The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 22, 2001

Master storytellers these
Review by Priyanka Singh

Rise and decline of the Lahore Darbar
Review by Sumail Singh Sidhu

Remembering a forgettable past
Review by Cookie Maini

Sir Chhotu Ram in Urdu
Review by Gobind Thukral

Bihar’s "Big Brother" and the secret of his success
Review by J.S. Yadav

The roots of mosiqui
Review by Shelley Walia

A women’s world created by a woman
Review by Natasha Vashisht

Performance of an Argentinian all-rounder
Review by M. L. Raina




Master storytellers these
Review by Priyanka Singh

Classic short stories
compiled by Anisha Gadekar. madhuban books, New Delhi. Pages 116. Rs 45.

AS a genre, short stories are perhaps the most popular with children and adults alike. This particular collection is part of an educational book series and comprises 12 short stories, most of them written in the early 20th century by raconteurs like Leo Tolstoy, Liam O’Flaherty, G.K. Chesterton and Vicente Blasco Ibanez. Needless to say, all stories are written with a skill that is remarkable and makes any piece of work a classic. They are preceded by a brief introduction of the author.

"A Country Boy Quits School" by Lao Hsiang is an endearing social satire. It is about a poor Chinese family which is forced to send its boy to school following an official proclamation, ignoring which would mean a jail term. How the English illustrations in books and the literal translation lead to much confusion and misunderstandings in his household is at the centre of the story. The boy is finally pulled out of the school.

"The Cop and the Anthem" by O Henry (William Sydney Porter) is a delightful tale of Soapy, a man who tries hard to get himself arrested for ‘’three months of assured board and bed and congenial company’’ is what he desires. Whether he succeeds is the compelling element which makes one wish the story was not short.

"At Sanchidrian" by R.B.Cunninghame Graham is about filial love and duty which drive a son to look for ice, so desperately wished for by his dying father. He spans a large distance on his horse to get ice from the dining car of a train which passes that way. He is able to get a lump of ice and makes back his journey in haste, only to find his father dead. The futility of his efforts is as palpable as is his silent grief.

Leo Tolstoy’s "How Much Land Does a Man Require?" is a rather famous story of a greedy farmer whom the devil tricks into buying more and more land. No matter how much land he owns, he wants more. his greed, however, gets the better of him when he wins a vast piece of land but loses his life in its pursuit.

"Feast of the Dead" by cevdet Kudret depicts the agony of a poor family whose only breadwinner dies. Dependent on others even for meals, the older son is quickly taken ill for want of food. It is heart-wrenching when the younger child whispers what he dare not say aloud. ‘’Mother, will my brother die?’’ he asks, innocently hoping he would ‘’because then food will come from the white house.’’ The pathos is brought out by the utter helplessness and inability of a mother to provide food for her starving children.

G.K. Chesterton’s "The Hammer of God" takes a moralistic tone and is a murder mystery. A Colonel whose ‘’wolfish pursuit of pleasure’’ is unacceptable to his curate brother is found murdered with a hammer. What begins is a series of accusations which leaves the police clueless. Eventually what propels the curate to confess to the murder forms the crux of the story.

"Under the Yoke" is the only story in this collection written by an Indian and understandably so, Vyankatesh madgulkar succeeds in capturing the flavour of rural India. This story is an excerpt from his novel "The village had no Walls". It is a tribute to the spirit of the Indian woman who takes the challenge life throws at her. Unhesitatingly, she puts a yoke across her own shoulder to plough land if it means seeds will be sown in time.

"Serbian Night" by Vicente Blasco Ibanez is a powerful narrative about the horrors of war and the dilemma of a Serb captain who has to kill his own people to save them the torture of being taken by the enemy.

This interesting collection encompasses myriad human values and varied emotions and is especially meant for children and young adults, which is not to say others can’t enjoy it. At the end, there is a section to encourage dialogue and test the comprehension of the reader.



Rise and decline of the Lahore Darbar
Review by Sumail Singh Sidhu

Maharaja Ranjit Singh Commemoration Volume
edited by Prithipal Singh Kapur and Dharam Singh, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala. Pages 226. Rs 250.

THE contemporary scene of scholarship in Punjab is heavily in the commemorative mode. These occasions are meant for self reflection — to understand the contemporary relevance of past events. The volume under review tries to shed light on diverse areas of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s life by selecting the "scholarly writings during the 20th century".

The first part delves on the Maharaja’s legacy in kindling the hopes of a large state as well as establishing subtle diplomatic initiatives, marital alliances being one of the constituents. J.S. Grewal and P.S. Kapur take care of the male and female aspects of this ancestry with Dharam Singh writing about the coronation ceremony as a problematic event in Sikh history vis-a-vis the status of a Sikh ruler, both spiritually and temporally. It marked a watershed in redefining the existing hierarchy within the Sikh normative order.

The specific symbolism of "Akal Sahai" or calling himself as "Sarkar Khalsa", etc., associated with the coronation, secured the affiliation of the Sikh elite as well as the common people. However, the other processes at work, for instance the evolution of the idea of Sikh principalities with its attendant hierarchy and institutions, could also be probed effectively in contributing towards the coronation and the acceptance of the same by others. Reducing every event or aspect to the Sikh doctrine can obfuscate the real issues of the time.

