The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 20, 2001

Ghalib of yesterday and today
Review by Bhupinder Singh

Who is Nirmal Verma?
Review by Satyapal Sehgal

Is Greer still Germane?
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Haikus short on spontaneity
Review by Vikramdeep Johal

R.K. Narayan and his novels
Review by R. P. Chaddah

How scientific are social sciences?
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Khalsa Raj from the beginning
Review by Gobind Thukral

Kargil — a postscript
Review by N.K. Pant



Ghalib of yesterday and today
Review by Bhupinder Singh

The Famous Ghalib Selected, Translated and Introduced by Ralph Russell Roli Books, New Delhi. Pages 192. Rs 295.

RALPH Russell came to India as a British soldier during World War II and went on to join the Department of Oriental Studies at Cambridge. His previous works over the years, mostly written along with Khursidul Islam, have made him known as an authority on Urdu literature, especially on Mirza Ghalib.

He remarks that, "If his (Ghalib’s) language had been English, he would have been recognised all over the world as a great poet long ago. My translations are an attempt to present some of his poetry in English so that English speakers may be able to judge the work for themselves." However, the book caters well even to those already familiar with the poetry of Ghalib, this is so both in the selection and translations of the poetry and in the accompanying essays.

The sheyrs and ghazals translated into English are followed by the original in Urdu and the transliterated versions in the Roman and Devnagari scripts. An essay on "Getting to know Ghalib’" serves as an insightful introduction to Ghalib, his poetry and the milieu that it grew on. Another essay "On Translating Ghalib" brings forth the problems and techniques of translating from Urdu to English. These essays help to supplement and explain the translations. They weave together the translated sheyrs into a cohesive whole.

The current translations are marked by a stress on the literal meaning of the sheyrs, though there are some sheyrs and ghazals where the translator has tried to practically recreate both the meaning and form in English. This is not a mean achievement and as compared to the other two significant translations (one by Qurrat-ul- ain Haider and another edited by Aijaz Ahmed), Russel has attempted -and achieved- much more. One hopes that it will encourage the reader to read the original.


Ghalib roars over and above his predecessors as well as contemporaries, he rarely whimpers. He is a lively, even a gregarious character. For a long time and especially till the age of 25, Ghalib refused to consider any criticism of his poetry. Consider the following sheyr:

Bandagi men bhi vuh azada o khud-bin hain ki ham

Ulte phir ae dar I kaba agar va na hua.

(We serve You, yet our independent self regard is such

we shall at once turn back if we would find the Kaba closed)

This assertion of the self was to reach its crescendo in Iqbal (with the development of the concept of khudi) and still later metamorphosed into the collective individual in the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

Aur raaj kareygi khalaq-e-khuda,

Jo main bhi hoon, aur tum bhi ho

(And the creations of the Lord, which is you and me, Shall rule the world)

Russel’s selection rightly brings forth this aspect of Ghalib’s poetry. One cannot stress this enough as the traditional ghazal form does not facilitate presentation of the poet’s world- view in a systematic form. Each sheyr is a complete poem in itself, and it is not necessary for a ghazal to express the same mood in all the sheyrs- in that sense it can be said that the form tends to dominate the content. The exposition is, therefore, disparate and scattered in sheyrs across different ghazals. One has to wade through to pick and choose and then reconstruct- a difficult and onerous task.

Understanding Ghalib requires that one understands not only the literal meaning of a verse, but also the allusions in them. Ghalib wrote from within the Muslim tradition and it is therefore necessary to understand that tradition, the religious concepts, references to aspects of the Muslim way of life and so on. Russell explains some of these and illustrates the usage in some sheyrs.

Ghalib himself, however was hardly a "good" Muslim. For one, he drank wine, as is famously known. He did not keep fasts or say his prayers or go on pilgrimage. In this he follows other Urdu poets who stand on the verge of transgression or beyond. For instance, Mir had said:

Mir ke deen-o-mazhab ko, ab poochtey kya ho, unney toh

Kashka khaincha, dair main baitha, kab ka tark islam kiya

(Do not ask what Mir’s religion is, he has Put on the sacred mark on the forehead (tilak), sits in the idol house, and has given up Islam)

Ghalib wrote much that ridiculed and often put to serious cross-examination many of the religious and Islamic concepts. One of his somewhat cryptic posers is:

na tha kuch, toh khuda tha, na hoga kuch toh khuda hoga

duboya mujhko hooney ney, na hota main, toh kya hota?

(When nothing was, then God was there; had nothing been, God would have been, My being has defeated me, had I not been what would have been?)

Regarding the references to idol worship and Hinduism in Ghalib’s poetry, Russell observes that Hinduism was the nearest religion outside Islam known to Ghalib. He points out that the practices of Hinduism afford a vivid symbol of the worship of God through the worship of beauty. "The idol is the symbol of the irresistibly beautiful mistress you ‘idolise’ and adore... All these concepts make ‘Hinduism’- that is, Hinduism as a symbol rather than actual Hinduism- the expression of one of the mystics’ key beliefs."

Ghalib was aware that the milieu in which he grew up was in its twilight and was being replaced by a more advanced civilisation. At the same time, he saw the emerging world from the framework of "medieval ways of thought and shared many of the attitudes of his eighteenth century predecessors in poetry." Hence, the conflicting pulls in the following sheyr:

Iman mujhe roke hai, jo khainche hai mujhe kufr

Kaba merey peeche hai, kalisa merey aagey

(My faith restrains me while the lure of unbelief attracts me, That way, the Kaaba, and this way, the Church before my eyes)

It was the spirit of transgression, of crossing the accepted norms of society that excited Ghalib. "If you are to experience life to the full, you must not confine yourself to actions approved by the virtuous," remarks Russell. This recalls to mind a Punjabi Sufi couplet:

Jo had tapey so auliya, behad tapey so pir

Jo had, behad dono tapey, us noon aakhan fakir

(The one who crosses all boundaries attains the exalted title Auliya, the one who crosses non- boundaries becomes the pir, The one who crosses both boundaries as well as non- boundaries, becomes a fakir.)

And Ghalib, of course, prided himself on being a fakir. He remarked:

Banakar fakeeron ka hum bheys ghalib,

Tamasha-e-ahl-e-karam dekhtey hain

(Taking on the garb of a fakir, Ghalib I watch the goings on of the world with a detached air)

Russell points out that Urdu poetry, unlike poetry written in English, is meant to be primarily recited and not read. "It is significant that in Urdu idiom, you don’t write verse; you say verse; and the poet who ‘says’ it presents it to his audience by reciting it to them. Only later does it appear in print... Clearly, poets who compose in this tradition need qualities which those who compose for a tradition of written transmission do not need at all...."

