved with such condour and ensured fairplay that Sicilians gratefully remembered him and requested that he conduct the suit against their Governor Verres who was regarded as a robber fleecing the state by his avarice and ruthlessness.

As a result of Cicero’s powerful oratory which produced great effect, Verres was forced to retire into exile. Due to his growing reputation, Cicero was appointed eventually as a Consel in 63 BC. After defeating the sinister conspiracy of Catiline who had strong political support, he received the greatest honours and was hailed as the protector of the state and the father of the country. His life had reached the climax of power and soon went on to decline.

According to Everitt, Catilinian conspirators were executed without being sentenced by a court and Cicero as chief magistrate was held responsible for the irregularity. There was a strong public outcry against him, and he was obliged to go into exile. Cicero did not lose his equipoise and used profitably this period of isolation for enhancing his literary powers by extensive reading and reflection. On the fall of the Claudious faction, he was recalled to Rome in 52 BC and became proconsul of Cilicin province which he administered with great skill.

On the termination of his office as proconsul, Cicero returned to Rome in 49 BC which was threatened with disturbances between Caesar and Pampey. There was a power struggle between the rivals which was threatening a civil war. Cicero tried to bring about a compromise between the rivals but in vain. The author maintains that it was a naive move and totally unrealistic. Cicero was a moderate, well-meaning man of mild disposition, whose ideal was to bring about a harmonious relationship between the rich and the poor.

Cicero expounded the cause of Pampey but after the battle of Pharsalia he made peace with Caesar with whom he continued to be friendly. A unique opportunity came his way when he was invited to join Pampey, Caeser and Cassius in running the country. But he felt that he was too conservative to take up the offer. Caesar treated him kindly until his assassination in 44 BC.

Mark Antony took Caesar’s place and Cicero composed admirable orations against him which he delivered in 43 BC. His implacable hatred for Antony induced him to support Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) who entertained very friendly feelings for him. Octavian formed later an alliance with Antony but was unable to rescue Cicero from Antony’s fury. Antony wanted Cicero to be arrested. In endeavouring to escape when the news of his arrest arrived, he was overtaken and murdered by a group of soldiers. His throat was slit, and his hands and head were publicly exhibited in the Forum in Rome. Cicero died when he was 64 with a copy of Eurpides’ "Medes" in his hand. It was in 43 BC.

Cicero left behind numerous philosophical treatises. Endowed with remarkable histrionic talents, his love of mockery ran into scurrilous images with telling gestures and facetious remarks. When Octavian Ramulus said while Cicero was pleading that he could not hear him, Cicero thundered, "Yes, there are holes in your ears". Cicero desired his friends to call him not an orator but a philosopher because he made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument of promoting his objective. Cicero wrote a treatise on law in which he laboured to strees the wisdom and justice of the Roman Constitution. According to him, the whole universe formed an immense commonwealth, and men who participated in the same are members of the same community.

The author mentions that from these philosophical works, Cicero excluded the sceptics who refuse to believe and the epicures who are unwilling to accept. Cicero had great admiration for Plato and Aristotle because he thought that they were the only teachers who arm and instruct a citizen for social life.

Everitt emphasises that it is from Cicero that the Romans derived the love of paradox, the habit of disputation and attachment to words and verbal distinctions. The superiority of form to matter was set in the narrative, which was later strongly criticised by John Stuart Mill.

Cicero still remains one of the most admired of ancient writers for the purity and elegance of his style and is acknowledged as a first rank Roman classicists. Everitt has projected his own predilections in the text by his excessive concern with the major events that figure in Cicero’s life. This is not to deny the many insights in the pages of this scholarly work.


A peep into Khushwant’s fantasy world
Review by Harbans Singh

Khushwant Singh’s Book of Unforgettable Women compiled and edited by Mala Dayal. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 298. Rs 250.

EVER since Khushwant Singh guided the weekly magazine Illustrated Weekly of India to phenomenal popularity, he has cultivated an image of himself of a man best illustrated by Ravi Shankar on the cover of this book. In fact he was sure that success would forever be his consort if he projected himself as a fun-loving Sardar, who had a dirty mind, but in whose company, with the approval of his wife, girls were safe. His publishers have assiduously worked to consolidate that image. The present collection is an extension of the same exercise even though the book begins on a serious note with two sensitive portraits and a genuine desire to understand women of India in general.