Sita Ram Kohli’s article stands out for its narrative felicity. He states that the overarching social concern in the bani of Guru Nanak was later transformed into a Sikh state through the events of the 18th century. Particularly significant were the indigenous institutions created in the 18th century — namely, the misl, rakhi, system, Sarbat Khalsa — which opened vistas of territorial sovereignty in the name of the "Khalsa Commonwealth". Thus, "theocracy" was transformed into "theocratic commonwealth". which resulted in the rise of several feudal chieftains due to the general socio-political condition of the 18th century.

Its final consummation came with the monarchy coming into being. The political scene in the mid-18th century Punjab was characterised by four developments: 12 Sikh misl chiefs, a number of Rajput hill states. Punjabi Muslim martial clans, and, finally, the principalities ruled by Pathan nawabs. Kohli sees the Maharaja’s achievement in the arduous task of completing the "Federal Political Union".

These political developments prompted newer symbolism, coinage being one of the areas. Surinder Singh in his empirically sound piece refutes the claim of coins being issued in the name of Moran, although his article suffers from printing errors, missing pages, etc. Patwant Singh provides the details of the glorifications of Harmandar Sahib with gold and marble being the principal materials. Floral designs alongwith the verses from the Adi Granth seems to be an inspiration with their origin in Islam.

The consolidation of the empire and the role of military top brass and courtiers have been attempted through the contrasting nature of Hari Singh Nalwa and the Dogras. Kapur calls Nalwa "the only genuine Sikh chief of Ranjit" revered by the public for his sense of justice, martial prowess and loyalty to the Sikh state. K.C. Khanna, on the other hand, locates the Dogras in the axis of the aristocracy which proved to be the undoing of the Maharaja. The success of the Dogra trio in their conspiring skills shows the failure of the Lahore darbar which could never anticipate what was happening at the courtiers’ front.

The pieces by K.K. Khullar, Radha Sharma and Kirpal Singh have a shared terrain, highlighting the Maharaja’s concern for the peasantry by vesting the ownership of the land as well as of the wells to the cultivator; devising liberal revenue policies, contributing to the overall welfare of the small proprietor, which, in turn, created a popular basis for his rule. Planned as clearing-houses for the rural produce, urban centres were also revived on account of trade and relative peace, with even the royal court promoting specific commodities. Lavish grants to develop gardens were also part of the same enterprise.

Joginder Singh shows the secret attempts made by the Maharaja to secure the consent of Indian rulers to overthrow British colonial rule. A crucial component of this preparation was the modernising impulses captured by Jean Marie Lafont. Lafont highlights the careers of Allard and Ventura — two French military officers — and their success in disciplining and upgrading the fighting skills of the Maharaja’s army. A long-standing debate remained on the formation of a regular cavalry with the Maharaja deciding against it, whereas the French officers thought otherwise. In this context, the economic cost of raising a regular cavalry can show the structural deficiencies of Maharaja rule vis-a-vis the British set-up. However this dimension is generally ignored in the volume.

While locating Ranjit Singh in the context of larger Indian history, Amrik Singh points to the cessation of attacks from the North-West as the most significant achievement of the Maharaja. Second, Hari Singh Nalwa’s policy of non-interference in the local culture and its contemporary significance is remarkable, whose origins should have been probed thoroughly. Third, the social experiments undertaken to administer a diverse people by making them partners in the state formation. Amrik Singh thus delineates a wider political, social and ideological domain for locating the process of modernisation as against Lafont who does so only in military affairs.

Dealing with history-writing about Ranjit Singh, J.S. Grewal divides it into four phases: first, the pre-1849 writers like Princep, McGregor, Carmichael Smyth and Cunningham. The contingencies of the British policy informs this phase with the explanation routed through the presona of the Maharaja as an overwhelming factor. Cunninghum is a worthy exception.

Second, the post-1849 phase has Lepel Griffin and Mohammad Latif. Both rely on the works of their predecessors in the pre-1849 phase. His military preparations are detailed; the focus on his personal preferences is maintained and the 18th century background is also traced.

The third phase has authors like G.L. Chopra, N.K. Sinha and Sita Ram Kohli. Structural aspects of Ranjit Singh rule is in focus with the access to newer, wider and indigenous sources accounts of travellers and cross referencing being the norm. Grewal is impressed by Sita Ram Kohli.

In the post-1947 phase, works by Fauja Singh and Indu Banga on the army and the agararian system of the Sikhs, respectively have shed light on his rule.

Since this is a commemorative volume, a certain celebratory tone has crept in at the cost of critical methodology. The fundamental trope established by the colonial authors — to analyse a state through the ruler’s individual traits has been kept alive in a mimetic fashion by the present-day scholars also — with a consequent lack of interest in the structural domain of the Maharaja’s rule.

This is one reason why the sunset of the Sikh state is conveniently traced to the deceit of the Dogras. Unless accounted for in a sophisticated manner, this issue is bound to haunt the scholarship on the Sikhs. A detailed introduction could have helped the matter and its absence remains a sore point.



Remembering a forgettable past
Review by Cookie Maini

Translating Partition
Edited by Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint. Katha Publications, New Delhi. Pages 238. Rs 250.

"THEY trudged along, carrying bundles on their heads, their weary eyes searching their way through the haze, their ears pricked for any stray remark that might guide them on to the correct path. They were anxious to know the lay of the land and, more than that, what was in store for them." Bhisham Sahni’s words sum up the partition psyche in his story "Pali".

