The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 8, 2001

Reviving Indian identity
Review by Akshaya Kumar

Disown Tibet, befriend China
Review by Parshotam Mehra

Kabir Vani in all its variations
Review by Nirbhai Singh

Ambedkar was no British toady
Review by D.R. Chaudhry

The mystery of the Mahatma
Review by Jai Narain Sharma




Reviving Indian identity
Review by Akshaya Kumar

India and Europe: Selected Essays of Nirmal Verma edited
by Alok Bhalla. IIAS, Shimla, Pages 175. Rs 300.

REDISCOVERING the lost cultural self is an enterprise that only cultivated minds can venture to undertake; in the hands of the naive nativists, this project may well slip into a regressive and uncritical recovery of the canonical past. While native writers skirt around the reality of colonial encounter in their attempt to map India as an insulated spiritual space, the Indian English writers are too modern-minded to look beyond the existential and the expedient. As a result of this cultural divide, what one usually comes across is a picture of two distinct and mutually exclusive Indians, one traditional and other modern, one spiritual and other existential, one rural and other urban.

Nirmal Verma is an exceptional Hindi writer whose fictional works, both novels and short stories, do not easily fit into the stereotypes normally associated with Hindi fiction. There is no sentimentalisation of rural poverty, nor is there any invocation of India as a pure and pristine cultural space. He is remarkably enough an "internationalist" Hindi writer who brings forth hard-core, first hand down to earth existential experiences of a native in the alien ambiance of the western world. This is unprecedented in Hindi literature for usually the experiential limits of a Hindi writer hardly cross the geographical limits of the Indo-Gangetic cow belt. But despite his crossing the national frontiers, Verma as a creative writer fails to raise his fiction to a level of discourse of cultural encounter, commonly described as East-West encounter. His protagonists suffer more from existential anomie than from cultural estrangement.

In his prose works, however, one comes across a very different Nirmal Verma, a thoroughly transformed being, one who is no longer satisfied with exploring life from within the immediate realm of the historical experience alone. There is a deep desire, almost a pilgrim’s passion, to know and appreciate India as a distinct civilisational entity afresh in terms of its spiritual and sacred past. After his foreign stint, he returns as a "native stranger" to his homeland. He becomes aware of his strangeness only when back home he is targeted by critics and friends as a vilayati, as one who has no intimate relationship with his own culture. It is through his essays that Nirmal Verma reflects on the possible processes of recovery of the lost self. From an avid explorer of the existence, he turns into a passionate pilgrim of culture.

In the title essay of the anthology under review, Nirmal Verma endeavours to explicate upon the "self-referential" nature of Indian culture. Whereas Europe always sought an "an inalienable external entity"("the other") to define itself, India did not require any external "other" to confirm its uniqueness. This is not to say that the Hindu "self" was not alert to reform from within. The debate of traditional Hindu pundits with Buddhist scholars, with reformers of 19th century Indian renaissance, and also with dalit ideologies are some of the instance when Hinduism did encourage dialogue from within itself. Hinduism did not require an absolute other, but Europe always needed "the other" in its "unassailable otherness" for such a dialogue. Hindus never engaged in serious debate with either Islam or Christianity as they were outside its "self-reference".

Having asserted the self-referential character of Indian culture, Verma goes on to explain the continuity of this "self" in terms its constant evolution over the centuries. European Indologists while glorifying Indian past, castigated its present. To Marx, India represented a moribund culture of outlived feudalism; Hegel too visualised India as an abstract dream image. Verma holds Indian self to be a product of sanatan dharma, perennial order which does not bury the past as deadwood.

Indian self, Verma concedes, received a serious setback during colonialism as many Indians began to believe in the European project of progress. Europe as "the other" was difficult to cope up as its promise of enlightened rationalism and material advancement attracted and repelled Indians as one and the same time. India fantasised Europe as much as Europe had fantasised India of the yore. Even thinkers like Vivekananda described Indian self as "a puny little wretched thing, shivering in the darkness, not the awakened atman of the Gita, but the ‘maggot’ rotting in the putrid flesh of tradition". Clearly Europe was not just "the other" as it sought to invade the inner recesses of our self.

It was Gandhi who could harness the outer confrontation between India and Europe to a mode of self-questioning. "Gandhi, without being an apologist of European culture, could see its strength from within the Hindu tradition, just as without ceasing to be Hindu, he could be a critic of the orthodox apologists of Hinduism," observes Nirmal Verma. Self-understanding becomes a project of understanding the self as much as the other without losing touch with one’s own mythopoetic cultural background. One need not be secular in the empirical sense of the term to understand oneself.

In rest of the essays, Nirmal Verma suggests various possible strategies to reclaim the lost self. One way to recover culture or what Verma terms as atma bodh, it to write in one’s own language. Language, he holds, "is the most hopeful guarantee against forgetting". It is the "home of one’s being". Swaraj in ideas is closely linked with "the freedom to think and conceptualise in our own languages". Knowledge of Sanskrit, he believes, is a prerequisite in our any attempt towards the understanding of unique Indian civilisation. Translations do not serve any meaningful purpose; rather at time they cause confusion and misunderstanding. The translation of secular as dharmanirpeksha has little relevance, as dharma in India is inextricably woven with the entire fabric of life, embracing both its secular and non-secular spheres.

A sustained critical engagement with our mummified tradition is another strategy of constant cultural nourishment. If India can be traced back to the written epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, it is also located in the unwritten epic of its ever-evolving civilisation. The Kumbh at Prayag is Verma’s metaphor of India’s "moving, unwritten epic threading through poverty and pride, jubilations and tribulations in a single cycle, etching and erasing man’s destiny in the sand". Simple revivalism without critical self-reflexivity is as much unwarranted as an outright rejection of the traditions of past.

Verma argues that poet-sages like Kabir, Tulsi, Jaishankar Prasad and Nirala are the products of a tradition that provided its poets an open space for critical cleansing of whatever stale and moribund had barged into it.

Self-forgetting or atma vismriti is unpardonable. One tangible and direct way to retrieve the lost self is to recognise the importance of rites and rituals which every society performs to keep its identity intact and secure. Myths are signals in the dark subliminal traces of our shared and collective past that help us communicate with our fellow beings. Social realism is "far too constricted a device to encompass within its imagination the drama of continual transactions that have been going on between man and his non-human jeev lok".

Self-indulgence is a deterrent in one’s efforts to know one’s innate self. A withdrawal from one’s narrow and isolated self is foremost to our having any meaningful and constructive interaction with the impersonal past. Verma underscores the necessity of undertaking a journey "from the depleted reality of the world where man is alone in his own isolation to a world swarming with hearts, gods and stars". A meaningful creative venture is one which transforms "the poetic symbols in a secular world" to "a kingdom of living spirits whom one can visit as a pilgrim in the same way as one goes to holy places where the gods once resided".

