of an Israeli writer
Review by M.L. Raina
Novel by S.Y. Agnon and translated from Hebrew by Zeva
Shapiro. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse. Pages 585. $ 35.
FIRST got to know about S.Y. Agnon in a conversation with my
Israeli host at the Bar Elan University in Tel Aviv. The Nobel
laureate had been dead for some time and the Yom Kippur war of
October, 1973, was two months away. My host lamented the fact
that very few people outside Israel had heard of the writer,
much less read him. Since I was not aware of any translations,
I could not make a comment.
translations of his work are readily available, one can aver
with a reasonable critical discretion that Agnon is a writer
in the mould of the European realist masters, particularly,
Flaubert, Maupassant, Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. What is
more, he embodies a peculiar characteristic Jewish writers
brought up on the Torah and the European Yiddish heritage
exhibit in their works — a characteristic that allows the
protagonists of "Shira", "Only Yesterday"
and "The Bridal Canopy" to negotiate their
awkwardness and occasional cultural discomforts in the company
of Jews from other places as well as among non-Jews. Before he
migrated to Israel from Galacia in 1908, Agnon had
considerable reputation as a writer in Yiddish.
Amichai, the celebrated Israeli poet who died last year, notes
in his famous short poem "Jerusalem": "We have
put up many flags, they have put up many flags to make us
think that they are happy to make them think that we are
happy." This about sums up the great divide that
separates the Israeli Jewish writing from the native
Palestinian/Arab writing. Though rooted in the same soil, no
two writings can be more different from each other.
the present novel, it is important to know that in Israel and
Palestine words do not mean the same things to the Arab as
they do to the Israeli. For the former the Jew is a usurper,
for the latter the Arab is a terrorist. If we look at Arab and
Palestinian writings, works such as "Men in the
Sun", "Arabesques", "Nishanit" and
those by Amos Oz, Agnon and other Israeli Jewish writers, what
strikes us is the fact that they all talk of identity and
representation but never about the same location.
It is not a
question of simple differences of political and
social-psychological perception. It is a larger question of
the failure of language itself to describe realities that
should have been common. Such is the tragedy of the
Arab-Israeli conflict "Shira", the last novel by
Agnon — he shared the Nobel with the Austrian poet Nelly
Sachs in 1966 — and now available in English, derives the
poignancy of its protagonist’s search for identity in the
backdrop of this tragedy.
invests the book with the aura of a national allegory much in
the manner of Hermann Broch’s acclaimed trilogy, "The
Sleepwalkers" and "Death of Virgil" "Shira"
and "Only Yesterday" bear witness to Agnon’s
possession of something other than an acute psychological and
historical insight. In reading these novels we are haunted by
the disquiet of the birth pangs of a nation as the narrative
flows on, characters acquire solid personalities and the
story-teller displays an impeccable stylistic virtuosity.
What, then is "Shira" about?
It is a novel
that can be understood as a meditation on art (one of several
meanings of the title is poetry), a story of exile and
homelessness, of the creation of a new home (the state of
Israel), a novel of adultery and love, a campus novel full of
professional intrigues and machinations. Above all, it is a
novel about Jerusalem, the sacred city that is also a modern
mini-metropolis, recalling the Jerusalem sections of Bulgakov’s
"Master and Margarita" precisely because it
simultaneously speaks at many levels, it would be foolhardy on
our part to discuss it simply as one or the other kind.
Curiously Edward Said, the anointed academic conscience of the
exiled and the homeless, is eloquently mum on this work.
protagonist, Manfred Herbst and his wife Henrietta, exiles
from Nazi Germany, are trying to establish themselves in the
land of Israel, he as a professor at the newly founded Hebrew
University and she as his consort looking after children, home
and the small garden ("I found it a rubble and made it a
home’). Besides, she is busy arranging the migration of
other German Jews into the Promised Land.
principally though not exclusively Manfred’s story — his
struggle to come to terms with the new realities of Israel,
his efforts to prove himself professionally at his job and his
emotional entanglements with Shira and other women. This
latter strand dominates other strands and emancipates the book
and its multiple realities from a merely topical and
statistical report into a lyrically valid vision of all things
that exist and have a bearing on human life.
Herbst is like other Agnon heroes, particularly Isaac Krumer
of "Only Yesterday", who came to Israel in the
second wave of migration in the early years of last century.
Like Krumer, he and his family hope to find their identity by
reclaiming the identity of the land of their forefathers. He
is an idealist and steeps himself in the language and
scripture of his adopted country. Again like Krumer, he finds
a poverty-stricken place where migrants drift along in search
of jobs. Mercifully Manfred finds a job as a lecturer at the
Hebrew University on the basis of his thesis written when in
Germany. But the forbidding strangeness of the place and his
own determination to make it his home are elements in the book
that convey the dilemma as well as the challenge of the whole
Zionist enterprise of claiming land as well as an ethnic
manages to create a "home" and raise a family. In
the beginning we are told of the birth of the third daughter
Sarah, which event may be regarded as figuring the birth of
the nation and the community to which the Herbst household
pledge their loyalty. The first two books of "Shira"
unfold in vivid language the whole mission not only of the
Herbst family but also of the nation as a whole. This
coalescence of the personal and the largely social is a
recurrent phenomenon in the book. It enables the author to
create a sense of dialectical interaction, as in the
representative works of classic European realism, and makes
his characters into solid entities instead of mouthpieces for
diverse points of view jostling for acceptance in the book’s
structure. It also creates a complex of various narrative
voices (Henrietta’s, Tamara’s, Shira’s and of a number
of others) lending depth and resonance to the main story of
Manfred’s search for himself.
"Shira" and "Only Yesterday" invoke the
amplitude of the classic 19th century European realism, they
are also contemporary in many ways. "Only Yesterday"
brings in the grotesquerie of the dog Balak whose allegorical
and fantastic presence causes Krumer’s death and releases a
host of meanings for the reader. In "Shira" the
sceptical modernist note is echoed by the guilt-ridden
conscience of the hero, resulting in a flurry of sexual desire
in Herbst, and unsettling the sedate bourgeois character of
Hebrew University. It might not be out of place to suggest
that the starched fomality of the academic routine is a
metaphor for the ersatz decorum of the bourgeois social
morality. Herbst violates it with his pursuit of Shira and
other women on the streets and back alleys of Jerusalem
(pursuit is a compelling symbol here).
sexual libertinage is, like the adultery of Proust’s Marcel
or the rampant desires of Emma Bovary, a weapon to both
stigmatise the 19th century codes of amour propre and
to make the hero pursue his desire with relentless intensity,
even as he pursues his academic career with equal fervour. In
both his pursuits Herbst is expressing his essential desiring
self in accord with his newly liberated instinct in a new
virgin land. Is it that exile and relocation have discovered
the true Herbst? If so, exile has been beneficial to the
protagonist - a fact ideology-driven critics never account
Shira stand in all this? We are introduced to her in the very
first chapter when she assists henrietta with Sarah’s birth.