"The mushaira is a long- drawn out affair and the poet’s main enemy is monotony. If they are to participate effectively in a mushaira, which will perhaps last for hours together, they cannot hope to do so without resort to variety. The audience knows as soon as the first couplet has been recited what the metre and the rhyme scheme are. Unless the ghazal is one of quite exceptional force, uniformity of tone and emotional pitch are likely to pall."


The present selection has a number of sheyrs from what is considered to be one of the finest ghazals that Ghalib wrote in Urdu and whose matla is:

Muddat huee hai yaar ko mehmaan kiye hue

Josh-e-qadah se bazm chiraaghaan kiye hue

Russel has translated this as: (An age has passed since I last brought my loved one to my house Lighting the whole assembly with the wine- cup’s radiance)."

One would only have appreciated if the author had included the ibtidaayi (first) ghazal of Diwan-i-Ghalib. It provides the poet’s own introduction to his diwan, despite it being a little complicated for a beginner:

Naqsh fariyaadee hai kiskee shokhee-e-tehreer ka

Kaaghazee hai pairhan har paikar-e-tasveer ka

Ali Sardar Jafri wrote that visionary is the one who sees and speaks to the future. It is to this exalted group of remarkable men that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib belonged.

In his own time, he had rued: "Today none buys my verse’s wine, that it may grow old To make the senses reel in many a drinker yet to come My star rose highest in the firmament before my birth My poetry will win the world’s acclaim when I am gone

Urdu poetry, Kaifi Azmi once remarked in an interview, will keep the Urdu language alive. In the past one-decade or so interest in Ghalib’s poetry has seen something of a revival with the increasing presence of audio and visual mediums in addition to print. While the TV serial "Mirza Ghalib" and the rendering of his poetry by a variety of singers have increased the reach of his poetry, one still has to turn to the written word to drink deep and not merely taste the Pierian Spring. This is clearly illustrated by the book under review — a masterly introduction to the Urdu language’s greatest poet.




Who is Nirmal Verma?
Review by Satyapal Sehgal

WHO is Nirmal Verma? The question may well be asked, though Nirmal Verma has won the well-known Gyanpith award jointly with Punjabi novelist Gurdial Singh in 1999. The reasons to pose this question here can be very simple like ignorance of educated Indians even about our celebrated writers in Indian languages. These can be a little complex. What does Nirmal Verma write about? What is his real identity as a writer? One which mesmerises readers while painting existential crises which post-independence Indian middle-class youth faces? And with a rare intensity, integrity and humanness, with extraordinary richness, artistically speaking. Or one which has been deeply influenced by the literature, art, music and philosophies of the West, thus bringing to Hindi literary writing a unique content and literary style with a touch of western predicament. Or, one which in his recent writings show excessive indulgence in and adulation for tradition, patriotism and for an India which he calls a dream (Bharat ek Swapana’"in "Aadi Ant Aur Aarambh"). More than that.

Nirmal Verma who in early days of literary career was considered sympathetic to Marxist ideals, is on record supporting the present ruling dispensation at the Centre! Who is Nirmal Verma? Isn’t it a valid question, then?

To serious critics, he has always been an enigma. They could not but praise him for his exceptional art of story-telling. But his obsession with certain themes, particularly alienation, could not find much favour with them. Hindi literary criticism has a legacy of being demanding – demanding that writers should bring social and cultural issues to the fore. And the diehard conservatives had much to poke fun at him, that he was westernised, that his fiction encouraged immorality, that he was this and he was that. And lo and behold, the same Nirmal Verma is being seen as a neo-conservative, neo-Hindu, neo-mystic and what not!

Alas! Not many among them are left to view Nirmal Verma’s new avtaar. Some of them have since retired from teaching Hindi (their main reason to pursue literary criticism), others have left this world.. Not surprisingly, to a present day hardcore Marxist, he is a reactionary at his best!

Who is Nirmal Verma? And what is he writing these days, at the age of 70 plus?

Born in 1929 at Shimla, and dormant literarily for quite some time – his last novel "Raat ka Reporter" was published in 1989 and his last collection of short-stories, "Sukha Tatha Anya Kahaniyan" in 1995 (the earlier collection came 12 years back in 1983) – Verma has now taken up, perhaps one of his most ambitious projects, a novel on the topic of the death, spread over almost 300 pages. In fact, "Antim Aaranya" (The last forest – RajKamal, Delhi, 2000) is about many more things and invites repeated readings. Still, the story-line revolves chiefly around an old man approaching death, his dead wife, and the narrator in the novel appear both as an observer of events and a scared person himself, of death, looming large in distant future (he introduces himself in the novel as a middle-aged person).

Even other prominent characters in the novel are either old people or middle-aged individuals, entering into that zone of human existence where a sense of futility slowly creeps into one’s life. And old answers wither away like old leaves!

Old answers withering away! Perhaps, this would be the mode of expression Nirmal Verma would like to be used to understand him as a writer. Really? The creative writer in him does not fashion answers or, for that matter, questions, in such a linear fashion. It is always a little hazy, a mist wrapping it, an ambiguity entrenching itself into the language it chooses to convey itself. His readers like it, are in awe of him precisely for that. In fact, It is his strategy. A strategy to believe, to having the ability to recognising life – life which does not give easy access, so difficult to comprehend? Somewhere between his lines, he would murmur that it is the way out, suggested by one and only literature.

Like all accomplished writers, Nirmal Verma too broods over the literariness of literature. It is another of his strategies. A strategy which rationalises the need of literature, establishes its exclusiveness from and importance over other means of cognisance which make sense of realty and beyond. Talking in a lighter vein, writers like him are ambassadors of goodwill for literature in this highly unliterary world. But this strategy is explicitly ideological. For good, Nirmal Verma does not have a habit of getting polemical, but his positions on literariness in literature and the objectives of literary writing show limitations. He fails to appreciate the literary endeavour which aims at changing the face of human reality physically and the social forces which create this need.

Nirmal Verma’s new collection of essays and lectures "Aadi Ant Aur Aarambh" (Rajkamal, 2001) has a complete section in it, titled "Kathya ki Khoj’, having his favourite themes like "Kala ka Satya", (The Truth of Art), Needless to say, as suggested earlier, his comments on literature, in essence, propagating its a-historicity and autonomy have got stiffer and have been increasingly on the Right with time. Notwithstanding the repetitiveness of the main rationale of his intellectual moorings, there is still a touch of magic soaking in freshness. And this freshness is what characterises his new writings in a positive manner. This is how he earns his relevance. He has been successful in defeating the senility. Kudos to him!