Partition, an event comparable in magnitude to a world war, which led to the death of millions and rendered millions homeless, left permanent scars in the psyche of two generations. Most of the literary works on partition, now a distinctive genre, are by those who lived through it. The writing is in the form of anecdotes and their recollection and emotions are intense.

Katha brings out in translation to familiarise the English-speaking elite with the wealth of literature in Indian languages. We have here a range of well-known writers on partition — Attia Hosain, Bhisham Sahni, Sa’adat Hasan Manto, Gulzar, Surendra Prakash and others. Most of them have lived through and survived the traumatic experience.

This book is the first in the series of texts by Katha. It is an anthology of eight short stories and nine critical essays, three of which discuss the stories while the rest analyse related subjects ranging from the feminist perspective to the nostalgia of a lost land.

The new dawn that was breathlessly anticipated was not to be realised. On the contrary, it brought in disillusionment which has been captured by writers on both sides of the border. Partition eventually became a watershed etched in their minds, as it severed them from their past. For many it was a traumatic juncture and writing was the penultimate catharsis.

Thematically, partition literature harks back to an irretrievably lost way of life; nostalgia is the central emotion. Other commonalities in most stories are the shock of dislocation and allied restless groping for identity. Common symbols convey this sense of dislocation, the train being the most prominent one. These stories are archetypal of partition literature and are followed by critical commentaries and overviews.

The anthology begins with the Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s poignant story "Toba Tek Singh" mirrors the pathos of those days. A madman’s death in a no-man’s land, where the writ of neither nation prevails is allegorical. Analogies of madness appear repeatedly during that period. Gandhi appealed to the people not to "meet madness with madness."

The story "The dog of Tetwal" brings out insanity which had possessed the people on either side of the border. The story revolves around soldiers who play a strange game with a stray dog as it runs from one side to another, each side claiming ownership. Eventually the dog is fired at by both and dies "a dog’s death" ,as the story concludes.

This story is a poignant statement of the fatal danger of indecisiveness in a confused situation when national borders were sacrosanct and crossing them could be fatal. Soldiers who had once fought together had turned enemies and religious denomination became the key factor. The author sardonically remarks: "Now even dogs will have to be either Hindustani or Pakistani." The dog wanders like refugees.

Communal polarisation seems to exacerbate not abate relationship between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy. In the story "How many Pakistanis?" This is the central theme in a situation that was far more inflammable. Partition becomes a metaphor for separated lovers.

Kamleshwar skilfully interweaves psychic disfigurement with physical mutilation in the wake of communal violence. "How many Pakistanis?" is a heart rendering story of love amidst a situation surcharged with communalism. He constantly seeks an answer to a simple question: how he and his beloved are torn apart although both have lived in the same village, their families share the same house (different floors)? Partition is like a massive landslide in their lives and he is forced to leave the village. "In fact, to tell the truth, what was there in Chunar now?

"Pali", again a touching story of refugees as they flee in lorries from Pakistan, sums up the agony as the exodus is on and he alone searches his son.

Recently there has been a fresh focus on the gender perspective. Even though, women bore the brunt of this catastrophe, they tended to be silent. For a feminist point of view, one has to read Uravashi Butalia. She has brought out aspects of women — some abandoned their homes and some killed themselves. Those stories are buried in history.

Apart from Attia Hosain’s story, "Phoenix Flex", some more stories from a feminist perspective could have been included in this collection. Perhaps Kathas plans future anthologies of creative writing on partition. A writer’s sensitivity definitely enables him/her to delve into uncharted areas of human consciousness beyond the accessibility of a social scientist.



Sir Chhotu Ram in Urdu
Review by Gobind Thukral

Sir Chhotu Ram: Shakshiyat aur Mission
by Rajwanti Mann. Jat Sabha, Chandigarh. Page 265. Rs 100.

RAJWANTI MANN, a tall gutsy woman, has a rare passion. She loves to read and write in Urdu. Though coming from Haryana’s Deswal belt, she studied the language on her own, which is no longer taught in Haryana schools except in the Mewat area.

"My father had a beautiful handwriting and as a child I was fascinated by the way he wrote his letters, etc. His picture-like calligraphy charmed me. He taught me a bit. Later in service in the archaeology department, my interest was revived again. By that time I had learnt some Urdu. Then I decided to formally study Urdu. I graduated and later completed the masters degree in Urdu in 1996. It surprised my friends," she explains.

She is now doing her Ph.D on the theme of the progressive writer’s movement of the 1920s and 1930s. But her accent is neither Lakhnavi nor Delhvi. She is true to her soil. Here is a typical Haryanvi Jat woman, reciting Urdu couplets in Deswali accent.

Rajwanti Mann’s commitment and devotion to Urdu, a victim of communal politics and consequent frenzy in the country, has helped her write a good book. It is the translation of Balbir Singh’s much talked about book on Sir Chhotu Ram, a stormy petrel of pre-independent Punjab. And a doughty champion of the cause of the zamindars. If he has admirers and is still respected, there are many politicians who violently disagree with his political line. Nevertheless, Sir Chhotu Ram was a committed and colourful leader whose name many a Jat leader invokes even today to drum up popular support. Indeed there is no dearth of books on Sir Chottu Ram.

Any Haryanvi Jat true to his or her salt would like to write on him. Some of the books are well researched and bring out the personality of this versatile leader of the Unionist Party, who was nearly worshipped by many zamindars for the debt relief and hated by those urbanites who had cornered all privileges. Some doubts still linger about his commitment to the freedom movement.