The cover of the book claims that Khushwant Singh is an irreverent author and he claims that "it is women who have sought my company more than I have sought theirs". The present collection gives us a good opportunity not only to know his unforgettable women, and why they are drawn to him but also to recognise and critically examine the person on whose one end of the spectrum stands an old woman whose death is mourned by hundreds, Mother Teresa, and on the other, lustful and sexual Sarojini and Molly Gomes.

In fact, there are three women who hardly seem to fit in book’s theme. Two of them are very old grandmother and saintly Mother Teresa. But it is amusing that the third is his wife Kaval Malik and she has been treated with a liberal dose of antiseptic spray in sharp contrast to the manner in which other women have been scanned and stripped. With the others he has been the archetypal Indian male, ready to violate their dignity and privacy, and use them as an excuse to indulge in voyeuristic writing.

The worst sufferers at his hands are Amrita Sher-Gil and Phoolan Devi. There is little doubt that Amrita Sher-Gil lived a complex life and could, therefore, be an unforgettable woman even if she were not such a good artist. Khushwant Singh knew her because he had the good fortune of being called on by her, though all that she wanted to know from him as a neighbour was about the dhobi and other domestic help while living in Lahore. The other time they met was in Mashobra where she said something unbecoming and which justifiably angered his wife, provoking her to say equally harsh things. The result, we are told, was that she threatened to seduce Khushwant Singh, which he eagerly, but in vain, waited for.

Much of what he has written about Amrita is gathered from secondary and third sources much after the artist had died, which hardly makes him qualified for the kind of portrait he has drawn. One must credit him for weaving a credible story even if it is not in good taste.

He has done a more professional work on Phoolan Devi going to her places of action and getting her version of the various persons in her wife. However, a serious student would not fail to notice that the making of a dacoit has hardly anything to do with the unequal social system, if one were to go by the portrait. He has taken considerable pains to trace the evolution of not a nymphomaniac but a "slut", who is brutalised by being sexually abused. Little regard is paid to the fact that the headman’s son can use her at will, but on realising that she has been with a person of low caste, thrashes her publicly with shoes! It would not be too impertinent to suggest that since a discourse on socio-economic factors in poor countryside does not make a saleable reading, the author opted for the lewd and the luscivious to explain away Phoolan Devi.

Anees Jung, Sadia Dehlavi and Kamna stand apart. Urbane and apparently with little to worry about, they are the kind of persons any male would want them around, especially if they are smart enough to have won the approval of the lady of the house. Only Khushwant Singh could find virtue in the character of a "grass-hopper" (Sadia) or Anees who successfully masqueraded as, to use late Giani Zail Singh’s understandably awed description, "bada gharana" but who for all intent and purpose emerges as little better than a career pusher. Kamna Prasad who is not in that class of Delhi, is a riddle for she does little but give social company to the author.

Yasmeen, Martha Stack, Molly Gomes and Sarojini are exercises in sexual fantasising, though it must be said that Stack is a cut above the rest. In fact these characters read along with some others make interesting reading when juxtaposed with "Sex in Indian Life". Bindo, a village girl, Dhanno, a sweeper woman, Nooran of "Train to Pakistan", Molly Gomes, Sarojini and the newly wed Mrs Saxena, who becomes so much the object of the author’s ridicule, have one thing in common. They are all characters who are driven by elemental desire, most submit to it readily, some like Bindo unwittingly, and still others like Dhanno, it is just another day at work but which brings a few perks along with momentary pleasure.

These women, alongwith Jennifer of "The Sardarji and the Starlet" throw more light on the personality of the person who is the protagonist of this mixed bag of fact and fiction. The Sardarji, like the hero of "She Stoops to Conquer", is too intent on impressing Jennifer with his extremely cultured bearing. But it is equally possible that he is too insecure, or is assailed by self-doubt at the critical moment, and therefore does not have the confidence to make a timely move. It is only appropriate that his simple guest responds to his urging and takes her away from right under his nose.

This inadequacy is again reflected in the character of Gullo Bannerjee. It takes him years to come to terms and that too when Martha is drained of all initiative, aggression and passion. Mohan Kumar again is a creature of the platonic world, who has to be literally taken to bed by Yasmeen.