Back to "Antim Aaranya". The novel is a significant addition to Nirmal Verma’s works as it has his imprint on it, of his new preoccupations with spiritualism and Hindu tradition. The central character in the novel, his body decaying, day by day and the past overpowering him, disintegrating him. It is the guilt. Finally, this former powerful bureaucrat finds something to bow before – Taradevi (the story has as its location an unnamed hill town). Then comes death. Then the last rites to lay his soul in rest. There is something moving about it all, one has to confess. But a critique of a literary creation cannot end like that. More pertinent queries would follow before one can map its worth. That is how adulation and positive criticism of Nirmal Verma should qualify itself. It is the art of writing novel, with an underpinning of heart element (rather than mind), the "truth" of loneliness of all citizens of this "global village" which becomes hallmark of the novel. But as he would have to consider, all acts of creation are open to ideological scrutiny, howsoever painful one’s experiences with such a scrutiny and the shabbiness too.

The need for this become ever more stronger, as we go through his essays in "Aadi Ant Aur Aarambh" or in other books published in recent years, like ‘"Bharat aur Europe", "Pratishruti ke Kshetra" (RajKamal) "Doosre Shabdon Main" (Gyanpith, Delhi) and "Patthar aur Behata Paani" (edited by Nand Kishore Aacharya, Vagdevi, Bikaner). The predominance in these essays of the schizophrenic crises which western colonisation, the western civilisation (to some modernity) has created is quite valid. Nirmal Verma who lived in and travelled through Europe for more than two decades and may well be called the first and only writer in Hindi who knew and understood the West, has obviously lived through crises. If he concludes that Indians should get back to their own "mode of existence", that may be of help in regaining the "lost self". But the challenges the modernity throws up may not all be settled just by that exercise. For example, the Indian tradition he talks about! Ask a dalit about his Indian tradition! Dalits constitute one third of us. For that matter, ask a enlightened woman. Similarly, look at the space modernity creates for the "individual". And the way modern science has done away with many a mysteries! And who gets benefited politically when one beats the drum too much about tradition. Nirmal Verma’s anguish has a point when he feels sick of all the noise made about the political analysis of a piece of literature as these analyses often prove to be two-edged weapons, at times, used by an ignorant or an arrogant.

Inspite of this, politics is a life and death issue, more to the innocent and the weak. It also concerns human progress. And humanity does progress.

Lecturing Nirmal Verma? No problem for him. He has listened to a lot of stuff like this and he does not feel bitter. Read him and you will know.

And this lecturing is being deliberately ended with the same question which I had posed at the beginning of this review – who is Nirmal Verma? Do you know Nirmal Verma? Ah! he might well say, "Writing is not about knowing."



Is Greer still Germane?
Review by Deepika Gurdev

The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer. Anchor, London. Pages 452. £ 7.99.

GERMAINE GREER is angry again. One of feminism’s fiercer proponents was in Singapore last week to speak at the Singapore Advertising Lecture 2001 about the "The Gendered Consumer" or the manipulation of woman as a consumer by the strong forces of marketing. And her anger showed.

Speaking at the lecture peppered with quotable quotes, Professor Greer began: "The moment the gendered consumer walks into the shopping mall she’s bathed in soft light, sweet music, scented air and people who are very concerned for her. This kind of marketing has the grammar of seduction that offers her all kinds of consolation."

"Not only is a woman expected to acquire something every time she sticks her nose out of the door, she’s often lured into acquiring things that have absolutely no value." So the inevitable question then is, why does she do it? Now take this with or without a pinch of salt from the brazen feminist who has worn "Dramatically Different" moisturiser for the past 30 years of her life. "The thing is, women want to be loved….it has to do with depression, self-loathing, loneliness and self-doubt."

And for those aspiring twig thin Kate Moss’ in the making here’s absolutely encouraging news. "The reason why Kate Moss is paid billions is because nobody looks as good in those clothes." Looking like supermodels as we all know is not the norm but Greer puts it even more bluntly they are "extraordinary genetic freaks". That sure helped several women with the nine course dinner that ensued as they no longer had to worry about the circumference of their thighs or the semi-precious inches they would be adding on their waists.

For those wondering why men make better cooks than women (this incidentally was an audience question), Professor Greer shed some light into the blinding logic of it all. When men cook they make a show out it, they hunt for the smallest little ingredient to perfect that delectable dish that the entire world by now knows they are dishing out and they "never clean up" the messy trails they leave behind. Women, on the other hand, Greer concluded, contend with having to put food on the table, keep the refrigerator stocked and ensure the tiniest ingredient appears rather magically while the chef’s work is in progress.

It was all this and more that set me on a discovery of Professor Germaine Greer — "the fearless" as she was dubbed on one of the television shows she was interviewed on. Of course, I was to discover much later that the fearless, fiery proponent was a wee bit scared of spiders, an aside that came through the impromptu book signing session. My first possession of an autographed author book which I believe would have auction value if feminism’s push comes to shove.

Before I started off on the signed version of "The Whole Woman", I did a bit of back tracking to figure out the who the real Greer is. Surprise, surprise the huge industry de Greer offered varied versions all of which sounded like subjective versions of the woman herself. If you have visions of a man-bashing witless, soulless writer and speaker, forget it. Here she is brimming with confidence, wit and oodles of humour and she actually seems to like men.

Hailed as a feminist icon, she shot to fame with the 1970 book "The Female Eunuch", which dramatically altered the lives of women in the flower power era. "The Female Eunuch’s" predominant message was that sexual repression of women devitalises them (hence the "eunuch") and cuts them off from the dynamic, creative "energy" they need in order to summon the will to achieve independence, excellence and full selfhood. Sexual liberation, Greer proclaimed, in the 70’s era was the path to fulfillment.

At 50, Greer published a memoir about her father "Daddy". Greer, had always been a rebellious if bright student who went on to become an intellectual celebrity who renounced the church, advocated rampant sexual freedom for women, trashed marriage and the family and fulminated against the imposition of western values on indigenous peasant cultures throughout the world.

Clearly, Germaine Greer is one of those individuals to whom the ordinary rules of good conduct just don’t apply. Her charisma is powerful, her looks winning, her confidence brimming. This confidence and charm though, only imperfectly protects Greer’s latest opus, "The Whole Woman" that has been trumpeted as her follow-up to "The Female Eunuch".