The present book is an attempt to defend him. His best known contribution in the 1930s was to end century old debts of farmers. A good number of Haryana leaders swear by his name and try to make political capital. Controversies dogged this leader who was a Minister in Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan’s government. Whether one liked or disliked him, he could not be ignored.

It was basically at Sir Chhotu Ram Janamsthan Trust that manages the memorial at Garhi Sampla village where some Muslim followers regularly come to pay respect that an idea to write a book in Urdu on Chhotu Ram was born. Those who came knew some broad outlines, but no detail about the leader and Mann thought of translating some well-researched books for them. While the best course for Mann would have been to do research on this controversial Punjab leader of the zamindars, she chose an easy way. "I think I should have gone around looking for details and come out with a book of my own," she agrees.

Rajwanti Mann has struggled for two years to translate this book.One reason that she has a job and a family to look after and another, more important one, the book has that kind of typical Indian English which yields to translation without a lot of labour. In any case, she completed the book for the Chandigarh-based Jat Sabha and its president; Haryana’s new police chief Mohinder Singh Malik lent a helping hand to see that the labour is not wasted. The major problem being how to take this book to the readers.

Those Urdu-knowing people, who wish to have a reasonable assessment of the personality, contribution and worth of Sir Chhotu Ram, the book would be of help. Pakistani readership could be another.There too the interest in this leader is still there. Since the original biography by Balbir Singh suffers from a dispassionate political assessment and analysis, the translation could not overcome this. But she has shown a good command on the language and an understanding of the subject.

While a balanced assessment of this old Punjab leader is still called for and not only in English but in other Indian languages, this is an appreciable attempt.



Bihar’s "Big Brother" and the secret of his success
Review by J.S. Yadav

Laloo Phenomenon: Paradoxes of Changing India
by K.C. Yadav. Hope India Publications, Gurgaon. Pages 183.
Rs 350.

WHAT is this book all about? Were one to try to characterise in just one sentence, it is dealing with what is the common sense of our times — that is, the rise of the marginalised. This story is rooted in Bihar and revolves round Laloo Prasad Yadav.

It is a powerful work. And also great deal exciting and provocative. Here the author does not, unlike most of those who have worked on the same subject, despair for Bihar for its "medieval existence". Nor does he lament, again unlike others, the state having been reduced to a drag on the nation. Astoundingly, he sees hope in the state — not only for itself but for the entire country.

Author Yadav finds a social revolution as a result of which Bihar "will emerge stronger and freer". A good deal of credit for this, according to the author, goes to Laloo Prasad who has made Bihar a social laboratory where a new India is taking shape. He has changed politics and society in a big way. He has brought those on the margin to the centre stage. He has given voice to the voiceless. The wretched of the earth have become, thanks to his efforts, honourable citizens: they can walk holding their heads high, and challenge the unchallengeable usurpers of their rights. That is, says the author in so many words, the secret of Laloo Prasad’s success.

This man, according to the author, is not an aberration or a fluke, as most people take him to be. He is where he is not by an accident of history and will remain there for as long as he befools the people — illiterate, ill-informed, poor Biharis — by his drollery, deceit, hubris and histrionics. Many people more resourceful, more educated and deeper in cunning, chicanery, perfidy and pettifogging than Laloo Prasad have tried their hands at building political castles on the quicksands of Bihar in recent times. But they have all failed. Political parties, combinations, alliances, far superior to Laloo Prasad’s, have tried their luck at the power game but have come a cropper. The whole world, literally, has been trying to oust the cowherd from the scene. But to no avail. His adversaries have failed to dislodge him.

The strongest point of the book is that, unlike others, the author cares to see both sides of the coin. He discusses the excesses of the fodder scam at length but at the same time, he also takes note of "to politics of investigation" behind the scam. He admits that there is "jungle" raj in Bihar but he also analyses scientifically as to who are responsible for its creation and continuation for a long time. He examines the functioning of the Indian state and its institutions and outfits like the CBI, etc. and shows their weaknesses and vunerabilities in their functioning "impartially and objectively".

The book gives a strong message — the forces of social justice are the most powerful force today. Nobody can check them: they must play their historical role — bringing the weak, the vulnerable, the dispossessed, the disinherited people into the mainstream. For the people of Bihar, Laloo Prasad is, no matter what his critics might say, a part of this force. He is the friend, philosopher and guide to the neglected children of history. That is why one would generally hear these people saying: if Laloo goes, the process of their improvement will also go. He is thus their need, says the author, and rightly so. They cannot do without him. If he were not there, they would have invented him.

This is precisely what the Laloo phenomenon is all about. This is the secret of Laloo Prasad’s success. This explains why he is unbeatable, even when the chips are down, his circumstances are anything but propitious.

In sum, one may not agree with everything that the author has said, but this book is essential reading to understand the problems that Bihar is facing in social, economic and political fields. It is a very useful addition to the literature on the subject.

The printing and get-up of the book are excellent. The author and publishers deserve a word of praise for this.



The roots of mosiqui
Review by Shelley Walia

Musical Elaborations
by Edward Said. Vintage, London. Pages 109. £5.99.