Literature as repository of racial memory has the power to restore to us our lost human-hood. It is the ultimate home of the exiled human self — a self beleaguered by temporal history and existence. It is through its epics that a culture articulates and reinforces the life rhythms specific to its milieu. In the Indian context, Nirmal Verma opines, the religious cannot be separated from the literary. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are both religious and secular texts — texts different from other sacred texts like the Koran and The Old Testament. Literature with its relationship with the worldly as well "the unseen" can liberate us from the mundane obligations of history and quotidian exigencies of life.

A modern Indian writer should not confine himself to surface movements of history because, beneath them, there is always "a still centre" or what Verma also terms as "a basic non-historical quintessence" of our culture that holds together the temporal with the timeless, the transient with the eternal. Historical settings of experience may have undergone changes, but in terms of its core content, it has "changed very little from the times of Valmiki and Vyas to that of a modern writer like Premchand".

Verma criticises the middle-class "West-oriented" progressive Indian writers for their being unaware of the cultural specificity of Indian poverty. In their writings, Verma says, "poverty could do no more than generate pity in them which was only the obverse side of their revolutionary romanticism". However Premchand was an exception. He, like Gandhi, was always suspicious of wealth, and therefore his attitude towards poverty "was altogether free from all such sentimental responses as pity, hatred or postures of revolutionary protest". Premchand’s short story "Kafan" (The Shroud) is hailed by Verma as the first modern story of Hindi that marks "the birth of pure, individual consciousness unshackled by any kind of social bondage".

The anthology does contain some essays on the aesthetics of short story and Indian novel, but it is the essays on culture, nation and identity that lend a distinct edge to Verma’s contribution to culture criticism in India. While it is alright to underline so insistently the spiritual foregrounding of India as a nation, a diachronic or historical analysis of the making of India as a modern nation-state should not have been underplayed. The unity of India can be attributed as much to the abstract notion of nation found in Vedic texts, as to the collective past which its diverse people have shared over the last many centuries. Also, the writer is too benign towards Hindus absolving them altogether of communal consciousness.

Verma as a culture critic gravitates towards the marga tradition of Indian thought. This is a natural fallout of excessive dalliance with the mere existential order. If in his novels and short stories Verma is obsessed with the themes of loneliness, angst and vacuity in human life, in his essays he emerges almost a fierce, if not rabid, advocate of India’s scared past. One excess is followed by another. Indian reality needs to be located somewhere between the sublime and the subliminal, the spiritual and the quotidian, the mythical and the historical. One the whole, the book deserves to be read by all those who seek another thoughtful perspective on the cultural dynamics of India as a nation.



Disown Tibet, befriend China
Review by Parshotam Mehra

India’s China Perspective
by Subramaniam Swamy, Konark Publishers, New Delhi.
Pages 197. Rs 350.

IN any meaningful assessment of India’s foreign policy, relations with our huge, populous and powerful neighbour, China, loom large. And portentously. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is an important Asian power, which soon bids fair to emerge on the world stage as a major player. More, China’s fast growing economic clout is sure to gain further strength from an impending entry, hopefully by the end of the year, into the World Trade Organisation. In sum, apart from the fact that our relations with China as a neighbour are important in their own right, they are increasingly relevant in the larger ties with an emerging great power. It should follow that a study of India’s China perspective has both topical values as well as long range interest.

The author’s primary objective is to help build "a national consensus" on India’s "complex of interests" vis-a-vis China. To start with "catching up" with it and a national commitment to growth at about 10 per cent (we managed a little over 5 per cent over the past year). Both goals, the study delcares, are "feasible and attainable". The choice before New Delhi, as the author sees it, is between a "compact" with China or, the "growing prospect" to contain it. Should it work out, the compact would have far-reaching implications, including an impact on "nearly 75 per cent" of the world’s commercial sea traffic-through a "joint supervision" of the Malacca Straits. Though by no means easy to effect, the compact would not be "impossible" to attain. What it demands is an "astuteness of leadership" to understand and accommodate the Chinese perspectives while at the same time taking care not to alarm the world’s sold super power, the USA.

Once however India emerges as a global power — a status nobody can either deny or yet confer — and is able to "harmonise" its interests with China, the future holds unlimited prospects. The prescription on the home front though is truly daunting: "political unity, economic growth, social choesion, credible military capability and shrewd diplomacy". On the "harmonisation" front, oddly enough, Tibet has to play the "determining role".

And here, the author argues, New Delhi can err in two opposite directions. Wilt under Chinese pressure, make Tibetans unwelcome and even force them to leave. Or, in "misguided megalomania", support Tibet’s freedom. Both options are not in India’s interest. What our security demands is moderate, normal — "but not intimate" — Sino-Pakistan relations for which India has to offer, "as a trade-off", a transparent commitment" to respect China’s interest in Tibet. The commitment has value for China’s strategic calculations, especially in the context of its "growing vulnerability" to Islamic fundamentalism in Xinjiang.

While holding out the prospect of spelling out in a subsequent volume the warp and woof of the compact with China, the author has enumerated the various phases through which Sino-Indian relations have passed. Of friendship, 1950-55; boundary dispute and tension, 1959-61; border war and abnormal relations, 1962-76; slow normalisation, 1977-85; impasse broken and initiatives taken to improve relations, 1988-98. And sharp deterioration, May, 1998, to the present.

While summarily dismissing the first five phases spanning almost half a century — 1950-95 — in about three pages of the text, the study dilates a little on the present sharp deterioration and holds the incumbent BJP-led government squarely responsible for it.

All through, it would appear, New Delhi has been in grievous default: in describing the suppression of the 1959 revolt as violation of Tibetan autonomy; granting political asylum to the Dalai Lama; and, above all, creating a "Lhasa-type" town in Dharamsala with a "Tibet Exile Government" in place. As if that were not bad enough, Beijing’s sensibilities have been seriously hurt, most of all by New Delhi’s "guarded but vocal concern" about Tibetan independence.

Nehru’s "greatest folly" in his 17-year tenure as Prime Minister was to misperceive that Beijing would not respond to his "forward policy" in NEFA and Ladakh. More, "swayed perhaps" by India’s "military victory" in Goa (December, 1961) and NATO’s "non response" to it, Nehru began talking about use of force to clear Indian territory. For while the "incendiary" for the 1962 conflict was Indian "ambivalence" on Tibet and "seemingly tacit support" to the rebels, the "trigger" was the Sino-Soviet dispute of the 1950s.