But she is more than a mere nurse. She is as elusive as the
muse and her relationship with Manfred runs the entire gamut
of tantalising encounters and stand-offs. She lives in a
rather seedy Jerusalem quarter. She is both Herbst’s
inspirer and his inhibitor. Whenever he returns to his
scholastic grinds in his solitary study he is distracted by
her thought and wanders in her search. Their assignations are
sweet and sour affairs. She is the fountainhead of Herbst’s
energy. Shira also connotes milk and in this capacity nurtures
But why is
she so elusive? Is Agnon telling us that sexuality and
creativity do and do not go together? Agnon’s apprenticeship
to the 19th century realist novel would make us wonder. Or
perhaps she is meant to convey the fertlising power of desire
even though she is neither beautiful nor feminine? The
attraction of the novel rests in this very creative
uncertainty spanning the whole book and is enhanced by two
different endings provided in this translation. It is partly
also the result of the forbidden nature of sexual desire
itself, which knocks at all the defences of bourgeois
concern with the nature of art in "Shira" is
reflected in its wealth of references to writers as different
as Goethe, Nietzsche, Balzac and Stefan George, as well as in
Herbst’s clumsy attempt to write a play on the model of
Greek tragedy. That he fails to write it may be attributed to
the impossibility of tragedy after the advent of Hitler. Or it
may be due to Herbst’s "Socratic" nature derived
from his German academic which frowns upon the tragic as
irrational, though Herbst manages to see a copy of Nietzsce’s
"Birth of Tragedy" in an antiquarian shop. That
tragedy endows suffering with meaning escapes him altogether.
example of the role of art is the illunination provided by the
three painters in the book: Rembrandt and Bocklin appear as
motifs in relation to Shira while the anonymous Breughal
artist in Book three with his canvas of the leper figures is a
revelation to Herbst. These paintings provide a parallel
reality to the dry-as-dust academic projects of the hero.
Obviously Agnon rates art higher than mere
"research", and seems to warn Herbst of the
terrifying reality of disease and death, a reality that will
pervade the entire novel through Shira’s disintegration and
Herbst’s disillusionment. The presence of Holbein in
Dostoevesky’s "The Idiot" is easily recalled.
renunciation are other motifs that hold the novel together.
The leper and the Byzantine medievalism to which Herbst is
drawn may both serve as emblems of Herbst final retreat into
the leper hospital, but there are other palpable intimations
of death, as in Herbst’s recollection of the dead soldier in
the First World War. All seem to mock his sterile scholarship
and his failure to "live" instinctually.
Herbst’s descent into the
underworld of Eros and art in the background of political
turmoil in Jerusalem and the approaching holocaust is rendered
in a manner that provides extensive scope for the interplay of
ideas, experiences and feelings. Call it bad luck that I was
denied the privilege of discovering this crystalline
masterpiece for so long.
everything is loaded
Review by Rumina Sethi
Politics in the Third World edited by Haleh Afshar. Routledge,
London and New York: Pages. vi + 210. Ł 12.99.
and Politics" A works on the assumption that women are
faced with repressive political agendas. It focuses quite
specifically on the negotiation women have engineered in
oppressive regimes within their limited spheres of
participation. Viewed from this perspective, traditional
gender roles need not be seen as stultifying; they may, in
fact, have room for effective politicisation.
that women have always played "roles" in political
processes which political analysts are extremely reluctant to
recognise. Not only are all discourses male-centred, they are
also eurocentric. Where the former quickly located women on
the periphery, the latter also fell prey to stereotypes of
motherhood, domesticity, marriage, or religious inclination.
But all this time, women were active in social and political
processes silently urging to be noticed. However small their
parts and whatever their limitations, they were demanding that
the field of "politics" be widened. The contributors
to this volume do not intend to complain about limitations and
constrictions; they are acutely conscious of multifarious
strategies women have employed in organising campaigns.
wide range of experience, from Palestine to Nicaragua and from
Sri Lanka to Latin America, the writers are conscious that
they have little to offer in the form of high-vaulting
heroism: they do not recount stories of women such as Joan of
Arc or Lakshmi Bai. They talk instead of a "history of
doing" which is intrinsically apolitical and even
traditionally male-centred. Rohini Hensman points out
instances of women’s political activism within traditional
gender roles such as living conditions and day care. If women
negotiate within their allotted roles, their participation may
not be as negligible as we might assume.
for example, the military regime seems to have unconsciously
given women a greater political leeway than the militant left
or the students and labour organisations because women were
undeniably "apolitical" and were not expected to
turn the world upside down. They could hardly have threatened
national security when all they were trying to be was good
wives, mothers and housewives?
writes: The state’s own gender ideology thus gave women a
small space of manoeuvre: they used the "social
construction’" of feminity, by making legitimate their
cultural female resources - "mother power" - in the
political arena. They . . . consciously used their nurturing
role as a powerful political instrument aimed at destabilising
technique which may be called the "politicisation of
motherhood" is innovative for women and unfamiliar for
the oppressor. Dictatorial regimes are empowered to beat back
or ban political parties and trade unions but how were they to
paralyse this unique form of protest? Women, traditionally
less organised, were also less bound by the traditional forms
of organisations, and could use their imagination and skill to
organise not merely nationally but also internationally to
combat authoritarian military regimes.
But be warned
against the drumming up of the "patriotic mother"
which may only be an outward form of women empowerment. In
some parts of the Third World, feminism is a much-vaunted
phenomenon but turned inside out, it has a different flavour
altogether. In the representation of the feminist Hindu woman,
for instance, we are not given any examples from the lives of
contemporary women, but images are drawn from traditional
symbols of female strength to argue that women have always
been liberated right through the ages. Why, then, talk of
liberation, oppression, subordination?
even the RSS, which is unique among modern Indian
socio-political organisations in being exclusively male, has a
women’s branch - the Rashtra Sevika Samiti. So what if the
RSS women never campaign against dowry? (They pool resources
to reduce the burden.) So what if the Samiti never encourages
rebellion against family or an approval of divorce? (They
always try to influence and persuade without offering legal
counselling to women.) Yet the Rashtra Sevika Samiti
represents a form of women’s empowerment.
pattern is seen in the "strong"
,"courageous" and "powerful" mother which
the Pinochet regime in Chile spoke up for. On a closer look,
we find that the mother has to remain strictly subordinate to
the pater familias and particularly the pater patrias (father
of the nation), Pinochet himself.
With an acute
perception of the inherent dangers of the approach, the book
probes whether equality is the only valid path to liberty for
women. Arguing that difference is the more appropriate basis
of political activism in women, the contributors stress the
traditional "feminine" concerns which, however, are
seen to be thoroughly soaked with politics. It is argued that
feminist organisational structures have to be different from
conventional ones (which are hierarchical, power-based and
male dominated). Second, feminist organisational structures
must reflect the feminine values of gentleness and care. And
yet, these wholly "domesticated" images will not
discount political activism. What are taken to be two
different realms, the domestic sphere and public life, are not
so widely disparate. This means that women can use their
socially prescribed roles to act politically, and explore the
relationship between gender identities and political activity.
own essay on the politics of fundamentalism in Iran focuses on
the way women have chosen the veil as the symbol of
Islamification: "For them the veil is a liberating, and
not an oppressive, force. They maintain that the veil enables
them to become the observers and not the observed; that it
liberates them from the dictates of the fashion industry and
the demands of the beauty myth."
analyses the politicisation of women’s social roles to see
the ways in which women have used their roles as mothers and
household managers as the basis of protests or to make
demands. The emphasis on the politicisation of gender
identities is helpful in one big way. It allows women to come
together as women. Generations of role playing does have its
More importantly, it is the
growing body of historiography that needs to take account of
these specific forms of resistance and give it a prominent
place even though such resistance exists outside formal
political structures. This view of the context would not only
expose the cultural matrix of repressive tension which is part
of the daily lives of women but also open up an innovative
space for negotiation and subversion.
sad story of Chittagong Hills
Review by Deepak Kumar
the Edge: Essays on the Chittagong Hill Tracts edited by Subir
Bhaumik, Meghna Guhathakurta, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhary.