IN any discussion on art, one has to take into consideration the question of beginnings. Literature, music and art are all significant examples of the cyclical movement, an enterprise of renewal or the beginning again of something that has ended or gone defunct. Verdi is known to have gone back to Othello in his late eighties. We are therefore always "either recovering or returning to beginnings". Finalities are short termed and keep giving way to recovering what lies buried.

In the sixth century BC, the mathematician Pythagoras determined precisely the arithmetical interaction between strings that created tones of dissimilar pitches. The Greeks chose and set the tones in scales called modes. Two of these Greek forms supplied the underpinning for the music of the western world seen in the classical music of the western historical period of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The recovery of the classical system is the inevitability of resorting to beginnings.

The growth of western music was entwined with the expansion of the Christian church. Chanting of scriptures and prayers was practised by early Christians which came to be christened as Gregorian chants. In contrast, non-religious or secular music was composed by peripatetic poets who sang of gallantry and courtly love in the 12th and 13th centuries. The finding that two voices could sing two unconnected melodies at the same time and still generate agreeable sounds led to music that gradually replaced the older monophonic style.

Above the tenor a more intricate part might be sung. As the two components became more independent, often two distinct melodies ensued at the same time. When a third and fourth parts were added, the music grew to be truly polyphonic. The developments of the rococo era culminated in the works of Bach and Handel. Bach devoted his life to composing music for the church services. His incredible output marks the acme of the polyphonic, or contrapuntal style.

The second half of the 18th century music (the Classical Age) found new and important expression in the works of Austrian composers Haydn and Mozart. In contrast to the grand works of the baroque era, the compositions of the classical period were imposing, emotionally undemonstrative and distinct by enormous lucidity. Beethoven was the link with the new period. His first compositions were in the classical style. However, he soon found the old courtly forms too confining, and he burst forth with the use of opposing chords dissonance in a way that was appalling in his day, and clearly discernable in the four movements of the symphony, "Bonaparte".

By the turn of the century musical works were becoming more widely known through technological advances. Musicians were searching for new kinds of musical expression. Just as painters had turned from realism to impressionism, composers began to write in a more delicate style. This new style was a retort to the immoderate emotional excesses of the Romantic school. Bela Bartok, a Hungarian steeped in the indigenous folk tunes of his country, used this music and other sources for experiments in dissonance.

The influence of jazz on Arthur Honegger resulted in "Pacific 231" where he attempted to depict in music the sounds and rhythms of a locomotive. By 1948 electronic music began with experiments of Pierre Schaeffer in Paris. Called musique concrete, it used natural sounds that were recorded on tape and then combined and altered or distorted to form an amalgamated artistic whole.

And finally arrived the computer which was programmed to generate haphazard integers that corresponded to pitches and note values. The integers were then screened by instructions based on traditional rules of composition.

Looking at this brief history of western music one can agree with Edward Said, the distinguished author of Orientalism, who argues persuasively in his Wellek Library Lectures at the University of California, Irvine, that though music, like literature, is situated in a social and cultural setting, it is "an art whose existence is premised undeniably on individual performance, reception, or production".

These lectures which form the content of his book "Musical Elaborations" demonstrate how the two extremes — that music is an individual and pristine experience and that it is also inescapably a performative mode in a public setting "even when music is most inward and most private" — coexist. This is the common debate between the sphere of aesthetics and the cultural-historical analysis. The roles played by music in western society "are extraordinarily varied, and far exceed the antiseptic, cloistered, academic, professional aloofness it seems to have been accorded". .

The way culture operates in the production and interpretation of art is very much clear to a student of Raymond Williams or Fredric Jameson. Here lies the work of the musicologists who like Said see a healthy relationship between the composition of music and the general interpretative theory. In other words, Said’s emphasis is on the "humanistic" rather than just the technical, as the writing of music is deeply intertwined with discourses of power and psychoanalysis. But he makes sure that he does not offer only a hackneyed Foucauldian interpretation; he examines a far more inherent ingredient of music which involves private pleasures of creative listening as well as private performance.

Said interestingly points out the distinction between the performer and the audience in the concert hall who have no idea about playing an instrument, but only observe the performer in an estranged but respectful lack of knowledge. Said laments the decline in the standards of music appreciation because of the technological development leading to the commodification of it in recorded performance; it is the musical contamination of our aural surroundings.

In this context, Said sees a connection between Beethoven’s music and the Enlightenment, or Wagner and Schopenhauer. In her book "Beethoven and the Construction of Genius", Tia de Nora argues that Beethoven’s greatness did not lie in musical talent alone, but relied strongly on the context of his age — the new interest in serious music of the Viennese society that he lived in, his patrons and his ability of self-promotion. As his reputation grew so did the musical criteria that were accordingly tailored to accommodate him so that he facilitated in producing the taste that valued his aptitude. By stirring ideas for piano reform, he attained support for a heavier instrument that flattered his individual expertise while serving to institutionalise his own musical values. The context of reception of music is as vital to its becoming fashionable as is the talent of a musician..

Thus music has always had affiliations with social privilege, nation or religion. Fame and musical trends may be as much a product of construction by society as of innate genius. Reputations can be forged only by societies; greatness is as much tied to timing as to ability. Terence Hawks has similarly argued that Shakespeare’s fame was a "politically motivated construct that developed as a result of Britain’s attempts to bestow cultural leadership on her empire".

For instance, the glaring drift in the music of the second half of the 19th century was nationalism. Of course, nationalism had been reflected in earlier music that was distinctively German or French. Now, however, composers consciously create music to express their national character, often borrowing from popular songs and folk music of the people.