The study waxes eloquent on the age-old interactions and cultural borrowings between two "giant ancient civilisations" that oddly enough came to blows in the 20th century! Here one of the major "disturbing factors" has been the status of Tibet and "our perception" of it. Bad as it is, worse still is the continued presence of the Dalai Lama on Indian soil, which serves as "a festering reminder" that all is not well between India and China. Again, the problem here could only be sorted out "if’ Tibet’s status "as a province" of China is "genuinely" accepted by India. This would signal China settling the border on India’s terms, "but not before."

The worst damage, it should be obvious, has been done by New Delhi’s unstated and unarticulated" approaches and Nehru’s "unforgivable" contradictions between public posture and private persuasion which passed off as Indian policy. The Prime Minister may have been shattered by the 1962 conflict but he has "not yet been held accountable" for the blunder that cost the nation"enormously".

As of date, the only "satisfactory resolution" of the Dalai Lama question — and relations between India and China "cannot properly be called normal" unless he is out of the way — is for New Delhi consistently to search for opportunities to ensure "his safe return and survival" in Tibet. And for comfort, the Beijing review has said that this "was possible."

A few brief comments may not be out of place. The author’s less than temperate comments on Prime Minister Nehru’s "greatest folly" and "unforgivable" contradictions need to be assessed against the background of events and forces he had to contend with. No one was a greater advocate of peace and harmony with China, of envisioning a relationship that would be the harbinger of a new Asian order. It is on record that Nehru bent over backwards to respond to and respect Chinese sensibilities against the better judgement of his senior advisors. Nehru’s biographer S. Gopal has pinpointed how the Prime Minister neglected to sort out the problem of the border and the maps in the negotiations leading to the 1954 agreement largely to appease China. That he made mistakes — and who does not? — may be accepted but not a word has escaped the author’s sustained diatribe to say that he was betrayed, that the Chinese backtracked and had their own domestic as well as international compulsions to do him down.

The book’s obsession with Tibet bedevilling relations between the two neighbours appears to be overblown. Here too New Delhi may have made errors of judgement but nobody has seriously suggested that it had anything to do, directly or otherwise, with the March, 1959, rebellion in Lhasa. Or manoeuvring the flight of the Dalai Lama. Only two years earlier Nehru had , at Zhou Enlai’s behest, prevailed upon a very reluctant Dalai Lama to return home from a protracted visit to India when he was strongly persuaded to the contrary. From all accounts, the rebellion was a spontaneous outburst. With extraneous factors and forces, including the much-maligned CIA, having only a peripheral, if marginal, role in precipitating events. The author talks of New Delhi lending its covert, if not overt, support to the cause of Tibet’s "independence". The harsh truth is that even the Dalai Lama — and most of the Tibetan diaspora barring a lunatic fringe here or there — have sought not independence but a measure of autonomy within the larger whole of Chinese polity. Interestingly, the author talks interminably of Tibet being "a province" of China (to "soften" the Chinese?) in the face of the official Beijing line of Tibet being an "autonomous region", TAR. Strangely while the book is so critical of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, there is not a word to protest or a tear to shed over the virtual disappearance of its "autonomy" to which Beijing had pledged its solemn commitment in its 1951 compact with the "local government " of Tibet.

A weighty point which the book completely misses is Beijing’s reaction or response to the "compact" it so fervidly advocates. There are two to tango, a point Roderick Mac Farquhar, a well-known authority on China, with characteristic British penchant for understatement makes in a brief perceptive foreword. For China truly to acknowledge "equivalence and mutual dependence" with India, he underlines, will require "a considerable change in the mindset" of its leaders. As of date, Beijing accepts only the USA as of equal status and is forging an entente with the Russians to build up a bargaining position. Clearly, India does not figure in its calculations. Or, does it?

A few pointers in this direction need scrutiny. On more than one occasion in the past few years, the Russians under President Yeltsin, and now President Putin have both directly and indirectly suggested a Russia-China-India combine to stand up to US hegemony and make the latter see reason. Beijing, it would appear, has been less than enthusiastic and even studiously cold-shouldered any role for New Delhi in the new group. More, if not overtly hostile, it has played down any support for India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Again, not many weeks ago at the much-hyped public launch of the book under review, the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi, a special invitee, kept his counsel on the India China "compact", confining his remarks to some routine, if innocuous diplomatic niceties.

As New Delhi bundling the incumbent Dalai Lama back and thereby resolving all its problems and irritants with Lhasa, one is reminded that way back in 1910 when the 13th Dalai Lama had sought refuge in India from his Chinese tormentors, the Raj was up against a similar situation. And with Tibet in the throes of a serious revolt it seriously debated shipping its precious cargo across the high seas to the embrace of the motherland. The compulsions then were not exactly political. For whitehall was not a little upset, as was its understudy, the penny-pinching bania government in Calcutta (then British India’s capital that the Dalai Lama cost much too much: a whopping Rs 10,000 a month! happily for the incumbent Dalai Lama, the book has kept off this track acutely conscious no doubt that here it would be ploughing a lonely furrow. Few here would care to buy the argument.

Dr Subramanian Swamy has impressive academic credentials as an economist even though his frequent forays into the political arena have left not a few unimpressed. His loyalties and affiliations have ranged over a wide political spectrum, from end to end; invariably in flux, rarely steady.Which makes one wonder whether his strident advocacy of a compact with China at Tibet’s expense in this slender volume will also not prove to be purely momentary, a passing phase.



Kabir Vani in all its variations
Review by Nirbhai Singh

The Millennium Kabir Vani: A Collection of Pads. Manohar, Delhi:
by Winand M. Callewaert
Pages. ix + 629. Rs 950.

THE book under review is from the pen of a foreign writer and an expert in manuscriptology and medieval devotional literature of Northern India. Professor Winand M. Callewaert is a scholar of Sanskrit at Kuleuven, Belgium. He got his higher education in Hindi, Sanskrit and philosophy from Ranchi, Pune, Banaras and Leuven Universities. He has already made his contributions to researchers in the devotional literature of Dadupanthi "Sarvangi", "Panc-Vani", Ravidas and so on.

The present work is based on the manuscripts available in Devanagri script preserved in the Dadu Mahavidyalaya, Jaipur. The oral tradition in the North reveals that Kabir never wrote a single hymn in his own hand.

Kabir was born in Banaras in 1500 and lived for 80 years. His songs remained in the oral tradition for about two generations. Thus it was natural that variations in regional dialects and folk metres occur due to space and time. Corruption in the oral tradition and scribal interpolations act like accumulation of fog, which creates various recensions in the recorded manuscripts. Scribal errors creep in while transmitting from oral tradition to written manuscripts. These kept us away for a couple of centuries from the original utterances of the holy songs of the 15-17th century literary contributions in the devotional treasure of the songs.