The book like Greer has been creating its share of controversies wherever it is being read. There are those who are absolutely perturbed by Greer’s disorganised, self-contradictory diatribe and disgusted by her positions on such issues as female circumcision and pap smears. Members of the media, who once found Greer’s long legs, bawdy braggadocio and paeans to group sex irresistible (Life dubbed her a "saucy feminist that even men like"), are crestfallen to learn that she has recanted the doctrine of free love and now condemns all men as "brutal, lazy sperm factories incapable of offering women emotional or sexual satisfaction."

The bold liberationist who once scolded women for not stepping up and slipping up on professional opportunities offered to them, now moans about weekly food shopping at the supermarket, which she describes as "exhausting".

Part of Greer’s current cynicism stems from the fact that she truly believed the theories she propogated in her earlier works. In "The Whole Woman" she writes, "We were sold sexual "freedom" and "the lie of the sexual revolution," forgetting rather conveniently that she was one of its main proponents. And if you continue reading the book, you realise that Greer switches from the stance of talking about womanhood in general to her own experiences as a woman.

The universality of "the status of women globally" wears painfully thin especially when you read the entire supermarket tirade in which she describes the indignities suffered by a typical shopper. This generic woman suddenly embarks on a hypothetical search for "a jar of pimentos." She searches the Tex-Mex section, then "among the pickles" and finally resorts to asking "a man in a suit with a company pin," who tells her he never heard of them, implying that "the customer is mad ... She shows him fresh red peppers and explains that she wants skinned, seeded peppers in brine ..." and she goes on to explain in detail how the supermarket experience is a harrowing one for her . She has to park her car, look for a trolley, head in shop, fill up the trolley, unload the trolley at the cashier check-out, reload trolley, unload at the car, reach home, unload, organise the items in kitchen shelves and so on. Well, if this is exhausting, one is inevitably left wondering how Greer identifies with women in the developing world who make the trek for firewood, the search for water, for food and at the same time manage to put food on everyone’s plates, take care of the children and the family.

That brings me to the next question: what has changed? Not all that much, actually. Greer insists that she hasn’t done an about-face on any of her earlier positions. She is simply followed her premises to the conclusions implicit in them from the very beginning. At no point does Greer feel she is being inconsistent. Her method — transforming personal trials into theories about the condition of women — has remained unchanged. Her resentment of sexual utopianism stems from the fact that in her late 30s, when she desperately wanted a child, she was unable to conceive and turned to expensive medical interventions, all of which failed. When you read her denunciation of elaborate fertility treatments as causing untold "damage" to desperate women, the argument only makes sense when you understand that the process raised her hopes at one time and the its failure to work broke her heart.

As you continue with "The Whole Woman" you also realise that the 1980s brought home the point that she was getting older, time and her looks were running out. Age inevitably altered the dynamics of Greer’s life and hence her thinking on issues closest to her heart. "Women have been conditioned to believe that men’s work is harder and more stressful than theirs, which is a con. The truth seems to be that men resent having to work and harbour a positive ambition to do nothing, which women do not share. A love of idleness is another characteristic that male Homo sapiens has inherited from his anthropoid ancestors." And just when you get past this bit about male idleness, four pages along you hit upon this: "Many women behave as if they feel a real sense of gratitude to their employer and act delighted as more and more work is heaped upon them, never pausing to ask if their male colleagues are doing anywhere near as much. If women themselves put a lower value on their own contribution than on that of men, personnel managers will seize the cue to employ them on as low in the pay scale as they can."

So if you are looking at sustained idea or vision, forget it because "The Whole Woman" is clearly lacking in it. The arguments are sort of all over the place and the book is more about Greer herself rather than about women. But then again, Greer has never been considered much of a thinker, it is the way she delivers her ideas, with gusto and with charm is what has appealed to readers. There is a certain joie de vivre in her writing, she has the rare ability to laugh at herself and delve on the several botched experiments and an unmatched zest for taking on the world. And that is what is appealing to me about "The Whole Woman".

Still wondering who is the real Germaine Greer? A revolutionary feminist and what is her new wave of feminism all about? You just have to read the book to figure out for yourself why Germaine Greer is without doubt, one of the most controversial and "read" women in our time.

And still wondering what’s Greer’s definition of a feminist, here goes: "A feminist is one who identifies herself as a woman before she identifies herself as belonging to any race or colour or creed or class."



Haikus short on spontaneity
Review by Vikramdeep Johal

Haikus: poems and sketches by N.K.Singh in association with Petra Golob. Full Circle, New Delhi. Pages 165. Rs 95.

"Old pond


A frog"


IT is small, it is beautiful, it is sensuous. It captures a moment and preserves it for all eternity. It is direct yet profound, accessible yet open to interpretation. In a world becoming increasingly cluttered and complicated, it is an oasis of lightness and simplicity. It is the haiku, the three-line, 17-syllable poem rooted in nature and created in the spirit of Zen.

The haiku originated and blossomed in Japan. Noted Zen historian D.T.Suzuki tells us why: "When a feeling reaches its highest pitch, we remain silent, even 17 syllables may be too many. Japanese artists... influenced by the way of Zen, tend to use the fewest words or strokes of brush to express their feelings. When they are too fully expressed, no room for suggestion is possible, and suggestibility is the secret of the Japanese arts."

Haiku writers usually extol the beauty of the natural world or reflect on the transience of life and man’s solitude. Basho (1644-94) is perhaps the finest and most influential haiku writer ever. According to Doho, a disciple of his: "The master said,‘Learn about a pine tree from a pine tree, and about a bamboo stalk from a bamboo stalk.’ What he meant was that the poet should detach his mind from self... and enter into the object, sharing its delicate life and its feelings. Unless a poem contains feelings which have come from the object, the object and the poet’s self will be separate things."

What inspired the writer of the book under review to compose haikus? "I simply felt in the forests of Slovenia that I was a hermit," he writes in the foreword, "I felt as if I could live with as little as possible. Why should I then compose long poems and epics?" N.K.Singh’s haikus are based on his experiences in places like Mumbai, Bangkok, Kathmandu, Brisbane and Ljubljana (Slovenia), as he "gypsied through the world wondering at its creator and creation."

The writer deserves a pat on the back for trying his hand at a genre all but neglected by contemporary poets. The disappointing thing, however, is that most of the poems in the collection fail to stir the soul and leave a lot to be desired. They pale miserably in comparison with the all-time great creations. No wonder Singh feels that his haikus would be viewed with acerbic skepticism by Zen masters.