Nationalism in Bohemia (now a part of the Czech Republic) found its musical expression through the compositions of Bedrich Smetana. His comic opera "The Bartered Bride" is set in a Bohemian village, and his symphonic poem "The Moldau" encapsulates the spirit of his native geography. In Russia, nationalistic music began with Mikhail Glinka and Tchaikovsky. In Norway, nationalist feeling predisposed Edvard Grieg. The muscular nationalist sentiment suggested in the music of Jean Sibelius was reckoned as an expression of patriotism in Finland.

Afro-Cuban folk music enthused Cuba’s Ernesto Lecuona. Alberto Ginastera of Argentina used folk elements in orchestral, ballet and chamber music. Verdi’s "Aida" is predominantly a narrative of European domination of the Near East. influence and indebtedness cannot be done away with.

Seen from this point of view all such writing on music by distinguished writers like Maynard Solomon, Winton Dean, Paul Griffiths and lovers of music like Said becomes relevant to the specialist and the culturally informed reader. When you do not hesitate to deconstruct Eliot or Auden, why should music be "excluded from a similar scrutiny" from the perspective of cultural history, narratology and feminist theory.

Susan McClary and Carolyn Abbate have made a significant contribution to the theory of music or musicology, though it is still in its early stage. Said being an excellent pianist, knows that professional musicology does try to construct barriers of exclusion and disallows the infiltration of "outlandish ideas". He is of the opinion that they end up paying negligible critical attention to the relevance of ideology or social space or power to music.

Adorno who has done significant theorising on music followed by Carl Dahlhaus are conspicuous antagonists of the conventional musicologists who relentlessly pick holes in their assumptions.

Said goes along with Adorno’s magisterial writings on music, but there remains a conflict in him about his passionate private love of music and the need to make the discourse of music as unprivileged as any other discourse. In this lies his reflective understanding of music and its performance so vividly articulated in these three lectures. In the final lecture at the conclusion of his elaborations he stands out as the radical musicologist who would like to transgress the established cultural norms and conventions, and "not assert a central authorising identity".

Listening to music has to be non-coercive. I have seen this in my listening deeply to Strauss and Haydn and I am prepared to go with Said on this. The wordly and the possible is resonant in listening to great music when we can take the liberty of shedding our duty as cultural critics and yield to moments of pleasure. But the dissonance between pleasure and duty, the overpowering pressure of professional formations and deformations cannot be ignored. Indeed, Said fluctuates between the public and the private with inflections that are more melodic than coherent. The book is delightfully located at the border country of aesthetics and politics, and is profoundly alert to the needs of the thoughtful musicologist as well as the greenhorn music lover.



A women’s world created by a woman
Review by Natasha Vashisht

Banana — Flower Dreams
by Bulbul Sharma. Viking Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 297.
Rs 295.

BULBUL Sharma, a Delhi-based writer and painter, has ventured into fiction writing with "Banana-Flower Dreams". Before this, she has come out with three collections of short stories : "My Sainted Aunts", "The Perfect Woman" and "The Anger of Aubergines".

Partly autobiographical in content, "Banana-Flower Dreams" portrays the predicament of women in Indian patriarchal society, and the space they create for themselves in their dream world.

Though the reader may be mystified by the title, it is explained at the outset with its ironic overtones. "Eat banana flower curry cooked in milk and you will have a boy", advises Shamili’s mother. Ironically, a girl child is born, the first among many and thus begins a tale which weaves together the lives of seven generations of women. The word "dreams" aptly encapsulates the essential medium of expression each woman character adopts to escape the male-dominated world, in to a make-belief world of sisterhood.

The tripartite structure of the novel places at the heart of its narrative the 100-year-old cranky Monimala in a coma, and it is with her death that the novel ends.

Keeping her company are the spirits of her dead aunts –- Mejo, Sejo — and mother Shamili. While Shamili sits in the dark linen closet all day long, appearing only at night to recite tales of gods and goddesses to Monimala, the aunts dressed in bilious white saris hang from the ceiling fan like vultures, watching the world go by.

Into this tableau steps in the American-born, confused, Pia, who uses her great-grandmother’s illness an excuse to visit India. Consequently, she wants to abort her illegitimate foetus named Maya, conceived with a black American called Stan in the back seat of a car. As the story unfolds, the yet–to–be–born Maya holds vociferous soul communions with Shamili, Mejo and Sejo. On the other hand, Pia goes through an angst–ridden state of alienation with her pregnancy coupled with regular bouts of morning sickness.

Sharma has also tried to give the story a touch of subtle romance by juxtaposing two young men –- a computer-savvy Bobby and a soft, brown–eyed yoga guru before Pia. By the end of the second part Pia falls in love with her yoga guru with whom she goes to the holy ghats of Varanasi. After her immersion in the Ganga, she undergoes an informal rite of baptism, accepts her pregnancy, thereby becoming one with her ancestors.

There are patches in the novel when the narrative tends to lose its grip on the reader as the characters repeatedly oscillate between the "then", "now", and "not yet". This, along with a running dialogue between the dead, the alive and the yet–to-be- born tends to confuse the reader.

However, to fully understand the author’s basic conviction behind the narrative, one must suspend disbelief. For, the structure revolves around a series of contraries, and a very thin line divides the world of reality and dreams, the natural and supernatural, the living and the dead.