The Tamil siddhas in the 6th century were the first to revive Buddhism through their linguistic revolution of the vernacular Tamil dialect and new life and worldview in which other worldliness was dispensed with. Like the Buddha, the Siddhas made a literary revolution by adopting Tamil dialect as the genre of expression of their lyrical sayings.

This wave of adaptation of regional dialects spread in other parts of southern India. It was carried forth in Maharashtra from the 11th to 13th centuries by the bhaktas of Varkari cult. The most prominent among them are Jnaneshwar, Namadev, Tukaram, et al. This wave cut across boundaries of Maharashtra when Namadev came to the North. It penetrated into UP, Rajasthan and Punjab as well.

It was left to Kabir to critique the Vedic philosophy and fossilised beliefs in the very heartland of the Hindu orthodoxy and make a departure from Sanskrit which was deemed to be a divine language. Kabir preached in the dialect (Khari boli) of the common folks. He and other bhaktas popularised, liberalised and democratised the bhakti cult among the downtrodden. Kabir was one of the trendsetters of the subaltern movement in the North.

In the medieval times it was a tradition among devotees of the saints to memorise holy sayings of their gurus and recite them as they moved from place to place or village to village. Before the 16th century paper had not come into being. It was in the 16th century that the songs of the bhaktas were recorded in the Pandu script and the devotees started recording the hymns. The oral tradition was then converted into written records. It was also not necessary that hymns of one saint be exclusively recorded in one breviary. Instead manuscripts contained hymns of saints of different sects.

It is interesting to note that the creative genius of the itinerant singers and musicians changed and modified the core verses to suit their metrical or musical requirements, or to adapt themselves to the dialectical idioms of the audience. They also adjusted themselves to different folk tunes and the dialects of their respective regions. Such scribal variations are the cause of variant scribal errors and recensions. Perhaps, this is one of the root causes of diversity of the hymns. The Sikh Gurus tried to retrieve the pristine significance of the songs of Kabir and other bhaktas from the hagiographic accounts current in the then oral traditions in different regions and at different times.

In order to highlight variations in the recensions of the hymns the collated versions of the hymns have been given in the book. It would have been better if the collated charts with annotated and variant musical measures, metres, and semantic and phonetic structures could be added as footnotes to help researchers reach the archetypal or original version of the hymns.

It would be pertinent to point out that so far no serious philosophical treatise on Kabir Vani has been produced by any Indian or foreign scholar. Thus the present work will be of immense use for creative research to work out a coherent philosophical worldview of Kabir which can be articulated with the help of modern philosophical and scientific techniques of interpretations.

In the present review my main concern is with Kabir’s hallowed sayings. These were primarily recorded from travelling singers at one or different places and times. The collated versions of the hymns with variant readings are given in the comparative charts. In the strict sense of the term these charts can’t be called critical expositions because there is no analysis of the terms, musical metres, rhyme scheme, etc.

Due to virulent criticism of the Vedic Brahmanism and ritualism Kabir became a charismatic religious personality and was popular among the subaltern masses. His sayings became part and parcel of the collective subaltern psyche. Some of his devotees composed parallel spurious hymns which were often attributed to him. These poetic compositions are called bhanitas. The present anthology will be useful for sorting out spurious and genuine sayings of Kabir. It has been meticulously deciphered from the Devanagri and Gurmukhi scripts and contains three major versions of Kabir Vani in North India.

In the East we have Bijak from Barabanki and Kabir Chaura, Banaras. Besides we have Syam Sunder Das’s "Kabir Granthavali" (1928) which is claimed to be based on the manuscript of "Kabir Vani" from the Nagari Pracharini Sabha, Banaras. From the West we have manuscripts from Rajasthan from Dadu Mahavidyalaya, Jaipur, Sri Kripalu Sharma of the Sanjay Sharma Sangrahalaya, Jaipur, City Palace, Jaipur, Vidya Bhushan Sangraha, Jaipur, and the personal collections of Seva Singh and Professor Bedi Singh. From Punjab the editors have collected materials from Mohan-ji Dian Pothian, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. Since the 16th century Rajasthan had been the nucleus of literary activity. The Dadupanthis prepared the encyclopedic anthologies of Sarvangi and Panc Vani in the last decade of the 16th century.

Guru Nanak was the first Guru who started collecting hymns of other bhaktas and Sufi saints like Farid, Bhikha, Sadna, et al. He might have collected the manuscripts from the religious centres or from the itinerant sadhus and folk musicians during his spiritual travelogues to different parts of India and abroad to Muslim countries. In the Sikh tradition breviary of the holy sayings of the religious dignitaries irrespective of their affiliations were recorded in one manuscript. Preparation of the edited version of the Sikh canon from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh is a landmark in the religious history of India because it was prepared under the personal supervision of the Gurus themselves. In the Sikh tradition breviaries of the holy sayings of the Gurus, bhaktas and Sufi saints were revered. In order to put a permanent check on interpolation on the spurious hymns of the minor poets the thirds Guru Amardas undertook the arduous job of compiling and preparing the authenticated breviaries, called "Mohanji dian Pothian" or "Gobind Walian Pothian". And Guru Gobind Singh apotheosised the Sikh canon as "sabda-guru" at Nanded (Maharashtra).

Details of a number of padas in the, "Kabir Granthavili", Kabir Bijak and the Guru Granth Sahib are given on page 23. On page 24 it has been pointed out that 221 padas available in the Sikh canon only 132 are found in the manuscripts consulted by the editor. When collated with the manuscripts from Rajasthan, it was found that 45 padas out of 132 padas are also available in Rajasthan. It may be pointed out that one pada can be sung in different ragas. I have perused some manuscripts in which some hymns have almost the same similies, epithets, examples, and metaphors.



Ambedkar was no British toady
Review by D.R. Chaudhry

True Gods-False Gods
by H.S. Sarkar. Adhikar, Bhubaneswar. Pages 226. Rs 100.

THE Sangh Parivar — RSS and its numerous affiliates — is trying to establish its ideological hegemony in India by making Hindutava as potent societal force. V.D. Savarkar coined the term Hindutava. Savarkar regards every person a Hindu who treats India as his or her fatherland (pitru bhumi) as well as his or her holy land (punya bhumi). In other words, a Hindu is one for whom India is a land of one’s origin as well as the cradle of one’s faith. The followers of faiths like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism along with followers of numerous sects, dalits and tribals are all Hindus on the ground that the land of their origin is India and their faiths originated therein.

It is conveniently forgotten that the religious systems like Buddhism grew in India as a revolt against Hindu orthodoxy. It is a religion in its own right and has nothing to do with Hinduism. It is a different matter that it could not withstand the onslaught of brahminical orthodoxy in India. It is practised in many countries and has millions of followers.

