The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 6, 2001

Angst of an Israeli writer
Review by M.L. Raina

Why everything is loaded against women?
Review by Rumina Sethi

The sad story of Chittagong Hills
Review by Deepak Kumar Singh

Nehru, Indira and Padmaja
Review by Cookie Maini

Student’s tribute to a pioneer
Review by Ranbir Singh Sarao

Write view
A shy attempt at erotica
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Dilemma of divided countries
Review by Gurdarshan Singh

Meek submission by masses
Review by Bhupinder Singh

Lawyer turns a ruralite
Review by Deepika Gurdev




Angst of an Israeli writer
Review by M.L. Raina

Shira: A Novel by S.Y. Agnon and translated from Hebrew by Zeva Shapiro. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse. Pages 585. $ 35.

I 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.

Now that 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.

Yehuda 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.

To understand 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.

It also 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.

The 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.

This is 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.

Manfred 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 identity.

Herbst 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.

Whereas "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).

Herbst’s 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 for.

Where does 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 Herbst’s soul.

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 morality.

Agnon’s 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.

Another 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.

Death and 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.


Why everything is loaded against women?
Review by Rumina Sethi

Women and Politics in the Third World edited by Haleh Afshar. Routledge, London and New York: Pages. vi + 210. £ 12.99.

"WOMEN 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.

Afshar argues 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.

Addressing a 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.

In Brazil, 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?

Hensman 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 military rule.

Such a 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?

After all, 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.

A familiar 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.

Heleh Afshar’s 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."

Afshar 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 uses.

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.


The sad story of Chittagong Hills
Review by Deepak Kumar Singh

Living on 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.

EVEN 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.

Defying the 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.

One such 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 India.

What appeared 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, refugees without".

The book 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.

Of late, 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.

What adds 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.

The common 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.

The presence 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".

Yet another 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 inception.

Different 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.

The first 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.

Analysing the 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 be."

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.

Jenneke Arens 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.

Other 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.

Articles by 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.

Bhaumik 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.

Sabyasachi 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.

By analysing 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.

The third 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.

While blaming 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 ready reference.


Nehru, Indira and Padmaja
Review by Cookie Maini

Indira- The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank. Harper Collins, London. Pages 567. £20.

AS 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, post-Tehelka.

However, long 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 lucre.

However, if 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 mind."

Of course, 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.

"This 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.

The "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.

Katherine 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.

For Indian 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 dreary land’.

"She 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)

Frank’s 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.

"This 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)

"Right 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).

The author’s 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 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.


Student’s tribute to a pioneer
Review by Ranbir Singh Sarao

Semiotics of Language, Literature and Cinema edited by Harish Narang. Pages 346. Rs 500.

THIS 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.

The 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.

The book 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.

In this 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.

Five contributors — Jaspal Singh, Parminder Singh, Satinder Aulakh, Harinder Sohi and Surjit Singh — employ the tools of analysis forged by Gill.

Waris Shah, 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 narrative.

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.

In the 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 psycho-critique.

Parminder 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.

Satinder 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.

Harinder Sohi 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.

Surjit Singh’s 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.

Among the 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 oppression.

Rosy Singh, 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.

Simi Malhotra, 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.

Three 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 discourses.

Manjali 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.

Vaishna 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 tense.

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.


Write view
A shy attempt at erotica
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Little Blue, Perhaps by M.K. Tayal. Kanti Publishers, Delhi. Pages 419. Rs 495.

MILAN 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.

Sidharth is 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.

Not satisfied 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.

Frankly, the "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 upon."

Was Sidharth experiencing one such moment of trial? Perhaps.

Ernest 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 sacred."

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.

Tayal has 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.

This novel 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).

Humour is 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".

However, one 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 artist’s talent.

Perhaps it 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."

* * *

San’s Practical Remedies: Vastu Shastra & Feng Shui by Sanjay Gupta. The Vastu International Consultancy, Patiala. Pages ix+140. Rs 250.

Call it 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.

This 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.

Finally the 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.

* * *

Women Domestic Workers by A.N. Singh. Shipra Publications, Delhi. Pages 144. Rs. 380.

There has 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 administrator.

But this book deals with the woman whose condition has not changed much with the passage of time, namely, the female domestic worker.

V.S. D’Sauza 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 became educated.

With such 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 medical attention.

One can 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 physical exploitation.

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.


Dilemma of divided countries
Review by Gurdarshan Singh

Nuclearisation of Divided Nations Pakistan-India-Koreas by Prakash Nanda. Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 215. Rs 495.

PRAKASH 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.

In recent 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.

The real 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 dangerous.

The author 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 great facilitator.

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.

The author’s 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.

The author 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.

Nuclearisation 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?


Meek submission by masses
Review by Bhupinder Singh

Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market by Pierre Bourdieu The New Press, New York, pages 108 $12.95.

PIERRE 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.

The book 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.

"If 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 economic rationalisations."

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."

The author 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."

Pointing to 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 nobility."

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.

The main 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.


Lawyer turns a ruralite
Review by Deepika Gurdev

A Painted House by John Grisham. Random House, New York. Pages 388. $ 36.

IF 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 author himself.

Needless to 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.

Though first 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.

Inspired by 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.

Picking this 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 of life.

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 well.

Luke can’t 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.

Watching the 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.

Battling the 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 murder.

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 Painted House".

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.

Twelve years 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.

Born on 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.

Since first 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.