For Basho, a good poem is one "in which the form of the verse, and the joining of its two parts, seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed." But Singh repeatedly succumbs to the temptation of stuffing meaning into the poem, thereby making it ponderous, loud and short on spontaneity. Consider this Brisbane haiku:

"Koalas on the tree/Softly hugging leaves/Mindful of delicate nature."

True, a beautiful image is evoked but the poem lacks the lightness and naturalness of a classic haiku, like this one by Issa (1763-1827):

"Under cherry trees/There are/No strangers."

Or, one of Basho’s creations: "Rainy days/Silkworms droop/On mulberries."

The haikus which do leave an impact appear to stem from the writer’s intuitive response to the world around him. A couple of his Bangkok ones are memorable.

"In this city/Everything sells/No price for me?"

"Orchids orchids/Artificially manicured in pots/Like parlour girls."

Or this one from Mumbai: "This morning/I woke up/To mirages all round."

There are several poems on love, not a traditional haiku theme. The pick of the lot is:

"Inside Slovenia/The heady journeys/Jazvene and you."

(Jazvene is a Slovenian wine)

The need to connect in the age of alienation is expressed thus: "Telephones ring/Some one is calling you/From the border of aliens." The fate suffered by love and beauty in an insensitive, power-hungry society comes across in two mournful haikus.

"Power, money and greed/Taking the toll of/All those beautiful years."

"The moisture of your eyes/ Washing the pain of/Love killed by ambition."

In haikus composed by Basho, Issa and other major Zen writers, the poet pours out his heart to animals, birds, insects, trees, etc. but usually does not humanise the latter by putting words into their mouths or thoughts into their heads. Singh, however, at times makes use of anthropomorphism, to the detriment of some poems, which appear forced and artificial. For instance,

"The fearless monkey/Of Pashupathinath Ji/Derides my human pride."

Or, "A mango tree/Outside silently pities/My aimless drift."

Most of Petra Golob’s haikus suffer from similar flaws. There are quite a few prosaic creations like "Without understanding love/He is naive to claim/The triumph of intelligence."

Or, "Burdened by sacredness/ Slowly she gave in/To the passion of living."

One of the few good ones reads:

"Preoccupied with being and becoming/They forget to open the window/For the morning breeze."

In the tradition of Zen poets, Singh alternates between haikus and sketches. Most of the latter are of female nudes in various poses (the poet calls a woman, along with a tree, as the most poignant expressions of prakriti). However, as in the case of his haikus, there is nothing much here to write home about.



R.K. Narayan and his novels
Review by R. P. Chaddah

Memories of Malgudi — R.K. Narayan edited by S. Krishnan.

Viking Penguin India. New Delhi. Pages 571. Rs 495.

WITH "Memories of Malgudi", Penguin India completes its omnibus editions of all of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi novels and also his finest short stories. This book is the fourth in a row. The first three, "A Town Called Malgudi", "The World of Malgudi" and the "Magic of Malgudi" have already been reviewed in these columns. S. Krishnan, a teacher of English at a Chennai university, is a self-confessed Narayan aficionado for the past 50 years. He is the force behind bringing out the omnibus editions for the first time.

Narayan’s output at the last count in 1998 is important. It is 36 books, his range is rare — novels, novellas, short stories, memoirs, travel books, columns et al — it cannot be easily equalled.

"Memories of Malgudi" brings together fiction of RKN’s early period when he was between his thirties and fifties to almost his last major novel when he was in his late eighties; "The Dark Room" (1938); "The English Teacher" (1945); "Waiting for Mahatma" (1955), "The Guide" (1958) and "The World of Nagaraj" (1990).

The book presents the fruitful 50 years in the life of RKN and the makings of an almost obscure novelist into a nationally and internationally known major writer. The book, according to me, which made him an international name is "The Guide" and there has been no looking back since 1958. Many prizes, medals and an honorary membership of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and membership of the Rajya Sabha in 1989. The Hindi movie made on "The Guide" made RKN and Malgudi popular with the literati and the glitterati and now so many quiz programmes, once in a while, ask questions culled from his various novels.

A significant feature of Narayan’s world is that it is densely populated by borderline people — sanyasis, recluses, criminals, sorcerers and the like. Narayan’s world is convincing and compelling because most of his people are not characters as figures or characters aspiring to become figures, because of inner compulsions. Liminal figures like Raju in "The Guide"; Jagan in "The Vendor of Sweets" and Swami in "A Tiger for Malgudi", make us aware of a sadness that pervades his work — sadness that has its roots in separation. The proliferation of marginal people largely explains the absence of any great sense of evil and the lack of scope for strong passions in Narayan’s work.

"The Dark Room" is a lament on the disharmony of domestic life. A domesticated life of 15 years of a branch manager is disturbed when a beautiful woman joins the organisation. Ramani, the branch manager, falls for her lock, stock and barrel and she responds with equal fervour and passion. Way back in the late 30s in the township of Malgudi it creates a havoc of sorts. But the author does not bring in cheap change of hearts, a la Hindi films. In- stead, he sticks to realism. Savitri returns home and looks after her children, and Ramani carries on with the "other woman" as before, till life adjusts itself.

"The English Teacher" (1945) is "a song of love in marriage" with heavy autobiographical tones. It is psychic, mystic and a spiritual study of some part of Indianness. It tells a love story, but an entirely different one from conventional love stories. Which starts as an interesting novel of domestic fidelity it gets bogged down in spiritual things and philosophic discussions which many a time, tax the patience of the reader.

"Waiting for Mahatma" (1955) is, of course, a political novel based on Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for independence and ending with the murder of the Mahatma. It narrates the love story of Sriram-Bharti against the backdrop of political upheavels which immediately preceded the independence of the country in 1947. For once, Narayan steps out of Malgudi and as the novel did not jell well with the reading public, for later fiction Narayan went back to secure Malgudi.

"The Guide" got him the coveted Sahitya Akademi Award. The story is a variation of the eternal triangle. It delineates the career of a remarkable Malgudi boy who achieves success on both materialistic and sexual levels — only to end up as a fake sadhu, made by circumstances beyond his control, to undertake a fatal fast for the termination of a serious drought in a region. The novel traces the life and times of Raju, the guide, his coming into contact with Rosie, wife of archaeologist Marco and a lover of dancing. She forsakes everything to become a dancer extraordinary with the active help of Raju and then things fall apart. He goes to jail for a little offence and when he is released the mantle of a sadhu-swami is forced on him, just because he looked unkempt and was resting in a temple. Raju, the guide, the lover, the sinner, becomes the saint and dies like one, on the banks of the Malgudi river Sarayu. It can happen only in India, that is Bharat.