The forces of Hindutava tried their level best to present Sikhism as an offshoot of Hinduism. It was the sharp reaction of the Sikh clergy and its unequivocal assertion that Sikhism had nothing to do with Hinduism that silenced the Hindu zealots.

Second, Savarkar’s formulation implies that the followers of Islam and Christianity are aliens since their religions originated outside India. It was on this ground that the RSS chief, the late Guru Golewalker asserted that the followers of these faiths were second class citizens. This too is the basis of the call given by the present RSS chief that the adherents of these faiths must Indianise themselves. It is this mindset that resulted in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the consequent horrendous results and the systematic persecution of the Muslim and the Christian minorities by the storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar.

The strategy of virulently attacking the religious minorities is aimed at consolidating the Hindus as a monolith under the all-embracing umbrella of Hindutava. It implies that nothing should be done to alienate any section of the vast Hindu fold. Gandhi was a devout Hindu, though of a secular type. He never wanted any section of the Hindu society to fall apart. It was this spirit that prompted him to undertake a fast unto death on the issue of the separate electorate for the depressed classes (harijans). B.R. Ambedkar was all for a separate electorate to protect the interests of that section of Hindu society which had been treated as subhuman beings for ages. Ambedkar relented on this issue to save the life of the Mahatma, though he had to pay a heavy price for this during the rest of his political life.

Normally, every care is taken by the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar not to offend the sensibility of dalits. Then emerged Arun Shourie, an avowed exponent of the Hindutava forces, who launches a vitriolic attack on Ambedkar. This is inexplicable. This may be characterised as a highly undiplomatic move — a step that will alienate dalits from the Sangh Parivar. However, there is a method behind this madness. More on this later.

Arun Shourie was a well-known journalist known for his crusading zeal in investigative journalism. Being a fire-breathing propagandist of the Sangh Parivar, he has been rewarded with a ministerial berth in the present BJP-led government. In his book "Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar, and the Facts which have been Erased" he made Ambedkar an object of his vitriolic pen. H.S. Sarkar, a distinguished retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service, has offered a spirited defence of Ambedkar in the book under review. As correctly pointed out by N. Ram, another distinguished journalist in his foreword. Ambedkar is not the only object of Shourie’s derision and attack. He has castigated all those who happen to differ with the agenda of the Sangh Parivar — Communists, Muslims, Christians, secular historians and advocates of social justice. He has tagged on them the label of "deceit in public life".

To quote Ram again: "As a champion of the hate ideology of the Hindu communal Right, Shourie has consciously set himself the task of challenging and delivering a knock-out blow to every factor, every socie-political movement, every activity, every personality or leader who is out of sync with the RSS shaped world-view and hate agenda, seen to be strategically vital to the ideological and political success of the Sangh Parivar".

Shourie levels three serious charges against Ambedkar in his book: one, he was inducted into the Viceroy’s Executive Council to wrest dalits away from Hindu society; two, the move was aimed at packing the Executive Council with henchmen and, three, it was an attempt to reward him for his service to the Raj. The base of Shourie’s logical edifice rests on the assumption that Ambedkar lacked patriotic spirit, nay he was a renegade in the struggle for India’s independence. True, Ambedkar was not a soldier in Gandhi’s army. However, how does this make him a traitor? Before him, Jyotibha Phule and Rama Swami Naicker, two fiery crusaders for the right of the depressed classes in India, had serious reservations about the character of the freedom movement led by the Congress. On August 15, 1947, when the country was celebrating independence, Naicker organised a protest demonstration in Madras against it.

Naicker and Phule were convinced that hegemony over the freedom struggle was exercised by the high caste Hindus and a free India under their leadership would only add political persecution to the social and economic disadvantages. Naicker, in the beginning of his political career, was a member of the Congress and it was his understanding gained through political experience that the depressed castes would not gain anything that made him leave the party. The same is true of Sir Chhotu Ram in the pre-partition days of Punjab. He began his political career in the Congress but soon realised that the party in the then Punjab was dominated by the trading community which fleeced the peasantry. It was this that led him to part ways and join the Unionist Party through which he succeeded in helping the debt-ridden peasantry. He is still remembered as a messiah of the peasantry. His appeal transcended the caste and religious divide and all peasants — Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims — were his followers.

Hindu society has never been a homogeneous entity, a monolith, but a highly stratified and fractured social organism, withe the high caste minority at the top of the social pyramid. The oppressed sections had serious misgivings about independence benefitting them if the transfer of power goes to this minority. Leaders like Ambedkar were guided by this spirit and rightly so. To question their patriotic credentials is a travesty of thought, an product of perverse and diabolic imagination.

To characterise a man like Ambedkar as a henchman of the Raj or its beneficiary is to insult human intelligence. As correctly pointed out by Sarkar, dalits did not follow Ambedkar en masse when he renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. It is the senseless attack mounted by the ideologues like Shourie which might eventually alienate them from Hinduism dominated by the Brahmnical ideology.

As pointed out by this reviewer, there is a method behind the madness in Shourie’s attack on Ambedkar. The Sangh Parivar, despite its strenuous efforts, has failed to bring dalits in its fold. They are striving hard and have succeeded to a great extent to establish their own identity through many social and political organisations. They are posing a serious challenge to the hegemony of the upper crust of Hindu society. It has thrown up intellectuals like Kanchan Illiah who have logically argues that dalits are not Hindus and they have their own pantheon of deities, mythology and world-view. This seems to have unnerved the high caste a minority which calls the shots in the Sangh Parivar. This has made a section of it highly bitter and desperate. This finds expression in the vituperative and abusive attack launched against Ambedkar, the tallest of dalits in India. Shourie symbolises this thought.

Unlike Arun Shourie, H.S. Sarkar is not vitriolic, vituperative and abusive in his language while defending Ambedkar. His defence is well argued, balanced and logical. His language is sober, his style restained and his arguments grounded in logic. This book is highly recommended and is immensely useful for those who are keen to understand an important controversy in Indian society and politics.



The mystery of the Mahatma
Review by Jai Narain Sharma

Lawyer to Mahatma:

Life, Work and Transformation of M. K. Gandhi by S. L. Malhotra. Deep & Deep Publications, New Delhi. Pages 413. Rs 800.

OF John Stirling, his friend Thomas Carlyle has written: "It is better to be unknown than misknown." There is no danger of Gandhi becoming unknown. He has provoked as much literature as any man living. He is perhaps the most documented person today as his "Collected Works" cover more than 100 volumes of about 500-600 pages each. His admirers and critics are tirelessly producing a steady stream of literature on him and his philosophy.

One may well wonder what has been left unsaid. Any addition to this literature needs stringent justification and firm delimitation of the problem to be discussed if it is to make a real contribution to Gandhian thought.