South Asian Forum for Human Rights, Kathmandu and distributed
by Manohar, New Delhi. Pages 289.Price not stated.
after more than 50 years of partition, the dust has not
settled down. While those affected by the political
convulsions on the western border have marched ahead, though
they still continue to be haunted by its ineluctably sad
memories, there are regions where the reverberations of
partition are still felt. One such region is Chittagong Hill
Tracts (CHT) in what is today Bangladesh.
underlying logic of the two-nation theory, which served as the
basis of the partition, the colonial masters handed over CHT
to Pakistan. It was, as one scholar puts it, "a quirk of
history" that CHT despite being an overwhelmingly
non-Muslim area with 97 per cent of its population comprising
Buddhists and other smaller ethnic communities was handed over
to the newly created Pakistan. Interestingly, despite numerous
representations submitted to the colonial rulers and
mainstream nationalist leaders, the plea of the various ethnic
minorities inhabiting CHT was summarily ignored and dismissed
on flimsy grounds.
ground was rooted in what came to be termed as the
"inherent economic compulsions" of the Chittagong
district. Mountbatten, for example, justified the inclusion of
CHT in East Bengal on the ground that the whole economy of CHT
would be upset if they were not left within East Bengal. A
more plausible explanation, however, has been offered by some
scholars in terms of CHT being ‘traded off’ to Pakistan in
place of the overall Muslim majority district of Ferozepore,
which had earlier been awarded to Pakistan, being given to
so very natural to the inhabitants of CHT turned out to be a
real nightmare that they have continued to live with ever
since. It is in this sense that partition is ever present in
their lives so much so that it has now become a permanent
feature defining their very existence. The most graphic
description of the plight of these people has been captured by
Sanjoy Hazarika, an authority on northeast India, who very
aptly calls the affected people "refugees within,
under review, edited by a team of scholars from India and
Bangladesh, deserves special attention not only for the fact
that it deals with the lives of people who are victims of
partition but more importantly for the reason that it is the
first attempt to bring out a complete volume on the trials and
tribulations of these peoples first at the hands of the
Pakistani regime and then subsequently Bangladesh with its
emergence as an independent sovereign entity in 1971. This
book, in other words, is an unending saga of the systematic,
planned and organized annihilation, extermination and
persecution of ethnic minorities by successive reactionary
political regimes in CHT.
Of about a
dozen minority ethnic communities living in CHT, the Buddhist
Chakmas are the numerically most dominant with a population of
about half a million. This, perhaps, is the reason which
explains the greater visibility of the plight of the Chakmas
than those of the smaller ethnic communities living in CHT
since the pre-colonial times. Other minority communities are
the Marma, Tripura Tanchangya, Mro, Lushai, Khumai, Chak,
Khyang Bawn, Pankhua, Hajong and Reng indigenous peoples.
conscious efforts have been made by the articulate leadership
of CHT to invent or construct a new and an all-encompassing
social-cultural identity for different ethnic indigenous
peoples with a view to emphasise the historical
distinctiveness of these people from that of the majority
Bengali population. Consequently, they collectively call
themselves "jumma people". The term "jumma"
is derived from the term "jhum", a local name for
shifting cultivation, which they have been practicing on steep
hill slopes as a form of subsistence agriculture in contrast
to the wet rice cultivation practised in the plains.
weight to the present volume is the nature of composition of
its contributors. Ranging from hardcore academics to
grassroots activists drawn mainly from Bangladesh and India
with the exception of Jenneke Arens, a Netherlands-based well
known anthropologist and human rights activist, the
contributors touch upon different aspects of the CHT problem
enabling the readers to take a peep into the CHT issue both
from the viewpoint of insiders as well as outsiders.
underlying theme running through the book revolves around the
emergence of Bangladesh as a nationalising, homogenising and
hegemonising post-colonial South Asian nation-state. The
development of such a state got a tremendous fillip from the
fact that Bangladesh is a nearly homogenous state in terms of
its ethnic composition with approximately 99 per cent of its
population comprising of Bengali Muslims.
of such tendencies can be seen in some of the oft quoted
statements of Bangladeshi statesmen and top officials who have
consistently reiterated their unitarist stance on more than
one occasion. For example, the typical response of Mujibur
Rahman to Chakma demand for autonomy in the wake of Bangladesh
liberation is worth noting, "If you wish to stay in
Bangladesh forget your ethnic identity and live as a
Bengali." Some of the top army officials posted in CHT
have also consistently maintained, "We are interested in
the land and not its people".
example can be seen in the fact that the Bangladeshi
Constitution does not even acknowledge the existence of such
ethnic communities, let alone according them special
treatment. Consequently, the Chakmas and other ethnic
minorities have had to bear the brunt of such strong
centralising tendencies every time they have raised their
voice for autonomy, decentralisation and democratisation. The
formation of the PCJSS as the political platform of the hill
peoples to articulate their grievances and the Shanti Bahini
as its armed wing have invited the standard response from the
nationalising Bangladesh state – that is, oppression and
suppression in the name of counter-insurgency since the
contributions to this volume can be arbitrarily classified
into three broad thematic categories relating to the problem
in CHT. While the first set of contribution deals with the
issue of militarisation and human rights, the second and third
categories focus on Indian response to the Chakma issue and
the question of solution to the CHT problem respectively.
category include the writings of Anu Mohammad, Amena Mohsin,
Jenneke Arens, Adilur Rahman Khan, Jagdish and Mrinal Kanti
Chakma who deal with the question of militarisation and human
rights violation of the jummas at length.
nature of conflict between the Bangladesh state and the
national minorities and by tracing the historical evolution of
this conflict and its interpretation by the successive ruling
classes, Anu Mohammad sets the stage for the following
chapters Expressing his reservations to the term
"tribal" on grounds of its colonial origin and its
condescending derogatory overtones, Anu Mohammad prefers to
use the term "national minorities" to describe the
various ethnic communities for he believes it legitimises
their claim of constituting a nation on grounds of distinct
ethnicity and history. As he puts it, "However
insignificant may be the number, each ethnic community must
decide for itself as to how distinct a nation it would like to
Taking up the
same issue, Amena Mohsin shows how military power has been
used by the state to impose Bengali hegemony upon the hill
peoples of CHT. The process of militarisation which assumed an
overarching dimension after the assassination of Mujibur
Rahman in 1975 led to a compete turn from "secular
nationalism" to "Islamic nationalism" with the
military assuming a central role in the decision-making
process of the state. Mohsin discusses at length the process
of entrenchment of military power and its manifestation in
virtually all aspects of hill peoples’ life making them
absolutely subservient to the military rule.
provides a refreshingly new insight into an understanding of
the processes of militarisation and consequent human rights
violation of the jummas in CHT by looking at it from the
framework of political economy of development aid. Arens
sounds quite convincing when he argues that foreign
interference, in particular development aid to Bangladesh, has
both directly and indirectly not only added to continuing
militarisation of CHT and human rights violations, but also to
a systematic destruction of the mode of production, way of
life and culture of the jumma people.
contributors in this category like Adilur Rahman Khan, Jagdish
and Mrinal Kanti Chakma provide a detailed and systematic
documentation of gross and flagrant violation of human rights
of the jummas. In addition, all of them successfully establish
a link between increasing human rights violation and
consequent marginalisation of the jummas in CHT.
Subir Bhaumik, Sabyasachi Basu Ray-Chaudhry and Ashis K.
Biswas in the second category of writings essentially focus on
the Indian responses to the Chakma issue both in CHT and
northeast India. Subir Bhaumik analyses Indian policy or lack
of it towards CHT by slotting it into four fairly distinct
time frames – the partition and its aftermath, the Nehruvian
period when Delhi ignored CHT as a factor in its eastern
frontier policy, the Indira Gandhi phase of active
interference and the subsequent phase of hands-off from
supporting the rebel movement and limiting its role to
maintaining the Chakma refugees who were till recently
languishing in refugee camps of South Tripura.
concludes by asserting that any attempt at resolving the CHT
problem must acknowledge three factors: one, that CHT has
historically been a special status area because of its unique
non-Muslim, non-Bengali demography and that it must be treated
as an exception to Bangladesh’s unitary political structure;
two, CHT must be demilitarised and the process of settling the
plains people must be stopped and the jummas assured that
their demographic preponderance will not be endangered; and
three, India must not only realise the strategic location of
CHT but should also take greater interest in the future
settlement of the issue in the region.
