Review by Priyanka Singh
compiled by Anisha Gadekar. madhuban books, New Delhi. Pages 116. Rs
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
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
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
and decline of the Lahore Darbar
Review by Sumail
Ranjit Singh Commemoration Volume
edited by Prithipal Singh Kapur and Dharam Singh, Publication
Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala. Pages 226. Rs 250.
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".
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.
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
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.
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".
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
a forgettable past
by Cookie Maini
Edited by Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint. Katha Publications, New
Delhi. Pages 238. Rs 250.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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
Chhotu Ram in Urdu
by Gobind Thukral
Ram: Shakshiyat aur Mission
by Rajwanti Mann. Jat Sabha, Chandigarh. Page 265. Rs 100.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"Big Brother" and the secret of his success
Review by J.S.
Phenomenon: Paradoxes of Changing India
by K.C. Yadav. Hope India Publications, Gurgaon. Pages 183.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
roots of mosiqui
by Shelley Walia
by Edward Said. Vintage, London. Pages 109. £5.99.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
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". .
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
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.
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..
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".
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.
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
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.
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
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.
has done significant theorising on music followed by Carl
Dahlhaus are conspicuous antagonists of the conventional
musicologists who relentlessly pick holes in their
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
women’s world created by a woman
by Natasha Vashisht
by Bulbul Sharma. Viking Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 297.
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".
autobiographical in content, "Banana-Flower Dreams"
portrays the predicament of women in Indian patriarchal
society, and the space they create for themselves in their
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
of an Argentinian all-rounder
by M. L. Raina
Non-Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges translated
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.
Howard on Borges
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
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
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
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.
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
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".
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
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.
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.
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".
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.