Undoubtedly a host of biographies have written on his life both by western and Indian writers researches, political figures, religious leaders and publicists. Sympathetic clergy men discovered in him the characteristics of Christ and so portrayed him as a deeply religious man — a saint, while those who were interested mostly in political and social affairs discerned in him a shrewd strategist and so concentrated on projecting only those aspects of his life and events which had a bearing on social and political spheres.

Several biographers of Gandhi wrote about his life when they needed him most, for lifting them out of the morass of despair and dejection resulting from the treatment meted out to them by the world around them. Some found in Gandhi the answers to several questions that the social, political and economic conditions of India had raised. So they portrayed his life in the background of Indian conditions. Consequently, there are different Gandhis in different biographies depending upon the experiences the writers gained while watching the moves of Gandhi, the sources available to them and most of all their own mental make-up. Thus with every Gandhi biography one can have the feel of life of its author. So in every biography one may find only a part of Gandhi.

To present the life of such a subject is exhilarating yet awesome. The the primary objective is to evoke a picture of a unique individual set in a particular historical context. It is a task similar to that of the artist who paints a portrait rather than evokes a pen portrait but there is a difference, for the biographer deals with the passage of time and processes of change in the subject and his environment. Both the biographer and artist, however, must asses and interpret, and their completed work, however skilled their techniques and however deep their background study, is ultimately their particular and personal response to their subject. As they enter into a relationship with the one they seek to portray, they also relate to those who look at or read their work, and their audience has a right to know why they chose this particular study with what intentions, biases and credentials.

The biographer, says Lord Cecil, "is there to explain rather than to judge" to get a clear view of a man who does not need to be told if actions were good, but how and why he came to do them. Precisely this is what S. L. Malhotra, formerly Professor and Chairman, Department of Gandhian Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, has done in the book under review "Lawyer to Mahatma: Life, Work and Transformation of M. K. Gandhi".

Rabindranath Tagore once told Romain Rolland, the French Nobel Laureate, that Gandhi was a "prodigiously interesting subject for an artist to study, extremely complex, a mixture of grandeur and pettiness, a lofty political personality but too political for his taste and thereby leaving a stain on his moral and religious notions." There were "variations, contradictions and compromises that he accepted" in his public life. Possibly that accounts for the poet’s differences with the Mahatma over several issues during the long period of their contact and friendship. It looks that Tagore and for that matter a number of Gandhi’s friends, admirers and opponents could not fathom deep into the recesses of his mind and therefore, could not understand the motive force behind all his actions and decisions. For, they neither took into account the complexity of his personality resulting from his early experiences, family traditions and the cultural milieu in which he grew up. Nor did they realise the significance of a situation that compelled him to take a particular decision.

Professor Malhotra has taken due care that the image of Gandhi does not become that of a divinity in the Hindu pantheon, but remains that of a man who schooled himself in self-discipline, who made of his life a continual process of growth, who shaped his environment as much as he was shaped by it, and who tenaciously adhered to certain values to which civilised humanity pays lip service while flouting them in practice.

Though the arrangement of this biography is necessarily chronological, he has attempted at appropriate points to analyse Gandhi’s attitude to important issues. The background of Indian nationalism, the Indian political scene when Gandhi returned from South Africa, his religious evolution, the transformation in his mode of life and acquisition of new values, his ethics, economics, and political movements, his attitude to war and untouchability — all these have been treated in separate chapters. This combination of the chronological and the analytical methods has facilitated the discussion in a single volume of Gandhii’s long and many-sided life in some detail, and the correlation of the story of his life with the evolution of his ideas. Gandhi was no theorist; his principles evolved in response to his own needs, and the environment in which he found himself. In fact, it is as difficult to assess the events of his life without understanding the ideas which inspired him, as it is to interpret his ideas on religion, morals, politics, or economics without reference to the context of his own life.

Gandhi was pragmatic enough to understand the need of the hour. But his language did exclude idealism. This was a source of strength to him as well as to his followers since it was essential to generate enthusiasm among them. His training as a lawyer was an asset to him as a political leader. In his addresses to Congress workers and leaders, his appeal was to the head. He was argumentative in his speeches. He spoke as a lawyer giving reasons in defence of his actions and decisions, though that irked his critics and baffled his friends and followers. Even when he was looked upon as a Mahatma, he could carry on dialogues or discussions for the settlement of any dispute like a shrewd lawyer that not only surprised his opponents but even made some of them believe that he was only wearing the mask of a Mahatma. But as a leader of the masses, his appeal was to the hearts of the people. There was an artist in him that found manifestation through some of his programmes. He could create a dramatic situation around any political movements like the mass burning of certificates in South Africa or burning of foreign clothes during the satyagrahas in India. He would select emotive issues such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre while launching any political struggle.

What is offered here is a study and interpretation of a man whose life reflected many lasting human dilemmas, who attempted to resolve them in a particular historical situation but in a way which had considerable significance in his homeland and beyond. It gives greater weight to Gandhi’s Indian years because India was where his work had the deepest and longest impact, and where his ideas fully matured and were most severely tested.

The author sometimes breaks off from a chronological treatment to examine a particular theme or issue in the light of evidence from a considerable span of Gandhi’s life, to give the reader space to consider and get the feel of the man as he would if he could engage him in a conversation about his own life. This is in a sense an introduction to a person as well as an examination of the thought and work of a visionary and a politician. It is an invitation to become familiar with an enigmatic figure, both irritating and attractive; to respond to one whose life was sustained by a religious vision which created in him an abiding sense of hope and promoted him to speak and act on issues which have proved crucial to mankind in our country.

The journey of Mohandas towards Mahatmahood was long arduous and painful. For, while the masses felt spiritual solace simply by looking at him and his friends and colleagues performed great deeds while working with him, he himself lacked self-fulfillment as he kept his ideals too high. However, the Mahatma in him has left for us a set of ideals and rules of conduct in public life which would serve as a lodestar for the generations to come in their search for enduring peace, happiness and human dignity.

This study makes a fresh study of Gandhi as a whole — in totality of his life and traces the development of an ambitious barrister to Mahatma

Prof Malhotra has not written just another biography of Gandhi. Rather he has discovered and assembled with exemplary precision a multitude of facts. A creative as well as meticulous scholar, S.L.Malhotra has outlined in this evidence patterns not previously noticed. A truly outstanding achievement, unlikely to be equalled in the near future.



Reporting from pre-Independence days
Review by Shalini Kalia

Role of Press and Indian Freedom Struggle
by A. S. Iyenger APH Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 338. Rs 995.

T.S.Eliot in his essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", makes a pertinent observation: "…the historical sense", he says, "involves a perception not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it, the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity."