These two male characters are to be read along with the author’s views on love and sex in "Sex in Indian Life". The total submission to carnal desire, unmindful of the surroundings is difficult to appreciate in a couple like Prof and Mrs Saxena, one must concede, but one must understand the fact that this is happening in a subcontinent where Manto wrote that very sensitive story "Nangi Awazein" (The Naked Voices), where the hero is unable to consummate his marriage because he is too aware of the people around him! A Sigmund Freud could dig more about of the author from these characters than what all his autobiographies tell!

However, what is amazing is that apart from his grandmother, Mother Teresa and the glacially impersonal Kawal Malik, there is hardly any woman of substance in his life. It is a pity indeed that in such a long and distinguished career, with more successful diversifications than any living person has had, the women in his life have been either decoration pieces or objects of lustful thoughts, or characters to be revered.


You can make life beautiful
Review by Roopinder Singh

Tuesdays with Morrie, an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson by Mitch Albom. Doubleday, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney and Auckland. Pages 192. $ 6.99

"SO many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."

This quote of Morrie Schwartz rather aptly sums up the situation we find ourselves in all too often. "Tuesdays with Morrie" is a fine book. It is a part of the final lesson taught by Morrie Schwartz, an old professor of social psychology, to a student who is no longer a pupil in the technical sense of the term, but will always remain a favourite apprentice to the man who shaped his academic life 20 long years ago.

Now the young man is a successful journalist, has been voted America’s No 1 sports columnist 10 times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, and has written best sellers, "Bo," about Bo Jackson, the American football and baseball star, and "Fab Five", about a University of Michigan basketball team.

He runs his life and schedules with computer-like precision and has all the trappings of such a life — gizmos, lack of time, rushing from one place to another, multi-tasking (the practice of human beings named for the computer term describing a machine’s ability to run several programmes at once), everything that makes him lose touch with all that gives meaning to life.

Mitchalbom sees his former teacher on television and finds out that he is dying and this makes him pause. Morrie Schwartz is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, (ALS), a brutal, neurological illness. Albom makes an impulsive decision to meet his former teacher and connect with him. This begins the story of lessons that will last far longer and have a far greater impact than all the academic lessons taught by Schwartz and attended by the likes of Albom.

"Morrie had always been taken with simple pleasure, singing, laughing, dancing. Now, more than ever, material things held little or no significance. When people die, you always hear the expression ‘You can’t take it with you,’ Morrie seemed to know that a long time ago.

"We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country," Morrie sighed. "Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning thing is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it and have it repeated to us over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so flogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.

"Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’

"You know how I always interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

"Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have."

Mitch Albom glanced around Morrie Schwartz’s study. It was the same today as it had been the first day he arrived. The books held their same places on the shelves. The papers cluttered the same old desk. The outside rooms had not been improved or upgraded.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? The above-mentioned quote is from "Tuesdays with Morris, an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson" by Mitch Albom. Simply written, the book explores the relationship between a teacher and the taught, of how teaching can extend far beyond the confines of an academic institution.

Haven’t we imported the American crass materialism without the work ethic that makes it possible for people in America have what they want? In India, a liberalisation seems to be bringing in. A kind of terrible laissez faire; everything goes provided you can get away with it. Do any of us ever think of the kind of toll of our personal and consequently our general social fibre?

With break-up in marriages becoming something we not only just read but increasingly feel through the experiences of our friends and members of our social circles, Morrie Schwartze’s rule about love and marriage makes a lot of sense: "If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can’t talk openly about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don’t have a common set of values in life, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.

"And the biggest one of those values, Mitch?"


"Your belief in the importance of your marriage."

We all assume the roles of students and teachers at different times in our lives. For equipping ourselves with a kind of a handbook to deal with the exigencies that arise when we seek to take up these roles, one would definitely recommend Tuesdays with Morrie", and since Prof Morrie Schwartz is no more, his conversation with his pupil would be one American experience that would enrich lives globally. As the Professor says, "Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too — even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling."

Correct fundamentals are the basic building blocks of a good life. Morrie Schwartz has the knack of breaking down life’s complexities into fundamental truths. And Mitch Albom knows how to pen them down in the right manner.