"The World of Nagaraj" published in 1990, again focuses on the widening gap between generations. Narayan touched it earlier, and to a good effect in "The Vendor of Sweets" (1967). In real terms the novel presents the ochrous mood of an Indian sunset vis-a-vis the eclipse of the novelist in RKN. In Narayan’s own words, Nagaraj is a sort of grown up child. Not vicious at all. Does not care to correct anything. No idea of reforming or contradicting anything or he is all passion spent and calm of mind.

Nagaraj almost follows the dictum of Alexander Pope, "Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed".

Senescence is writ large on almost every page. Just like his protagonist in the novel, Narayan finds it difficult to give a convincing ending to the world of Nagaraj, which is peopled by card-board characters. All his earlier characters rub shoulders with each other in the Kabir Street. He has nothing new to say and this is almost a goodbye novel from the master story-teller.

As I was about to end this review of "Memories of Malgudi", I heard it on the radio that RKN has been admitted to a Chennai hospital two weeks ago following breathing problem and his condition has turned critical. "His condition is waxing and waning" (May 10, 2001) In the newsitem other details read as "Born in 1906, Mr Narayan shot into limelight with his very first novel ‘Swami and Friends’ (1935). He has penned 16 novels altogether." The timing of Penguin has been appropriate for bringing out four omnibus volumes of his novels.



How scientific are social sciences?
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Methodology in Social Research: Dilemmas and Perspectives. Essays in Honour of Ramkrishna Mukherjee edited by Partha Nath Mukherji. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 263. Price 225.

FOR the practitioners of science, the question of methods is perhaps as important, if not more, as its achievements. Methods, in a way, define science. It is on the basis of some minimum consensus on the methodology of doing science that a scientific community gets formed. Without such a consensus, it would perhaps be impossible for scientists working at different places, in different cultural contexts, to communicate with each other or learn from each other’s works.

The available methodology also determines, to a significant extent, what can be researched and what is beyond the scope of scientific investigation. Thus to be called a science, a discipline of inquiry must have a method that conforms to the cannons of science and on which the community of its practitioners agrees.

While natural and physical sciences have, more or less, been able to evolve a common research methodology, it has been rather difficult to do so for social sciences. Not only have the social scientists not been able to evolve techniques and tools which are acceptable to all disciplines and cultures, the past 200 years of the history of social sciences has also witnessed contentions and debates on the very nature of social phenomena. Not everyone doing social sciences, for example, agrees on the use of the methods of physical science for the study of social phenomenon. Unlike the realities of the physical world, the social reality is not just out there to be studied by social scientists. The intentions and meanings that human actors assign to their action are also a part of the social reality and they cannot be ignored in any exercise claiming to represent the social phenomena.

The papers presented in the volume edited by Partha Nath Mukherji deal with various dimensions of these questions. In a rather long introduction, the editor of the book offers an extremely comprehensive and useful survey of the dilemmas and perspectives on the question of methodology in social research. Methodology, according to Mukherji, denotes a combination of several things. First of all, it has to have a "technology" of data collection — namely, tools and methods of research, such as the questionnaire, schedule, interview guide, case study, participant observations and content analysis. It also requires analytical tools such as statistical tests and methods. Finally, a philosophy, a theory, and an epistemology, explicitly or implicitly, also guides all research.

Though there have been disagreements on what could be the most relevant and useful technique of data collection, the more important contentions in social sciences have been of theoretical and philosophical nature. What constitutes social reality and how could it be studied are not just questions of technology of data collection. These questions are primarily philosophical. Perhaps the most problematic of these philosophical categories in social sciences has been that of positivism.

Positivism advocates "scientism" or "the unity of science", implying that the method of science is universal. According to positivists, if we need to study human society scientifically, we ought to be using the same method as used by physical sciences. The subject matter of science is to study reality, which by definition, is objective and external. Empiricism, which postulates that the foundation of science was observation of phenomenon which can be positively experienced through the senses and verified, is an extension of positivism. And finally positivism advocates value neutrality, a disinterested engagement with the search for truth.

It is on the basis of this self-image of technical soundness and relative disinterestedness in the immediate questions of power and politics that the practitioners of science acquire a certain degree of authority in society. Arguing "for science and against scientism", Immanuel Wallerstein in another essay, questions such an authority given to the scientist. Scientists are not above society. They are also living human beings and are subject to various pressures like everyone else. While science is important, mystification of science can be a problem.

Making a similar argument, Rajni Kothari too argues for a critical attitude towards science. "The scientific estate has become a privileged sector closely associated with the State and the international order, gradually reducing the openness and critical role of science. The defence of the "scientific temper" has become a way of steamrolling other forms of knowledge and introspection as a result of which ‘scientific method’ has become a shield for authoritarian tendencies…’

Positivism has also been criticised on many other grounds. It treats the "reality" as having an independent existence and assigns no place to human intentions and meanings. Those who advocate the hermeneutical perspective as an alternative to positivism argue that there was nothing called reality independent of the manner in which human beings understood it. "Reality was a meaningful social construction" and thus, they advocated, there could be several interpretations of the same a reality. They also emphasised on the need to look at things in relation to cultures and the importance of understanding human languages.

The Marxist epistemology criticised both positivists as also the hermeneutical tradition. The reality, according to them, was constituted dialectically and was full of contradictions and conflicts. The contradictions were the potential source of social change. Arguing against the dispassionate science of the positivists and the cultural relativism of the hermeneutical tradition, they advocate the need to understand the existing contradictions. The practitioners of social sciences could intervene by identifying these contradictions, sharpening them and accelerating the process of social change leading to human emancipation from exploitation and alienation.

More recently, the post-modernists and post-structuralists have come up with fresh critiques of all scientific enterprises including those of the Marxists. They reject all meta-narratives and the universal theoretical claims. Similarly, the feminists too find all the social science knowledge as being "male-centric". The so-called "value-neutral" science ignored questions of gender and reinforced the patriarchal structures of authority, they have argued.

Apart from these contentions on the nature of social scientific knowledge, there have also been disagreements of techniques of data collections. One of the most frequent questions of dispute, particularly in the disciplines such as sociology, political science and anthropology, has been that of qualitative versus quantitative method of data collection. How far social phenomena could be understood through use of statistical techniques? And how far we needed to use the method of ethnography and story telling to deal with the social reality.

In an interesting article, Joseph Gusfield further comments on these ironies and agonies of social sciences. The problems of social sciences were largely due to the nature of social reality and the nature of the enterprise called social science. He argues that social sciences needed to be recognised as an artform because they were in the business of manufacturing meanings. For example, they could change the terms of popular discourses on subjects of wider interests by undertaking empirical researches on such questions.