Basu Ray-Chaudhry and Ashis K. Biswas examine the Chakma issue
in the northeast India by focusing on different dimensions of
their plight: as citizens in Mizoram; refugees in Tripura; and
stateless people in Arunachal Pradesh. By locating the Chakma
issue in the larger context of migration in the northeast,
Chaudhry and Basu show how the Chakmas are discriminated
against in Mizoram, how they lived under inhuman conditions in
Tripura before they were repatriated and how they have been
forgotten in Arunachal.
each of these episodes in detail, they go on to show how
partition and the making and unmaking of the British colony
and the policies of the subsequent regimes in Pakistan,
Bangladesh and India have led to the making of a diaspora as
far as the hill people in Bangladesh are concerned.
category which focuses on probable solutions to the vexed CHT
issue, among others, outlines a series of steps to resolve the
issue. Meghna Guha-Thakurta reconstructs the Kalpna Chakma
case, an activist who was first kidnapped by the security
forces and then disappeared later never to appear again, to
drive home the point that unless sincere efforts are made to
overcome the deeply entrenched "we-they" dichotomy
and a trust is built among both the majority Muslim Bengalis
and the jummas, all attempts at finding a long term solution
to the issue would only prove elusive.
the successive Bangladeshi regimes for violating the land
rights of the indigenous hill peoples by flouting the
provisions of both the constitutional and international law,
Devasish Roy expresses his doubts over any permanent solution
without voluntarily resettling the Bengali Muslims outside CHT.
This view is widely shared by other contributors too.
Immensely rich in data and
meticulous in detail, this volume is indispensable for all
those interested in the area as a very significant source of
Indira and Padmaja
Review by Cookie Maini
The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank. Harper
Collins, London. Pages 567. Ł20.
personalities fade into history, the rancour mellows; so does
adulation. There is thus scope for an objective analysis.
People relive their lives in biographies and view them
through-less clouded glasses. However, in biographies at
present objective analyses sometimes goes too far and often
information culled from research culminates in mere expose.
The current phase will be remembered as an era of expose,
before the multimedia sponsored exposure, biographical books
remained revelatory, research-led to revelations which stoked
controversy for a long time to come. Whether a researcher’s
work or by a person privy to a famous figure’s personal
lives, who would betray or reveal it all in lust or for the
these personalities could err, smaller fries like the valets,
aides and maids could be forgiven as long as they did not
exceed the confines of privacy or betray the confidence.
In the Indian
context, M.O. Mathai, Nehru’s personal assistant, figures as
one of the most despicable characters. Katherine Frank’s
references to his book made Sonia Gandhi contemplate going to
court; I am glad she has ignored it, since Frank has only
given his version. The views of Arun Jaitly, Law Minister, are
sensible on the subject: "My instincts are always against
censorship and banning. I strongly believe in free expression
but the author must also keep the sensibilities of society in
Mathai’s chapter on his supposed liaison with Indira Gandhi
was unethical and equally disdainful Maneka Gandhi’s role in
circulating the chapter, if it is correct, is dubious. In the
seventies, Mathai wrote an account in his autobiography of
what he claimed was a 12-year affair with Indira Gandhi in a
chapter titled "She" — a chapter that Mathai
himself suppressed when the book was about to be published,
even though Indira Gandhi was out of power at the time.
chapter was widely believed to have been destroyed — and
some people doubted it had ever existed — but in the early
eighties, some five years after Mathai’s death, it surfaced
when Indira’s estranged daughter-in-law, Maneka Gandhi,
circulated it among a small group of Indira’s enemies.
"She" chapter contains such explict material that
even if Mathai had not suppressed it, it is doubtful whether
his publishers would have taken the risk and proceeded to
publish it. Mathai describes Indira as "highly
sexed" and includes, among other salacious details, the
claim that she became pregnant by him and had an abortion. At
the time that Mathai wrote the chapter — long after the
events he maintains happened — he was a disillusional man
eager to have the last destructive word against Indira, her
husband and her father, all of whom he felt had wronged him.
So he had a strong motive to hate her. Nevertheless, people
who knew Indira and Mathai well, including B.K. Nehru, who is
a reliable source and no enemy of his cousin, feel that the
"She" chapter contains more fact than fiction.
Frank has picked up the woman of the millennium to explore
though research, her personal and political vicissitudes and
how she rose to lead the world’s largest democracy. Indira
lived when meaningful history was in the making, her father
called her "a child of the revolution", his letters
to her from jail became history. Despite her childhood, ill
health, a withdrawn personality, she emerged as history’s
most powerful and significant leader presiding over a hugely
complex, religiously riven and male-dominated nation. She was
extremely controversial for her role in Emergency and the
Punjab problem, yet she became synonymous with India.
Internationally Indira became India. The author has done three
acclaimed biographies, earlier — on Lucie Duff Gordon, Emily
Bronte and Mary Kingley.
readers, the book has nothing fresh to offer, the biographical
and political facts are cliches, however, the interest lies
only in the sexual innuendos. Yet every rendering, every
detailed biography does reflect the individual style of the
writer. Katherine Frank’s dexterous pen reflects the
personal relationships of Indira, the poignance, in the close
bonding between the father and daughter, cemented through
their personal correspondence, obviously more expressive than
the published letters in of India".
One gets an
inking of the sensitive minds of two icons we know over a
period of time. "For her 19th birthday, Nehru sent Indira
a beautiful copy of a Sanskrit poem called ‘Meghaduta’.
Indira told him, ‘you cannot imagine what joy it brought to
me—the sunshine and the warmth of India in this damp and
ached for her mother. ‘At first, she told Nehru, ‘I had
not realised what had happened but with time — each day—that
realisation presses deeper into the heart.’ She confessed
she felt dead...the only word whic approaches the meaning I
wish to convey."(page, 120)
resurrection and depiction of the Feroze-Indira romance again
stirs up empathy, for Indira Gandhi of the earlier years
between her emotions shuttled between the agonising pain of a
mother on her death bed and the budding liaison, which was
oxygen in those morbid, lonely years. After the numing, lonely
months of responsibility with her mother, "Indira was now
flooded with a powerful sensation of being intensely alive —
a kind of exhilaration and heightened awareness born perhaps
of the prospect of both death and love in her life. ‘I lay
in bed till nine,’ she wrote, ‘thinking all sorts of
things of the past and what the years to come would bring. I
thought of you and Mummie. I felt curiously peaceful... Since
then the feeling has remained. I love everything — the
horrible south wind included — and I am feeling happy and
frightfully optimistic about everything.
resurgence of happiness and peace, undoubtedly derived from
Feroze Gandhi’s arrival in Europe. But Indira’s discovery
of reserves of hope and vitality during this dark time also
revealed an unexpected strength in her personality. Her
ability to ressurrect herself — or more accurately from her
point of view, to feel herself resurrected — became, in
fact, an enduring pattern that rescued her in the most
difficult circumstances in the years to come. Though she often
appeared frail and vulnerable, there was a hard and resilent
core her: she never collapsed. (page 112)
through the pages of her early years, in spite of all her
insecurity, unsettled and grief-ridden life, it emerges that
she has a mind of her own, she is determined to achieve what
she wants and is gifted with remarkable resilient traits which
became the hallmark of her later years. There are other
insights into Indira Gandhi’s personal feelings, some of her
letters, which were earlier expression of her sensitivities
and inner emotions. Not surprisingly, Indira wrote to Dorothy
Norman at this time complaining that she was feeling ‘very
unsettled’. And also trapped. ‘Ever since I was a small
girl, there seemed to be some force driving me on — as if
there were a debt to pay. But suddenly, the debt seems to be
paid — anyhow I get a tremendous urge to leave everything
and retire to a far place high in the mountains. Not caring if
I ever did a stroke of work again. This ‘dream of escape’
would lace Indira’s letters to Dorothy Norman over the next
few years" (page 245).
portrayal of Indira’s reaction to Feroze Gandhi’s death is
heart rending. She said, "My whole mental and physical
life changed suddenly, my bodily functions changed.....I was
physically ill. It upset my whole being for years...it was not
just a mental shock, but it was as though someone had cut me
in two" (page 258). Though the author’s contention that
she wore white for the rest of her life was incorrect. Her
relationsihp with Feroze Gandhi deteriorates, as the author
depicts, not entirely due to her but the dilemma of fate,
which thrusts on her the role of her father’s hostess, in
solitude she keeps resenting it, yet she gets sucked in while
losing her role as a wife.