A rather tedious and roundabout way to introduce a book written by a journalist giving a peek into the "green room activities" that took place during the grand enaction of the drama of the freedom struggle.

The author is one of those very few journalists who have had the courage and sense of history to put down their experiences in life and other related reminiscences in writing. Being an editor with the Reuters and the Associated Press (now known as the Press Trust of India) and as Principal Information Officer of the Government of India, the book reaches like a pithy documentary on the role of the press both positive and negative, in India’s struggle for independence as well as the goings-on of that struggle.

The first half of the 20th century was the time when history was being made and the writer seems to be one of those people who not only acutely sensed this fact but also contributed enough for the "midnight children" to look back with a sense of tradition. From the meetings of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League to the whispers in the corridors of the British Empire, Iyenger has captured everything in black and white.

But how should one assess the book? The journalist in you will say that you have no business trespassing; if he wanders into other people’s field he will have to take the consequences, plenty of which Iyenger took in his stride. Because writing memoirs for a journalist is not as simple as that. A journalist, besides being a journalist, is also a man, "fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons" as other men. Where there is hope in the air, he will hear it; where there is agony, he will feel it. He must feel as a man what he reveals as a journalist. It is absurd to tell him that he must only feel strongly about "his beat", as it is to call every poet an escapist. Nor is it right for us to say that the journalist should be concerned with the eternal facts, with summer and winter, with birth and death. These are the peaks, the final limits of his known world, but they are always the background against which are measured the year’s harvest, the rise and fall of the empire and the making and the unmaking of great men.

Today, the foreground is fluid, a confused and contradictory pattern. Standing as a man between two worlds he is a soldier between two fires. On the one hand, the communist tells him that he is no better than a dope-peddler unless he "joins the revolution"because he is not leading men out of the bourgeois world into a proletarian one. On the other hand, he is accused of being a propagandist, asserting an ideology whether revolutionary or reactionary. Iyenger traverses the lengths and breadth of both these view points.

To report honorably and truthfully is his first duty, but why can’t he be didactic? The journalist cannot satirise the present in the uncertain light of future? The journalist is a sensitive instrument, not a leader. His calling is to be honest to facts. As Spender has said, "If the drug-fiend finds his poppy and mendagora in poetry, you must blame his habit, not the poet’’. This is not to absolve a journalist of all incendiary remarks but it is his duty to know and quote what is pertinent and of lasting value.

An example of his forthrightness and an "ear for news" shines through when he quotes an incident in the early part of his career. Madras University, in a severe evaluation of the undergraduate English paper once during the Raj era, "slaughtered" most of the candidates. Trying to convince the professors of those times to bring down the required marks to 30 per cent was a futile exercise. The remarks of Rev Macphail, "You bring jutkawallas and rickshawallas to the examination hall, and when they fail, you complain of enormous slaughter", was what struck Iyenger’s ear and the comment, when reported by the author in the Indian Patriot gave rise to much ado — highlighting the subtle discrimination in the education system of those times and needless to say, causing the consequent stir.

The author manages to document the infinite bickering and repartees that were so characteristic of the Indian political scene then. He also, sometimes exasperatingly, narrates the verbal duels between the members of the Assembly or those belonging to different parties or those between the imperialists and the independence-seekers which, he says, were more of exercises in rhetoric than real politicking.

His tribute to Gandhi is however unmatched by his comments on any other major political figure of that time. "What he wrote was the best in political thought and finest in journalistic writing. No editor could escape being influenced by Gandhi’s writing." He speaks adoringly of Young India started by Gandhi, which sold more than the combined copies of several newspapers in India.

To Motilal Nehru’s Swarajists he refers as a halfway house, "…they were there with Gandhi caps on, with the Gandhian conception of freedom but not with the Gandhian methods."

But his tributes to some of the British politicians of the time constitute good first hand character sketches, such as those of Sir Alexander Muddiman and Sir Malcolm Hailey, whose motto, he says, was only efficiency, "They never allowed themselves to be upset by the turmoil of the freedom struggle."

He sometimes quotes in full speeches of members of the Assembly, which are lessons in eloquence for the student of Indian history.

During his journalistic wanderings which took him to places, he quaintly remarks on some places like Shimla, which he says would be, "An ideal centre for health homes and hospitals."

However it is his language which is so like the ‘rough copy’ of a reporter with varied grammatical errors and colloquialisms that it would make any sub-editor say that the book requires a lot of "subbing" and would have greatly improved in the hands in the good editor.

However, we forgive his "errors in copy" for the sake of the delightful see-saws in personal and political relationship which dot the book.

The book also traces the development of journalism as a profession in India right from the days of the vernacular press, which at one time was the only spokesman for the common man, to the elaborate and integrated network of agencies, both vernacular and English as they exist today.

But what is quintessential in the whole account is the directness of the approach, fidelity to facts and reporting "as it is". Not only that, he gives forth a line of thought for the coming generation of journalists

….since men born to act / are stifled under fact mole deep, / must burrow down, / not swing in sky / eagle to take the sun in the eye…

R. E.Warner (Chorus)



The saga of a "humble servant’s" journey to Rashtrapati Bhavan

Review by Randeep Wadehra

Memoirs of Giani Zail Singh.
Har-Anand, New Delhi. Pages 137. Rs 395.

REARED on cow’s milk – because he lost his mother in his infancy – Zail Singh was the youngest of four siblings from a deeply religious Ramgarhia family of modest circumstance. His father tilled the land. When the young Zail Singh was afflicted with small pox his father sought refuge in prayers. After the child recovered the pious father wanted his son to devote the rest of his life to religion. However a family friend dissuaded him from doing so. Obviously destiny had an entirely different path chalked out for the boy.

As the young Zail used to participate in kirtans, he soon came in contact with an Akali jatha of Faridkot. At about the same time he got an opportunity to speak on Sikh religion in a conference organised by the Arya Samaj. Thus, unwittingly yet inexorably Zail Singh got enmeshed in political activities of the pre-independence India. He had had variegated experience with the passage of time. One such occurrence was when he discovered that he was not face to face with saints but revolutionaries in a house where he had gone to perform kirtan. There he was initiated into the revolutionary movement. Gradually Zail Singh began to lose interest in religious activities.

Soon he was to come into conflict with the unjust regime of the Raja of Faridkot. In his own words, "In 1933, for the first time I was arrested by the British while taking part in a march demanding democratic rights and put in the Lahore Central Jail. That was the time when the Akalis, imbued with national spirit, were fighting the erstwhile rajas and the British Raj, but when an understanding was reached between the Maharaja of Patiala and the Akali leader, Master Tara Singh, the attitude of the Akalis betrayed some change. I, therefore, found the Congress a more stable and steadfast source of strength to continue the struggle."