Perhaps, the mythical figure of Trishanku who according to Hindu mythology hangs upside down, suspended in a separate world between heaven and earth, could be symbolic of the state each character embodies. For, if Mejo, Sejo and Shamili are corporeal, Monimala is in a coma. Maya, too, is in a pre-natal twilight zone, and Neelima and Pia pass their days in comatose dreams. Dreams then emerge as the most potent motif symbolising an arena in which these women jump horizons together, and transcend the brutal fact that their sum and substance is to satisfy their husbands’ lust or produce a male.

However, it would be improvident to say that the book is about ghosts and the supernatural. For, with empathy, Sharma has truthfully mirrored an ego–centric, male-dominated Indian society right from the taboo-stricken and tradition-bound times of the tyrant

Pareshnath in Matiapur at the turn of the 20th century to Maheshwar who conveniently takes sanyas, making his wife, Neelima, a derelict, to the very modern 21st century Stan who evades fatherhood by escaping to Italy.

What gives the novel its depth is its rich repertoire of symbols and images. Sharma’s eye for detail and her vivid sense of colour and place comes powerfully alive in the minute descriptions of natural landscapes. Repeated allusions to mango and banana flowers further confirm her belief in nature possessing regenerative potencys. Nevertheless, it is water which stands apart as the most potent symbol of fertility: be it the murky pond in Matiapur in which the illegitimate Khendini is drowned by her mother only to gain resurrection, or the Ganga in which Pia metaphorically cleanses herself and Maya.

The language, which is graceful, colloquial, devoid of ostentation, makes the book lucid. By making women the protagonists, Sharma is neither satirising Indian men, nor she is making a case for the emancipation of women. Through Shamili, Monimala, Neelima, Pia and Maya, Sharma pays a tribute to the quintessential Indian woman, not only by making her transcend her kismat but by making her a symbolic link between the past, the present and the future.



Performance of an Argentinian all-rounder
Review by M. L. Raina

Selected Non-Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges translated from Spanish
by Esther Allen, Suzzane Jill Levine and Eliot Weinberger.
Penguin Books, New York. Pages xvi + 560. $ 17

The old man uses up what comes to mind/…More prose. Because/ there is the world, and because the world is prose.

—-Richar Howard on Borges

CONSIDER the opening of the 1922 essay "Nothingness of personality", the first in this varied collection of Borges’s non-fiction prose: "I want to tear down the excessive pre-eminence now generally awarded to self…I propose to prove that personality is a mirage maintained by conceit and custom a without metaphysical foundation or visceral reality…I mean to apply to them the consequences that issue from these premises, and erect upon them an aesthetic…encouraging to today’s most unruly tendencies."

Or consider these remarks about Shakespeare not included in this selection: "Nobody was so many men, who, like the Egyptian Proteus, could exhaust all appearances of being." Or God telling the bard in the same essay: "You are among the forms of my dreams, you, who like me, are many and no one."

Who is Borges? A post-modernist before post-modernism became chic? An avant-garde artist displaying the century’s experimental tendencies? A precursor of the deconstructionists who chooses to undermine the so-called stabilities of traditional writing? A creator of intricate plots who distrusted plots in the world and in literature? A kin of Joyce, Stein, Beckett and Faulkner? A rationalist of the irrational, a logician of the a-logical?

All these and more, as volumes of his gnomic stories, sketches and critical writings testify. Long before Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute enunciated their ideas of fiction without character as well as their tropisms in puzzling works like "Jealousy", "The Voyeur" and "Golden Fruits" (about a novelist writing a novel called "Golden Fruits"), and before our own Kiran Nagarkar wrote a path-breaking experimental Marathi novel "Seven Sixes are Forty Three", Jorge Luis Borges (like his French counterpart Gide in "The Counterfeiters") was redefining the typology of fiction in far away Argentina, not by any critical reckoning a country in the cultural mainstream.

Heir to a rich European tradition ranging from Cervantes to Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as to the lore of non-European thought, he created a form of story telling that is part narration, part rumination, part epiphany and part intuition. If his stories read like essays and his essays come across as stories in embryo, it is because in his art strict generic and formal boundaries overlap and become seamless.

Everything in Borges originates in Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet and returns to it in the end. Not a strange notion this, considering that with Borges aleph is the point where dream and realty coalesce. The story ‘"The Aleph" contains regression and progression, the beginning and end of narrative, something Borges goes back to in "Dream Tigers".

For all its patina of Anglo-European tradition, the world of Borges’s stories is Byzantine in its passion for labyrinths and metaphysical mosaics. Like the proverbial Sphinx waylaying unwary travellers, these stories confirm Borges’s view that all stories are like tigers springing at us unbidden and all literature "a labyrinth of jaguars repeating the generic enigma of a script written by the gods".

According to the editor, Eliot Weinberger, the present selection of Borges’s non-fiction prose represents only a fraction of his large output in this field. But it is sufficient to allow us to form a judgment of his aims and methods as a writer. There is a temptation to see these pieces as the products of what the translator would have called "workshop criticism", that is a kind of justification for what the writer did in his creative works. But Weinberger’s words may not suggest the full import of these pieces, or that of his own non-poetic prose.

Like Weinberger, Borges was an avid reader and took high literature and popular writing in his stride. What these pieces show us is the range of his interests and the extent of his engagement with world literature. They provide complimentary images for his sketches, stories and poems.