It is as well that Katherine
Frank with remarkable ease juxtaposes the affairs of the
father and daughter. Nehru wih Padmaja Naidu and Indira with
Feroze, which was quite natural, since both were traumatised
with Kamala’s death and plunged into this mode of catharsis
to recoup emotionally. Indira’s secretive and possessive
nature is reflected of her father’s liaison.
tribute to a pioneer
Review by Ranbir Singh
of Language, Literature and Cinema edited by Harish Narang.
Pages 346. Rs 500.
volume of essays, in honour of Professor Harjit Singh Gill’s
nomination as Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru
University, addresses the anxieties and concerns that are the
raison d’etre of his life’s work in semiotics. The thought
and sensibility of most of the contributors have been shaped
and nurtured by Gill during his 16-year in Punjabi University,
Patiala, and 15 years at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
A majority of
the contributors have benefited by Gill’s insights into and
understanding of linguistics, literature, structuralism,
semiotics, dialectology, culture, folklore and art.
festschrift embodies the themes and ideas which have acquired
a distinct semiotic shape. It is at once a celebration of the
paradigm shift that Gill has brought about and an attempt at
carrying forward the Gill sampradaya.
comprises 25 essays — six by foreigners, 13 by Gill’s
students and colleagues at JNU, six by his students of the
Patiala gharana which Gill founded after establishing the
department of anthropological linguistics (the first of its
kind in the country) at Punjabi University, Patiala, in 1968.
As a teacher
fellow, sponsored by the UGC in the department in the
eighties, I had the privilege of participating in the
intellectual churning that Gill had caused during that time.
ambience of inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural vibrations
students and teachers of English, Punjabi, Hindi, philosophy
and social sciences from all over Punjab flocked to Gill who
weaned them away from the Anglo-Saxon critical canon and
initiated them into French/European system. Some
contemporaries of Gill, committed orthodox Marxism, remember
how he had "indoctrinated" a number of brilliant
students of Marxism into structuralism/semiotics by working
out Althusseur’s interpretation of Marxism and Sartre’s
existentialism within structuralism/semiotics.
contributors — Jaspal Singh, Parminder Singh, Satinder
Aulakh, Harinder Sohi and Surjit Singh — employ the tools of
analysis forged by Gill.
in keeping with the folk literary convention gives expression
to the pangs of Heer’s heart in terms of changing moods of
nature. Heer’s calendar forms a descriptive block in the
Taking up the
thread where Gill leaves it in his essay "cosmology of
Heer", Jaspal Singh points out that Heer’s calendar
does not correspond to the sequence of months (Chet to Phagun)
of Bikrami/Saka Samvat. Significantly, Savan, the sixty
month, forms the starting point of Heer’s trajectory of
alienation, agony and anguish.
context of shifting focus by the poet, Jaspal Singh makes a
fine analysis of Heer’s calendar and studies it as a
reflective and repetitive discourse of alienation of the
subject, in the broad framework of existentialist
Singh’s study of Girish Karnad’s "Tuqhlaq"
locates the central theme of the play in the presence of the
past in the present. Parminder Singh is at pains to prove that
literature is to be taken as an enclave within social
sciences. This contention tends to rob literature of its
ontology and autonomy and creates a cleavage between aesthetic
pleasure and the structuration of meaning in the discourse.
Aulakh’s "The Legend and its Transformation" draws
its conceptual/formal sustenance from her doctoral
dissertation on the legend of Mirza Sahiban. Her discourse
analysis is marked by inter-legend fertilisation of motifs, to
archetypes and structures of meaning.
explores Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s "Heat and Dust" in
the conceptual context of the primordial fascination that
exotic India exercises on the alien sensibility in a colonial
situation. Though broadly based on Sohi’s M.Phil thesis, the
analysis is free from the jargon of semiotics. Its strength
lies in the exploration of the interlocking of individual and
social predicaments in Olivia’s encounter with India.
study of "karva chauth" is modelled on the analysis
of the ritual of "sanjhi" that he has tackled in his
doctoral thesis. In bringing out the significance of the tale
and ritual of "karva chauth", he studies the
symbolism of moon and the earthen pot ("karva") in
relation to Eros, fecundity and the renewal of life. The
analysis is laced with snatches of luscious folk songs,
evoking visions of voluptuous union.
contributors from JNU Harish Narang, editor of the present
volume, makes a departure, though his exploration of sexuality
in the novels of Krishna Sobti is not alien to Gill’s
research interests. Under Gill’s guidance Kumool Abbi
presented in her Ph.D theses an anthropological and
existential critique of Sobti’s "Jindaginama".
Narang’s analysis is preceded by a discussion of the
premises and postulates of feminism. Quoting extensively from
the fictional discourse of Sobti, Narang focuses on her
portrayal of female sexuality and hails Mitro Marjani as a
classic version of Indian feminism. Sobti is a feminist with a
small "f" because she does not regard the
patriarchal system and family as instruments of women’s
whose Ph.D thesis on Franz Kafka was guided by Gill, has
analysed the theme of human dignity in Manto’s celebrated
story "Hatak". She identifies existential situations
and moments in the narrative to focus on the maso-sadistic
dimensions of the psycho/sexual abuse of a prostitute.
in her semiotic study of Samuel Beckett’s
"Catastrophe" also employs Gill’s method and makes
the conflict between the descriptive categories of
"being" and "other" the starting point of
her analysis of the text. She follows the three tiered order
— the syntagmatic, the paradigmatic and the mediatory — to
address the central issue of liberation in the play.
pre-eminent contemporary theoreticians — Foucault, Lacan and
Derrida — have been studied by Sugata Bhaduri and Franson D.
Manjali within the frame of the concept of tripartite power
and the mutability of the sign respectively. Bhaduri takes
into account the three domains of power — race, class and
gender — and the concomitant realms of mentality,
materiality and physicality to make the point that power
generates discourses and there exists an umbilical
relationship between power and knowledge. Her analysis of
Foucault’s concept of power as a relation of force is
opposed to Marxist view of power. Foucault’s alternative
method includes two strategies of power — power of
disciplining and the power of sexuality which produce
studies how Lacan blends linguistics with psychoanalysis and
literally changes Saussure’s concept of the sign. Lacan
argues that the unconscious involves the whole structure of
language. Manjali also dwells upon the bearing of Jakobson’s
concept of metonymy and metaphor on Lacan’s redefinition of
the Freudian ideas of condensation and displacement. According
to her Derrida unlike Lacan encounters Saussurian linguistics,
finds fault with its offspring, structuralism, and assails its
high priest Levi-Strauss in order to launch grammatology.