Through historical comparisons between European experience and our presentday context, Satish Saberwal offers an interesting discussion on the subject of "the perception and construction of reality". In another paper, T.K. Oommen looks at the changing modes of conceptualising the world. The conceptions of the social reality change not only because of the different theoretical and philosophical paradigms but also with the process of political and economic transformations in the world. The two obvious example of such a process could be the emergence of as global world order after World War II and the consequent conceptualisation of the world into the three words. Similarly, the end of cold war and ensuing process of globalisation is once again altering the manner in which we understand the world around us.

India has one of the most vibrant social science community in the world. There have been several debates and initiatives in Indian social sciences which have come to be regarded as original contributions to social sciences all over the world. However, compared to the overall size of Indian social science, there have been very few writings on social science research methods. This book is indeed an important contribution in this area. Students and teachers of social sciences, particularly at the post-graduate level, will find the book immensely useful.



Khalsa Raj from the beginning
Review by Gobind Thukral

The Khalsa over 300 years edited by J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga. Tulika, New Delhi. Pages 227. Rs 200.

FROM the 15th century onwards Punjab has been a witness to major social, religious and political movements. What impact these had on the lives of the common people? What are the historical roots of the rise and spread of Sikhism? How it grew from a simple religious reform movement to a political-military power and captured the state and established Khalsa raj? How it changed the tapestry of the Punjabi nation? What kind of relations the Sikh Gurus had with the rulers, the Mughals and others, over the period? What are the changes during the past 500 years in the social, religious and political life of the people? How different political forces operated in areas from Delhi to Kabul and what impact these had on the Indian nation? How simple-minded peasants and artisans became instruments of major political upheavals?

And, a host of other questions fascinate the mind. We need to shed myths, remove the cover of blind faith in order to correctly understand and appreciate history. And if the right kind of answers are offered by scholars, they help us understand the past and develop a sense of history which we lack so much.

This timely book has been sponsored by the Indian History Congress and the Anandpur Sahib Foundation. It analyses the history and ideology of the Khalsa over the past 300 years. It is set in the context of the general history of India. The essays selected with care cover major phases of Sikh history broadly conceived by famous historian Sita Ram Kohli. The editors, Professors J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga, are eminent historians and have impeccable credentials.

Sikhism is indeed a universal religion and it is an important part of Indian religious and social ethos. The political, social and cultural history of the Sikhs right from the times of Guru Nanak Dev to the birth of the Khalsa has enriched the composite history of the Indian nation. Therefore a deeper understanding of the evolution of Sikhism and the various phases through which it has passed will help in understanding the overall history of the region and the country.

This collection of 27 articles has appeared in the proceedings of the Indian History Congress since its foundation in 1935 and cover a wide range. These essays show that some scholars had developed a keen sense of history and their incisive mind has probed the deep recesses of the past. They have painstakingly collected material from all sources and tried their best to separate the grain from the chaff.

There was plenty of material — religious books, the Guru Granth Sahib, Sakhis, vars of Bhai Gurdas, travelogues, accounts of court historians, autobiographical accounts and much more. But the most difficult task was to clinically examine facts that had got mixed up with myths. We have Giani Gian Singh who toured extensively and collected voluminous material, both from books and traditions and published several volumes so the future generations can understand the past.

Then Karam Singh added a wealth of details. He had the requisite critical mind. In the mid-19th century J.D. Cunnigham got so interested as a British civil servant that he did deep research and published a scholarly work, "History of the Sikhs". It throws ample light on Anglo-Sikh relations and the social life of that period.

Scholars like Sita Ram Kohli, Hari Ram Gupta, Rattan Singh Bhangu, Muzaffar Alam, J.S. Grewal, Indu Banga and others have indeed made valuable contributions to our understanding of history.

These essays touch upon many aspects and any keen student can fruitfully go into the details. Events and personalities come alive. For example, why was Banda Bahadur so successful during his eight years of military campaign between 1708-15 and how was he captured? Which class or caste sided with him and why? Was there a peasant revolution in the making which annoyed big zamindars and traders and they opposed him tooth and nail? What was the composition of the Sikh Panth at that time?

We are told that the hill chiefs who had been a source of trouble to Guru Gobind Singh were his allies. What conflict the Khatris had with the Sikhs and why again did the relation of Guru Gobind Singh with the Mughals change after he moved out of Anandpur and why was he accompanying Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah during his campaign in Agra, Rajputana and Deccan?

Sita Ram Kohli’s lists the main phases of early Sikh history from the time of Guru Nanak to the annexation of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom by the British in 1849. This he read out in the 1938 session of the History Congress. Kohli characterises these phases as theocracy — up to the death of Banda Bahadur in 1716 — theocratic feudalism up to 1765 — feudal chiefships up to 1799 — and monarchy up to the annexation. Later historians made some changes in this demarcation.

Next, Ganda Singh, the eminent researcher, deals with major sources of Sikh history. It is a very comprehensive listing, but can never be complete. Persian accounts occupy a prominent place. Grewal writes about the ideas of early Sikh history. What we could learn from the vars of Bhai Gurdas who was witness to the peaceful reign of Akbar. This phase, from Guru Nanak to Guru Hargobind, was marked by crisis and transition. Bhai Gurdas was related to Guru Amar Das and is regarded as St Paul of Sikhs. This is an important source to understand Punjab’s cultural, social and political history.The next chapter on Guru Gobind Singh and his immediate successor to lead the armed struggle, Banda Bahadur, details the relationship from a broader prospective.

Add to this Muzaffar Alam’s well-researched account of Sikh uprising under Banda Bahadur. There is a very brief analysis by Gurtej Singh of the rise of Sikh power as Rattan Singh Bhangu saw it. Then Kohli depicts the determination, strategy, tactics, institutions and the morale of the Khalsa in their critical conflict with Ahmed Shah Abdali.

Another eminent historian Hari Ram Gupta describes how the Khalsa struck coins at Lahore and how that city was captured and how different misl sardars captured different territories. The papers by Indu Banga relate to Khalsa Raj under Ranjit Singh. She examines how principalities were formed and a ruler emerged. The unification and civil and military organisation and how Punjabi identity took shape are also discussed. Her third article deals with the jagirdari system. The next three chapters deal with British themes.

G. Khurana discusses the contribution of Cunningham who presented a great study of the Sikhs.

There are four papers dealing with the social life during colonial rule. Three other papers deal with gurdwara reform. There are papers on vernacular press and the Akali movement, demand for Punjabi Suba. All these papers cover a large canvas, but could never be the last word on the subject. During the past 500 years Sikhism has passed through several stages and shall be passing through many more providing much food for thought for those who wish to understand Punjab and the Sikh faith.