We get in this selection more than a glimpse of Borges’s techniques of presentation. We learn, more than any systematic exegesis could reveal, the ways in which the author mastered the art that became his distinction.

By watching him respond to the writers and philosophers he read and pondered over, we understand Borges’s own evolution as a storyteller. The essays and other smaller pieces in this selection are pointers to his minimalist austere art.

Like his character Pierre Menard from the famous story "Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote", Borges has enriched what he himself calls the ‘"halting and rudimentary art of reading" with all kinds of public and private adventures. These adventures constitute for him the rewards of life-long thinking about books and writers. As he says in the same story, ‘"This new technique is one of deliberate anachronism and erroneous attribution". It signals the author’s mission as a reader to be nothing short of a plunge. Without propounding a formal aesthetic of writing, Borges stresses the need for an aesthetic of reading, for a technique that would accommodate "erroneous attribution and deliberate anachronism".

Judging from the range of subjects (detective stories, films, Dante, Shakespeare, Joyce), of books reviewed and discussed, of reactions to literary events — one can only draw the conclusion that Borgess’s erudition and curiosity about persons and things is a vortex for the world of his own stories, parables and sketches. It is in this sense that his non-fiction prose is an adjunct to his fictional work. There is here a convergence of purposes between the fiction and the other prose.

In his stories "Library of Babel" and "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" Borges conceives of the world as an encylopaedia, a universal library from where books and realities emanate in unending profusion. In the prose essays of this collection as well as in many other essays not included here, he looks for authors and themes that endorse these convictions. In his remarks on the insignificance of personality he draws attention to a non-personal literature without regard for philosophical implications. When his own stories tend towards this ideal, we see the relevance of the concerned essay.

None of the pieces in the present selection is a developed speculation or a well-cogitated argument. Many of them are in the nature of what Borges’s Spanish commentators have called boutades, verbal games of an impenitent joker. Yet, almost all of them are essential to an understanding of the meaning of his creative work. Modest as these meditations are, they do not invalidate the importance of his intuitions for a more precise understanding of his works.

In an essay, "New refutation of time", he endorses Berkley and David Hume’s denial of a perceptible object behind reality — a denial which will enable him to create impersonal personalities in his fiction. But he also extrapolates these statements into his endorsement of Schopenhauer. Throughout this essay (and other essays in this collection), he has dropped a series of hints, allusions and observations which challenge us to reconstruct a particular mode of reading which we might call "the Borgesian mode", one in which the nature of reality is explored through off-hand intuitions..

Thus in the poem "Truco" a card game is used to understand the philosophy of "the eternal return". It is also used in "Tlon" and "The lottery at Babylon" to make fun of those who crave for rational explanations of the universe. Similarly his remarks on "One thousand and one nights" enable us to understand his own passion for story telling. One can go on relating these occasional pieces to his more intricate fictional works to see the connections.

Most of the essays in the present book are valuable for us to fashion the image of Borges as a separate kind of reader, one who takes books less as a diversions than as an engagement. One finds him at home in all kinds of books — the pure story telling of Kipling, Chesterton, Stevenson, the popular forms of writing such as the detective story, the sagas, books on alchemy and Cabala, as well as books on metaphysics by ancient and modern writers.

When he writes on authors as different from each other as Shakespeare, Joyce, H.G.Wells, Hawthorne and Melville (he is especially drawn to the 19th century American writing), you see a mind of copious erudition, rivalled only by Joyce in the 20th century. There are parallels to the hero of his story "Funes, the Memorius" whose protagonist has a prodigious memory. But instead of being cluttered by his reading, Borges, unlike the protagonist, projects it on his own thinking and observation.

Moving among languages, he always considers them as a separate plane on which words can manipulate everything, even the author himself. These essays exhibit qualities of conversation, algebra, and the secret histories in objects, translations and mistranslations. They succeed in making his scholarship a device of his creative imagination. This goes well beyond what Eliot Weinberger meant by "workshop criticism".

Here it is useful to mention that reading has been to Borges an intense task, a displacement in time to the point where the border between what is read and what exists outside books becomes fuzzy. This is primarily due to his father’s private library where he spent many of his childhood hours. The resulting concentration on books seems to have coloured his perception of the world itself as a book.

But this perception is nothing like Mallarme’s. It has neither frozen his reactions nor disabled him from participating in the world outside. If anything, it has sharpened his awareness of the problems of his society, as is clear from his lectures and writings on the fate of Argentina’s culture and tradition. It has also alerted him to the dangers of Nazism. The section "Notes on Germany and the War" provides enough evidence for this.

To me Borges has been a source of a personal odyssey. Addicted to him as well as to Joyce for the past 35 years, I have found in these and other works of his the much-needed diversion from the rambunctious acrimonies of our academic and cultural life.

In a time when the validity of literature is often questioned, he has upheld the power of words to enlighten and disturb. In a short piece called "A profession of literary faith", he holds that "everything is poetic that confesses, that gives us a glimpse of a destiny". The destiny may vary from genre to genre, from epoch to epoch, but it constantly remains within sight. In disparate elements, from diverse interests and occupations, he has found an equilibrium that we never thought could exist. That is the Borgesian legacy that makes sentences, riddles, puzzles and problems sources of infinite possibilities for the human imagination. That he awakens in us a startled sense of these possibilities is a sign of hope.