Narang takes recourse to Stephen Hawkning’s four dimensional
model of space to discuss time. Then she studies two models of
time — linear and cyclic — and holds that linguistic time
or grammatical time is a representation of a different
perception of time. The grammaticalisation of time is
indicated through the means of tenses. Moving from the general
to the particular, Vaishna Narang makes some observations on
Andamanese language in her analysis of motions of time and
Two essays pertain to the
semiotics of cinema — another area covered by Gill’s
research interests. Anuradha examines the semiotics of the
image code to study the child signifier in the creations of
two great film makers. Child constitutes a recurrent image
pattern in almost all films of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
It unfolds itself as an evocative metaphor for faith,
innocence, naturalness, vulnerability and intuitive
apprehension of truth. In Ray’s films child is a signifier
of lost innocence in man. It is the dream expression of Ray’s
universal humanism and lyrical mysticism. For Ghatak child is
a symbol of his faith in man. Moreover, child is projected as
the harbinger of future and an assertion against death.
A shy attempt at
Review by Randeep Wadehra
Blue, Perhaps by M.K. Tayal. Kanti Publishers, Delhi. Pages
419. Rs 495.
Kundera had said once, "All great novels, all true
novels, are bisexual." However, as some of us feel
convinced, all bisexual novels are not necessarily great.
sick. He is recovering from a heart attack at a
"premier" hospital. Yet he cannot give up smoking or
lusting for the nurse (why are they always from Kerala?) or
masturbating or doing it to his wife – the hot blooded,
jealous Shruti – right there in the smelly hospital room.
with bunging it all in the very first page of the novel, Tayal
goes on to describe Sidharth’s stomach-churning activities
in the not so clean toilet. All colours, except blue, have
vanished from Sidharth’s kaleidoscopic life. Blue as in
tiredness and boredom or blue as in smutty movies? One gets
confused for there is a resounding expletive right in the
first paragraph of the novel. Of course Sidharth and his
father Bayat, among others, toss around four-letter (and even
longer) words casually.
"F" word has become so hackneyed that it has lost
its shock value. In the good old days, the late US diarist
Alice James did offer some mitigating circumstances for the
use of the expletive, "It is an immense loss to have all
robust and sustaining expletives refined away from one! At . .
. moments of trial refinement is a feeble reed to lean
experiencing one such moment of trial? Perhaps.
Hemingway was clear in his mind about what should a book full
of profanity be deemed as, "I’ve tried to reduce
profanity but I reduced so much profanity when writing the
book that I’m afraid not much could come out. Perhaps we
will have to consider it simply as a profane book and hope
that the next book will be less profane or perhaps more
Tayal, on the
other hand sways between ribaldry and banality. There is
hardly anything for the discerning reader. Then there is the
cliched image of the "domineering" male (Behat)
ravishing the suffering female (Maya) in the crudest possible
way – reinforcing the terrible Indian coital stereotype in a
language that is at once stilted and none too refined. The
description of ravishment is followed with Maya finding
incestuous satiation with the help of her son.
also tried to portray another aspect of man-woman
relationship. Sidharth watches his parents Behat and Maya get
into an ugly confrontation over sending him to an expensive
school. The end result is predictable – Maya gets a sound
thrashing from her husband. Gore Vidal had once remarked,
"I find in most novels no imagination at all. They seem
to think the highest form of the novel is to write about
marriage, because that’s the most important thing there is
for middle-class people." However, Tayal has tried to go
one step further by venturing into the realms of the seamier
side of the presumably placid Indian family life.
truly meanders from the kinetic metro life to the Vaishno Devi
pilgrimage. From the profane to the almost pious. From the
near perfect portrayal of the great
Indian-marriage-behind-the-facade to the ham-handed treatment
of sexual encounters (If only he had sought tips from such
high priests of pulp literature as Khushwant Singh, Shoba De
or the now forgotten Balwant Gargi).
attempted too. Occasionally it does succeed. However, one must
ask whether this novel offers something new, something
different from what is being churned out in the name of
Indo-Anglican writing. Kundera does not mince words while
asserting, "A novel that does not uncover a hitherto
unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the
novel’s only morality".
need not always come up with "a hitherto unknown segment
of existence". The known could be presented in a new
light. Tayal has shown a talent for the comic and the
burlesque. Perhaps he can go back to his word processor and
come up with a humorous tale of the Indian sex life? And he
must be aware that there is no virtue in finishing a
manuscript in record time. After all an author writes as much
to satisfy his creative urge as to garner an appreciative
readership. This can only be done if the work is accepted in
the marketplace – the real testing ground of a creative
would not be such a bad idea to listen to what E.M. Forster
has to say, "The final test for a novel will be our
affection for it, as it is the test of our friends, and of
anything else which we cannot define."
* * *
Practical Remedies: Vastu Shastra & Feng Shui by Sanjay
Gupta. The Vastu International Consultancy, Patiala. Pages
ix+140. Rs 250.
psychology or divine remedy, the esoteric sciences like Vastu
Shastra, Feng Shui, astrology et al have always proved to be a
morale boosting factor for people in trouble. Vastu Shastra
was originally mentioned in the Stapatya Veda, which is a part
of the Atharva Veda. Our rishis had discovered the
secrets of using the five elements that form this universe.
They analysed these elements’ characteristics and influence,
namly. magnetic fields, gravitational effects of earth and the
galaxy, the direction and velocity of winds, light and heat of
the sun, including the ultra violet and infra red rays, the
volume and intensity of rainfall, etc.
knowledge was assiduously applied to the welfare of humanity.
This led to scientific planning of constructing buildings for
dwelling, prayer, entertainment, education, work, production
and other activities. These scientific methods and systems
were codified as Vastu Shastra – the repository of centuries
of wisdom and foresight. Similarly, Feng Shui was originally a
scientific method employed for discovering underground water.
How and when
this came to be used for planning human habitat is not clear.
Nevertheless its practitioners and beneficiaries swear by its
effectiveness. Gupta has, with the help of diagrams and other
illustrations, explained the effect of a plot’s location,
the various constructions done on it and how best to utilise
the principles of Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui for one’s
material well being. He also discusses the Lal Kitab – a
favourite of today’s astrologers. He has also answered
questions that are usually put to him by people seeking
remedies to their problems.
book carries testimonials of people (along with their
respective addresses) who have benefitted from the practical
remedies offered by Sanjay Gupta.
A good book
for those who believe in the effectiveness of such remedies.
However, one should not forget the message of Bhagwad Gita –
"Karma yoga is the highest form of yoga for it helps one
overcome the adversities one is otherwise fated to
suffer". Gandhi, Henry Ford and Abe Lincoln come readily
to mind as examples of people who rose to the pinnacle of
their respective fields through karma yoga.
* * *
Domestic Workers by A.N. Singh. Shipra Publications, Delhi.
Pages 144. Rs. 380.
been a tremendous change in the socio-economic profile of
developing India over the past half a century. Urbanisation
and industrialisation have induced large-scale population
movement from the rural to the urban areas, giving birth to
new economic opportunities and unusual social challenges in
the process. The ever-enigmatic status of the Indian woman too
has undergone metamorphosis. Breaking the stereotype, she has
stepped out of socially imposed confines and entered the
workplace in a big way. You see her as a boss and a secretary,
an entrepreneur and accountant, a politician and
But this book
deals with the woman whose condition has not changed much with
the passage of time, namely, the female domestic worker.
had, as early as 1959, observed that the problem of domestic
women and girls needed to be studied, especially when
industrialisation and attendant socio-economic changes are
compelling more and more people to depend on domestic
servants. The movement of the poor from the rural to the urban
areas has been steadily increasing and they have been
employing themselves in domestic services, but research in
this area is neglected. M.S. Randhawa pointed out in 1975 that
women workers in agriculture do every kind of work and labour
except driving the plough or the cart and working on the well.