Kargil — a postscript
Review by N.K. Pant

Kargil: The Tables Turned Edited by Major General Ashok Krishna and PR Chari. Manohar Publishers & Distributers, New Delhi. Pages 341. Rs 700.

PAKISTAN'S military treachery on the Kargil heights in the summer of 1999 will for ever be etched on the Indian historical mosaic. Authentic details of this shocking betrayal will continue to be unearthed by researchers as the protective paint of official secrecy peters off in the years to come. The latest book by Major-Gen Ashok Krishna (retd) and well known defence analyst and a former bureaucrat PR Chari makes an earnest attempt in this respect. The editors have done a brilliant job by delving deep into historical, political, diplomatic and military aspects of Pakistan’s inimical behavioral chemistry towards India since its very inception in 1947. The book is certainly different from several other accounts churned out in quick succession immediately after the Pakistani army was forced to beat a retreat in later half of July, 1999.

In his introductory remarks, Chari calls the Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan unique in terms of prevailing theology that democracies, having nuclear weapons do not fight each other. There were miscalculations by Islamabad who did not foresee the course of events like use of air power by India and disapproval of the USA would enter into its calculus of covert operations. Pakistan’s aim in view of the failing militancy in the valley was "to permit an interventionary force to deliver the final coup de grace" with a view to internationalising the Kashmir dispute to its advantage.

India definitely failed to discover and frustrate the intrusion. Had the area been regularly patrolled on the ground and from the air, these could not have remained undetected. Besides, it was a failure of intelligence. That the enemy’s overthrow was ultimately achieved by the heroism of young officers and jawans, more than 500 of whom laid down their lives for the motherland, is unique in the annals of military history.

D. Suba Chandran in his analysis clears the mist that Pakistan army functioned independently and kept Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif uninformed about the infiltration into Kargil. The return of normalcy to J&K, declining international concern regarding Kashmir issue, and changed strategic scenario in South Asia, in which India was hesitant to respond strongly, provided alibis to Pakistan to go ahead with its Kargil misadventure.

Major-Gen Ashok Krishna discusses threadbare military dimensions of the Kargil conflict which he terms as "limited war". It is a continuation of an unresolved problem between the two neighbours who have been fighting against each other in J&K since 1947. According to him, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had once articulated dependence of Pakistan’s national survival in keeping India on the defensive and destabilising it. Islamabad’s political aim to capture maximum territory in Kashmir with the ultimate objective of merging the state into Pakistan corroborates this view.

The genesis of the Kargil war lies in Pakistan’s repeated failures to annex J&K. This time Pakistan thought that by choking the road to Leh, gaining territory and freezing the situation it would erode the concept of the LoC and the Shimla Agreement. The intrusion plan was the brainchild of Pakistan army chief General Pervez Musharraf and his deputy Lt Gen Mohammed Aziz. They obtained an "in principle" concurrence from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Later, the taped telephonic conversations between the two had substantiated these conjectures. In this massive aggressive gambit, Pakistan used a total of 13 battalions, including the commando elements. They were supported by 15 artillery units, two engineer and a signal battalions.

Indian army deployed 16 to 17 battalions in "Operation Vijay" launched to evict the intruders. Its priority for the capture of objectives was first the Dras sector followed by the Mushkoh valley, Batalik sector and last the Kaksar area. The book provides hair raising account of fierce battles for the capture of Tololing, Tiger Hill, Point 4875, Kaksar and Batalik besides operations in Chorbat La and Turtok where rare valour was displayed by Indian soldiers.

The IAF’s offensive code named "Operation Safed Sagar", launched to assist the army in pushing back the intruders has been adequately covered in the book. The Air Force flew 550 missions and provided the ground troops with tremendous psychological advantage. Even the Indian Navy mobilised its combat ships in the Arabian Sea to impose a naval blockade of Pakistan’s coastline in the event of a war.

The writer also touches upon the lessons learnt, precepts and perspectives for future guidance. The Kargil war proved that New Delhi’s corridors of power had valued budgets more than territorial integrity and the precious lives of its soldiers. Politicians and bureaucrats hesitate to take timely decisions depriving the soldier from availability of essential combat gear in the field. General Krishna suggests a proactive approach and underlines the need for maintaining a balanced force level commensurate with the anticipated threat. He is all for the nuclear deterrent and links it with the morale of the soldier who "must have the confidence that his country possesses retaliatory capability".

Arpit Rajain’s exposition of India’s political and diplomatic responses to the Kargil crisis is apt. At the political level, senior leaders kept their cool and public pronouncements were generally measured. The Indian diplomatic approach was calibrated and the world was informed that there was an LoC and that Pakistan had breached it. Diplomacy certainly supplemented the gains made on the ground.

The role played by the USA in deescalating the Kargil crisis has also been elucidated by D Suba Chandran who opines the USA acted as a facilitator and not a mediator. Had it not been for tough talking on part of the USA, Pakistan would not have withdrawn its troops by the first week of July itself. The possibility of a full-scale war between the two nuclear powers induced Washington to pressurise to avert further escalation.

The book also analyses China’s Kargil policy since 5000 square kilomteres of J&K territory is under Chinese occupation. Earlier, India had justified the Pokhran II tests by espousing the "China threat" theory. It appears that various nuances of China’s own external and internal security considerations shaped its favourable response to the Kargil situation.

Similarly, the subsequent dissertation by Mallika Joseph gives full marks to Indian diplomacy in bringing a commendatory change in G-8’s position in acknowledging Pakistan’s undeniable role in violating the LoC by armed infiltration.

In the concluding chapter P R Chari touches upon the uncertain future of Indo-Pak relations. He advocates resumption of dialogue with Pakistan on all outstanding issues, adherence to Simla Agreement and turning the LoC as an international border. He raises a pertinent question: how should the international community deal with the phenomenon of aberrant states like Pakistan which are not bound by norms of accepted international behaviour but have come into possession of nuclear weapons? In the final analysis, Kargil indeed was a major defining moment in the in tortuous history of Indo-Pak relations.

The book clears to a great extent, certain ambiguities about the undeclared war on the high mountains of Kargil and puts the course of events in the proper perspective. Minor aberrations like avoidable repetitions and varying writing styles are overshadowed by rich contents. It is a sheer coincidence that this lucidly informative work has been published on the eve of the second commemoration of the Kargil war and hence happens to be well timed. A must for armed forces’ personnel, diplomats and students of defence and international studies.