It was becoming increasingly clear to the young freedom fighter that the raja and other vested interests would not allow him to continue with political activities in the state of Faridkot. But he and his fellow Congressmen carried on regardless. The February, 1938, All India State People’s Conference at Ludhiana came as a shot in the arm. Chaired by Jawaharlal Nehru, the conference did a world of good to the morale of the people living in the princely states of Punjab.

In the chapter on Emergency Zail Singh presents himself in bright colors – sensitive and compassionate towards the Akalis and Jan Sanghis and evenhanded in his dealings with the general populace. He also talks of his differences with Indira Gandhi on matters relating to the river waters dispute, and "alienation" from Sanjay Gandhi over the future of Chandigarh. Standing up to the mother-son duo during the emergency goes against his "humble servant ready to sweep the floor if asked by my rehnumaan image created by his statements to the media. Be that as it may the Giani’s loyalty to the Congress party remained intact until his death. Precisely for this reason he was indicted by the Emergency Excesses Enquiry Committee.

Zail Singh’s differences with Rajiv Gandhi seemingly cropped up in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. He states, "Rajiv Gandhi, as General Secretary of All India Congress Committee, made a statement that the withdrawal of the army would be possible only if the Akalis accepted certain conditions. An impression was intended to be created that he was unhappy at my visit to Amritsar…"

On the conditions after Indira Gandhi’s assassination he had this to say:"I was surprised when a large number of Hindus called me up to express their disapproval of the police inaction, rather their complicity. One Congress leader vehemently told me of the macabre drama deliberately staged to kill members of the Sikh community…Those Hindus and others who were noticed by the police trying to protect the Sikhs, were chided, belaboured and even threatened. Some buckled under, but most of them showed courage and camaraderie for their friends and neighbours…"

In other chapters dealing with his stay in the Rashtrapati Bhavan there are plenty of incidents that showed Zail Singh at odds with Rajiv Gandhi. However no bombshell has been dropped as was speculated in the media before these memoirs were published.

Anyway, after Tehelka those "bombshells" would have been mere damp squibs. The memoirs are readable as they tell us of certain aspects of history as perceived by a veteran freedom fighter who rose from the grassroots to become the nation’s first citizen. One may not agree with all his conclusions yet one cannot be dismissive about them.

* * *

The Pain and Horror of Gujarat Earthquake
by LR Reddy

APH Publishing Corpn., New Delhi. Pages vii+297.
Rs. 500.

Tectonic pllate movements cause earthquakes. Behind this simple statement lies one of the greatest human tragedies. When the ground heaves hearths and homes become rubble. Years of toil that create national assets end up as debris. Worse, precious human lives are lost. The quake that hit Gujarat on January 26 was one of the most ironic tragedies. Just when the nation was all set to rejoice over the fact that it is now a republic of substance, our government’s inefficiency in disaster management was once again brought home with telling effect.

The author points out that every day about 1000 earthquakes of negligible intensities occur in different parts of the world. This means every 87 seconds a minor shock is borne by the earth. Quakes of moderate intensities number about 800 annually. These can cause damage to life and property. Then there are high intensity quakes that can wreak the Gujarat-type havoc. Since most of India lies in the high-intensity quake belt it is imperative that we have a regular disaster management outfit. Unfortunately, the contrary appears to be the truth. In the case of Gujarat the relief work began in right earnest at least 24 hours after the tragedy occurred. The army and the air force units did swing into action earlier – but these organisations were themselves victims of the quake. And, frankly, these are not specialised disaster management agencies despite being treated like one – be it cyclone, floods, earthquakes or law and order problems.

Reddy observes, "The primary responsibility for relief and rehabilitation rests with the state government. But reports suggest that the government machinery was paralysed for over 36 – 48 hours after the quake. The initial relief came through the Army and the Air Force personnel who did not wait for the formal invocation of aid to civil authority…" Dwelling upon the role of NGOs Reddy points out that these outfits do provide services like education, public health, etc. but are not equipped for coping with disasters of this magnitude. He further states, "One measure of the centre’s approach to disaster management comes through the fact that relief is coordinated by the ministry of agriculture based on the belief that drought and flood are the main calamities that the center has to deal with……every executive function of the government is under the stranglehold of a generalist bureaucracy…" But the story of square pegs in round hole is as old as Indian history.

A food for thought here. How come reactions to the Orissa cyclone have been so muted? One hasn’t seen or heard much about what happened to the hapless Oriyas after the killer cyclone. No maudlin appeals for funds in the media, no film stars rallying to rebuild their lives and of course no enduring tomes on their fight against fate. Ditto for the Andhras and other denizens of our coastal areas who face cyclonic fury quite regularly. Perhaps these are not VVIP constituencies? Or has it something to do with party politics? Or, perhaps, because Gujaratis are more affluent and media savvy with NRI connections?

However, this book is more than a litany of plaints against the establishment. It gives detailed analysis of the causes and consequences of earthquakes. It leads one to think about the ways and means of dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster. It talks of geographical analysis and global experiences in this context. Then there is a separate chapter on rebuilding of Gujarat.

All in all a useful tome.

* * *

The Native Culture of India: The Wonder That Was
by Naval Viyogi.

Bluemoon Books, New Delhi. Pages 98. Rs 50.

India is an enigma that defies even the most comprehensive scrutiny. Some say Aryans ‘invaded’ India while others say that India is the original home of the Aryans. A school of thought considers Dravidians as the original inhabitants while others beg to differ. Naval Viyogi contends that Dravidians came from Mesopotamia during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic (Bronze/Stone) Age and founded the Indus Valley Civilization. He quotes Bhandarkar to burnish his thesis. However John Keay refutes the Mesopotamian connection. He avers, "At numerous sites to the west of the Indus in Baluchistan and Afghanistan, as well as in the Indus valley itself, sufficient pre-Harappan and Early Harappan settlements have been found to establish a local progression from hunter-gatherer to urban dweller by way of all the various stages of pastoralism, agricultural settlements…"

Similarly the place of origin of Aryans too is arguably not in India. Says Keay, "Given the vast spread of the Indo-Aryan languages an Aryan homeland was soon being sought somewhere in the Eurasian landmass…"

However, in this slim volume Viyogi has certainly made certain observations that are worth a serious thought. One would like to read about the origin, structure and dynamics of Sanghas, about Naga worship and the Naga race, the Ambastas and Agrasenis. Says Viyogi, "…Nagas used to worship serpent or serpent was totemistic animal of Naga race…some scholars like Fry P. Somerset inform us that originally Alpine race migrated from India to Sumer…Perhaps they were original inhabitants of North West India or Afghanistan which was the largest center of Nagas in India..." Did you know that Nagas lived in Iran too? Read all about it in this interesting book of history.