Further, he finds that the general reluctance on the part of
the menfolk to encourage female education was partly because
they apprehended that women would cease to work hard if they
attitudes still prevalent in a significant section of the male
population the plight of women domestic workers is pathetic
indeed. One of the case studies mentioned by A.N. Singh, the
author of this book, is worth mentioning. Kamala is an
illiterate forty-year-old mother of four children. Her husband
is a railway employee and earns about Rs 2500 a month. This is
too small an amount to support the family. Consequently Kamala
and one of her daughters work as domestic servants. Kamala
alone earns Rs. 800 a month, plus occasional clothes and cash
gifts on festivals, after slaving in eight houses. She remains
physically unwell due to poor diet and lack of adequate
multiply such cases. Kamala can count herself comparatively
lucky, for there are women in a worse plight. Apart from doing
the backbreaking domestic chores, many of them have to undergo
the soul-snapping experience of unwanted attention and even
This book has tables, case
studies and references to the work of other research scholars.
It can be useful to those engaged in research work, as well as
to those entrusted with formulating and implementing social
welfare related schemes.
of divided countries
Review by Gurdarshan
of Divided Nations Pakistan-India-Koreas by Prakash Nanda.
Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 215. Rs 495.
Nanda is a senior journalist with the Times of India. He has
been frequently writing on Indian foreign policy and
international relations for the past several years. The book
under review is part of the project assigned to him by Seoul
Peace Prize Cultural Foundation (SPPCF) and the Center for
International Studies (CIS) of the Graduate School of
International University, Yonsei University.
years divided countries like India and Pakistan, China and
Taiwan and the two Koreas have been conflict prone. The author
believes that the conflict in these countries mainly relates
to the unresolved dilemma of the division.
He takes up a
comparative study of two of the three cases — India and
Pakistan and the two Koreas. He brings out striking
similarities in situations between the two cases. He argues
that the possession of nuclear weapons and other weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) in these countries will not necessarily
lead to a major war despite North Korea’s decision to
develop nuclear weapons and use long-range missiles in the
Korean peninsula and Pakistan fighting a war in Kargil and
indulging in various militant activities in India.
danger lies in domestic political uncertainties that could
engulf these countries in squabbles and internal chaos and
could eventually lead to irrational conclusions about fighting
a major war.
A collapse in
North Korea and a paralysed Pakistan regime, thanks to their
essentially authoritarian and non-democratic political
structures, can prove disastrous and calamitous, resulting in
war. In that case, possession of nuclear weapons and other WMD
by Pakistan and North Korea (the same applies to China) makes
their respective conflicts with India and South Korea really
shows how nondemocratic nations have a natural tendency not
only to threaten the use of WMD but also to establish linkages
among themselves. Accordingly, the book dwels at length on the
growing military collaboration, both overt and covert, between
Pakistan and North Korea with China playing the role of a
It is against
this background that the author justifies India’s policy to
retain the nuclear option. He believes that a more powerful
and strong India will also help in balancing and connecting
the oil rich Gulf region and the rapidly industrialising
countries of South East Asia. He fully endorses the BJP’s
policy to equip the country with nuclear teeth.
The author is
of the opinion that in order to meet the challenges posed by
the growing alliance of despotic countries like North Korea
and Pakistan, democracies like India and South Korea should
develop stronger ties between them and should also involve
other democratic countries such as Japan and the USA in this
task. India’s strategic interests require effective nuclear
deterrence and adequate retaliatory capability.
suggestion is that New Delhi should strive for the
establishment of a "consortium of democratic states"
in cooperation with whom a nuclear India can achieve the
transformation from a unipolar to a multipolar system and work
for peace and security in a multipolar world. He strongly
recommends that both India and South Korea, given their
democratic credentials should be members of such a consortium.
He gives a
number of reasons why India and South Korea must work together
and form a strategic partnership. Strategic partnership, he
believes, should not be confused with military alliance. He
argues that a nuclear India’s friendship with South Korea
would lead to a genuine balance of power in Asia and would
provide an effective check on China.
seems to have over-emphasised the issue of nuclearisation of
divided nations, particularly India. What are the implications
of India’s nuclearisation policy? Has it achieved the
desired results? Has it succeeded in lessening tensions
between India and Pakistan? There seems to be no clear answer
to these questions. There is no denying the fact that tensions
between India and Pakistan have escalated and the danger of
war which can lead to mutual annihilation, has increased
manifold. The author’s conclusions are lopsided and partial.
is going to be a big stumbling block in the process of
globalisation. It will thwart the possibilities of a
negotiated settlement of disputes between different countries.
There should be renewed attempts to resolve political issues
between the two Koreas and between India and Pakistan. These
issues cannot be resolved through the force of arms. The key
to ending the perpetual war-like situation in the Korean
peninsula lies in making a determined bid for the
reunification of the two Koreas on the pattern of the
reunification of the two Germanys, East and West.
Likewise, India and Pakistan
should continue to make ceaseless and sincere efforts to
promote mutual understanding and goodwill in order to avoid
war and bloodshed. People in the two countries despise war —
a fact brazenly ignored by the political leadership of both
sides. Could the representatives of the two countries sit
together and evolve an abiding formula of peace (if possible a
confederation) which will generate new hope and optimism for
the trouble-torn region?
submission by masses
Review by Bhupinder Singh
Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market by Pierre
Bourdieu The New Press, New York, pages 108 $12.95.
Bourdieu is compared in France to Jean Paul Sartre. Like many
French intellectuals like Ernst Bloc, Fernand Braudel, Michel
Foucault and Jacques Derrida, he is fiercely independent. A
typical French intellectual, he is sharp, incisive and biting
in his criticism of globalisation as advocated in the 1990s.
under review is a collection of some of his interviews,
newspaper articles and letters between the years from 1995 to
1998. Though much of the context is located in France and
Europe, some of his comments have a much wider appeal,
including for those in India.
He points to
the fact that what gives the dominant discourse its strength
is that there is no alternative to neo-liberalism, that it has
succeeded in presenting itself as self- evident, that there is
no alternative to it.
is taken for granted in this way, this is a result of a whole
labour of symbolic inculcation in which journalists and
ordinary citizens participate actively. Against this
permanent, insidious imposition, which produces, through
impregnation a real belief, it seems to me that researchers
have a role to play. First, they can analyse the production
and circulation of this discourse. Through a whole series of
analyses of texts, the journals in which they were produced
and which little by little imposed themselves as legitimate...
to impose as self-evident a neo-liberal view which
essentially, dresses up the most classic presuppositions of
conservative thought of all times and all countries in
He points to
a CIA-funded journal that over a period of 20-25 years managed
to propagate and make "self- evident" such ideas for
granted. Similarly, he refers to the fact that Thatcherism was
not invented by Thatcher, but "the ground had been
prepared over the years by groups of intellectuals most of
whom wrote columns in leading newspapers."
says that the economic- sounding discourse "would not be
able to circulate beyond the circle of its promoters without
the collaboration of a host of people — politicians,
journalists, and ordinary people with a tincture of economic
culture sufficient to participate in the generalised
circulation of the debased words of an economic vulgate."
A long time
critic of the television as a medium, Bourdieu observes,
"There is an enormous gap between the image that media
people have and give of the media and the reality of their
action and influence. The media are, overall, a factor of
depoliticisation, which naturally acts on the more de-politicised
sections of the public, women more than men, on the less
educated than the rich... Television (much more than the
newspapers) offers an increasingly de- politicised, bland view
of the world, and it is increasingly dragging down the slide
into demagogy and subordination to commercial values."
the role of school teachers in particular, and family
counsellors, youth leaders, rank and file magistrates and
also, increasingly, secondary and primary teachers, "they
constitute what I call the left- hand of the state, the set of
agents of the so-called sending Ministries which are the
state, within the state of the social struggles of the past.
They are opposed by the right hand of the state, the
technocrats of the Ministry of Finance, the public ands
private banks and the ministerial cabinets. A number of social
struggles that we are now seeing (and will see) express the
revolt of the minor state nobility against the senior state
The sense of
despair lies, however, in that the right hand of the state no
longer wants to know what the left hand does. "In any
case, it does not want to pay for it." The process of
regression of the state shows that resistance to neo-liberal
doctrine and policy is that much greater in countries where
the state traditions have been strongest. And that is
explained by the fact that the state exists in two forms: in
objective reality, in the form of a set of institutions such
as rules, agencies, offices etc. and also in people’s minds.
The state is
an ambiguous reality. It is not adequate to say that it is an
instrument in the hands of the ruling class. The state is
certainly not completely neutral, completely independent of
the dominant forces in society, but the older it is and the
greater the social advances it has incorporated, the more
autonomous it is. It is a battleground, for example, between
the finance ministries and the spending ministries, dealing
with social problems.
weapon in the battle against the gains of the welfare state is
the powerful discourse of globalisation, an idee force, an
idea which has social force. In the name of this model,
flexi-time is imposed. Bourdieu terms this as flexploitation.
It means night-work, irregular working hours, things which
have always been part of the employer’s dreams. In a general
way, he avers, neo-liberalism is a very smart and very modern
repackaging of the oldest of the oldest capitalists’ values.
It is a characteristic of
conservative revolutions, that in Germany in the 1930s, those
of Thatcher, Reagan and others, that they present restoration
as revolution. The current revolution, unlike the previous
ones that invoked archaic themes of agrarian mythology, does
not invoke the myth of the past, instead it appeals to
progress, reason and science (economics in this case). Galileo
said that the natural world is written in the language of
mathematics, the neo-liberal ideologues want us to believe
that the economic and social world is structured by equations.
turns a ruralite
Review by Deepika Gurdev
House by John Grisham. Random House, New York. Pages 388. $
you are looking for something of John Grisham genre a k a
legal thriller, my advice would be skip this book. There are
no legal battles, no angry lawyers in power suits, no honest
to goodness lawyers surviving gunfights and lots more to
protect the underdog. No major Grisham like page turning
delights. In fact, for a moment you wonder whether this really
is a John Grisham offering considering it lacks all the hype,
hoopla and pace of the established legal genre set by the
say, I was disappointed as I went painstakingly page by page
waiting for the novel to pick up pace and run full steam ahead
till I reached the very end of what some blurbs dubbed a
"page-turning delight". I would not want that to
colour your judgment though. Now that I’ve mentioned all
that in my opinion is lacking in the novel, let’s for a
moment switch to the scenic route and take in the good news
and talk about the story itself.
To be fair
and strike a fine sense of balance, Grisham has evidently
demonstrated with "A Painted House" that he is the
master of varied writing styles. Instead of lawyers, there are
hardscrabble farmers and dirt poor itinerant workers and a
seven-year-old boy (Luke) who grows up fast in a story that
has its share of conflicts, incidents and subtle nuances.
you must be prepared to last at least the first 50 pages that
tell you the story of Luke Chandler and his father who hires a
group of "hill people" (the Spruills) and some
wandering Mexicans to help pick the cotton crop.
Grisham’s own childhood, "A Painted House" finds
its setting in rural Arkansas. This is a tale of rural
America, a story of youth and ambition, of dreams and
aspirations. The key character here is Luke who lives with his
parents and grandparents in a farmhouse surrounded by 80 acres
of cotton. It is September, 1952, and the cotton —
"waist-high to my father, over my head," says Luke
— is ready to pick.
waist-high cotton translates into hiring additional migrants,
in this case a truckload of Mexicans in addition to the
Spruills who have already set base on Chandler land. The
Spruills are a typical poor family for whom toiling under
adverse weather conditions to make ends meet is almost a way
It is harvest
time around a house that appears not to have been painted in
an eternity. For the next six weeks cotton is the sole focus
not only on this farm but for everyone in the community.
Though cotton dominates, the Chandler men all manage to make
time to hear broadcasts of St. Louis Cardinal games on the
radio, have supper together and spend some family time as
help but love the baseball game, it kind of runs in his blood.
Talking about his grandfather, he says: "Though he was a
quiet man who never bragged, Eli Chandler had been a legendary
baseball player. At the age of 17, he had signed a contract
with the Cardinals to play professional baseball. But the
First War called him, and not long after he came home, his
father died. Pappy had no choice but to become a farmer."
The series of events that he chronicles occur during the late
summer when the cotton crop is ready.
highs and lows of a hot game of baseball is almost like doing
a guessing game for a bumper harvest. Talking of harvests,
there are plenty of proverbial slips between the cup and the
lip. Even though it appears that this year would yield a
bumper harvest of cotton, they have to first get the cotton
bolls out of the fields and into the town to the gin.
heat, the rain, the fatigue and often each other, the
Chandlers and their hired help struggle to bring in the crop.
As the days turn into weeks, the plot and the ensuing drama
thicken. Luke finds himself engulfed in adult situations,
forced to keep secrets that threaten not only the crop but his
family’s safety and its reputation in the community.
It all starts
with his relatively innocent crush with the Spruills girl, the
hugely attractive 17 year old Tally. Added to this is Luke’s
almost natural ability to get into trouble. Luke is a colorful
character — he dreams of playing baseball and appears
precocious for his age. His inquisitiveness and being at the
wrong place at all the wrong times make him a witness to
several sobering events, that include the birth of an
illegitimate child, a brutal street fight and even a bloody
Then there is
Hank, a burly, mean tempered man who is constantly at odds
with Luke and the Mexicans. Hank eventually falls in love with
Tally and ends up leaving Luke heartbroken. In fact, the
characters who stream in and out of the pages almost feel like
real people. You feel as if you either know someone like them
or have probably encountered someone like them.
As with real
people, tensions are inevitable. They begin simmering between
the Mexicans and the hill people, one of whom has a penchant
for bare-knuckle brawling. This leads to a brutal murder,
which young Luke has the bad luck to witness. At this point
when you think that secrets, lies and knife fights will take
on that familiar Grisham-style momentum, such issues do appear
but ultimately end up taking a back seat. It is the author’s
evocation of time and place that takes prominence in "A
One has to
admit that Grisham does a pretty decent attempt at writing
literature. While some may find the book dull, the fairly
minimal tension does pick up sometimes. To be fair to the
author, "A Painted House" does suggest that Grisham
is perfectly capable of telling a story without a subpoena in
sight. Whether he will continue along these more contemplative
lines of slow drama, of course, remains anybody’s guess.
Ever since he
published "The Firm" in 1991, John Grisham has
stayed an undisputed champion of the legal thriller. With
"A Painted House", however, he moves into an
entirely new terrain. To quote Grisham himself, this novel has
"not a single lawyer, dead or alive." Instead,
Grisham relives his childhood through this quiet,
contemplative story, set in rural Arkansas in 1952.
ago, before his name became synonymous with the modern legal
thriller, Grisham was working 60-70 hours a week at a small
Southaven, Mississippi law firm.
February 8, 1955, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction
worker and a homemaker, Grisham dreamt of being a professional
baseball player but went on to study law firm.
One day at
the Dessoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing
testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to
start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s
father had murdered her assailants. Thus was born "A Time
to Kill". It took three years to write, several
rejections followed and eventually it was bought by Wynwood
Press, that permitted a conservative print run of 5,000
copies. It was eventually published in June 1988.
Not one to be
deterred by failure, he started work on another novel, the
story of a hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently
perfect law firm. Film rights to "The Firm" were
sold to Paramount Pictures for a then whopping $600,000. With
that Grisham emerged as hot property among publishers, and
book rights were bought by Doubleday. "The Firm" was
on The New York Times bestseller list for 47 weeks to become
the bestselling novel of 1991.
publishing "A Time to Kill", Grisham has written one
bestselling novel a year. His other books are "The
Chamber", "The Rainmaker", "The Runaway
Jury", "The Partner", and "The Street
Lawyer". Publishers Weekly declared him "the
bestselling novelist of the 90s".
When he’s not writing,
Grisham devotes time to charitable causes and he also keeps up
with his greatest passion: baseball.