The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 5, 2001

Flying high and powerful during a war
Review by N.K. Pant

Kashmiri Pandits and their pain
Review by Harbans Singh

A primer on mass communication
Review by Gobind Thukral

Did Ambedkar have a choice?
Review by Lalit Mohan

Notes of devotion, the Indian style
Review by Kavita Chauhan

Daughter as protector of mother
Review by Akshaya Kumar

Hindi Literature
Going downstream
Review by Satyapal Sehgal

Lots and lots of labour, but to very little effect
Review by H. P. Sah




Flying high and powerful during a war
Review by N.K. Pant

Air Power in the New Millennium
by Air Cmde N.B. Singh (retd), Manas Publications, New Delhi. Pages 284. Rs 595.

"WAR," said Clauswitz in his often quoted words, "is continuation of politics by other means." And to achieve the ultimate victory in today’s war, the air power is the modern military technology’s real cutting edge. Air power since its advent in the early years of the 20th century, has made it possible to hit directly at the political, economic and military nerve centres of the opponent causing unacceptable damage.

The combat aircraft’s speed, reach, surprise element, firepower and flexibility has made it a dominant and decisive instrument in the conduct of warfare.

Air Commodore NB Singh (retd) in his book "Air Power in the New Millennium" has dealt with the subject with the similar brilliance and ease which he had exhibited in flying fighter planes while participating in air campaigns ranging from the World War II to 1971 war with Pakistan during his more than three decades of career in the Indian Air Force. The book, as Air Chief Marshal S.K. Sareen brings out in his forword, has " benefited from his varied experience, analytical approach and critical insight" on the subject of military aviation on which till now restricted literature is available in India.

The first use of aircraft in combat was made during the World War I (1914-18). During that period, air forces were used mainly in support of the army and flew

reconnaissance, artillery observation and tactical close support missions. The

experience gained during this great war "led the major powers to critically examine and conceptualise the role air power could play in the future."

The World War II saw air power emerging as the dominant force in a

three-dimensional warfare. The author considers the Battle of Britain, the bomber

offensive against Germany and Japan, the air war over the Atlantic against the

German U-boats, the German air-borne invasion of Crete, the employment of air

power in the western desert in support of ground forces during the North African

campaign and the airborne and sea-borne invasion of Europe in 1944 ending with

atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as important landmarks in the

evolution of air power.

For his in-depth analysis, Air Cmde Singh has selected the 1973 Arab-Israeli War which was the first conflict in the modern history of warfare wherein new technology weapons like guided missiles, electronic warfare systems and space-based satellite communication and surveillance were deployed intensively, Likewise, the Gulf War of 1991 which demonstrated the impact of modern air power on the outcome of war — total victory with minimum losses, has been given a detailed treatment in the book..

The last chapter of the book deals with the relevance of modern air power to meet threats to India’s security. The air arm, especially the transport aircraft, played a vital role in helping the army in Jammu and Kashmir during the first Indo-Pak conflict in 1947-48. In the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, the IAF transport and helicopter fleet provided communication and logistic support to the army whenever possible in remote areas of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

When Pakistan attacked India in 1965, the IAF plunged into action with offensive close air support to ground troops besides carrying out strategic bombings deep inside Pakistan, reconnaissance and air defence tasks.

The air operations of 1971 Bangladesh liberation war were well planned and th IAF retained the initiative throughout the campaign. While in the eastern sector the

Indian airmen gained complete air superiority within 48 hours, in the western sector

both the air forces remained on the defensive after the first few days of operations

against counter air targets like fighter air bases and radar stations.

The author also briefly touches upon the Kargil air operations in which the IAF was deployed to attack enemy-held positions on hill tops. Without the use of air power, it would have taken a much longer time to evict the Pakistani intruders with much higher casualities.

The book deftly marshals the growth and maturing of air power during the 20th century. It has not only been a major revolution in the art and conduct of warfare but has also has become a vital part of all military elements of a state. It would be in India’s national interest to maintain a comparative technological advantage in the sphere of air delivery platforms and weaponry. Suitable doctrines, organisation, command and control structure will have to be in place in order to avail maximum advantage from the air and aerospace power in the nuclear backdrop.



Kashmiri Pandits and their pain
Review by Harbans Singh

Kashmiri Pandits: Looking to the Future
edited by M.K. Kaw, S. Bhatt, B.B. Dhar, A.N. Kaul and Gita Bamzai. APH Publishing, Delhi. Pages 296. Rs 500.

ONE must confess that the political impact of the turmoil in Kashmir during the past decade has to a certain extent dwarfed a tragedy which otherwise should have weighed heavily on the conscience of mankind. It is sad indeed that the forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley has not only not provoked the international community to act, but has been played down in the country in the face of secular stakes for leading political parties.

The book, mercifully, is not just an attempt to sensitise the consciousness of fellow citizens to the event; it is but an attempt to reconcile with the present and prepare a road map to future without losing sight of history which has brought the Kashmiri Pandits to the present plight. The emphasis on the past is understandably heavy and is born out of the fear of losing identity in some distant future.

An outcome of a national seminar conducted by the Kashmir Education, Culture and Science Society, the various papers are on various levels of Kashmiri consciousness.

They dwell on the making of the Kashmiri Pandits, trace their history and bring out their contributions not only to sanatan dharma but also Buddhism and Sufism. Barring a few weak attempts to portray a history which has been kind to them, most of the contributors have been candid in tracing the systematic and never ending decimation of the Kashmiri Pandits.

And, today, in a repetition of what happened during the reign of terror of Sultan Sikander the Butshikan during the 14th century, when the valley has no Pandits, it is essential for them to know and remember their heritage and history. This may not help them to regain the paradise but it would be a factor in motivating them to excel in their chosen fields, as they have done in the past.

The bounties of nature notwithstanding, the history of Kashmir has been a curious mixture of long periods of creativity and intermittent but devastating periods of religious vandalism. It is amazing, indeed, as to how this community survived to tell the tale. Dr S.S. Toshkhani’s paper is blunt in exposing the myth of peaceful propagation of Islam, and debunks the concept of Kashmiriyat as a concept coined to make Muslim separatism more acceptable and respectable.

In fact, he points out with some justification that the cultural character of Kashmir started changing with the supposedly great king Lulbadshah, Zainul-Abidin’s reign, when he made Kashmir a cultural colony of West Asia. His royal patronage to the art and artists of an alien land damaged indigenous arts and crafts and eroded the Kashmiri identity.

Perhaps in their effort to make the right kind of noises to maintain harmony with the vast majority, the learned men have begun to question even Sufism in general and the Rishi cult in particular. While Nund Rishi might be a symbol of all that is best to have emerged from the fusion of Islam and Hinduism, some have started wondering if Sufism was not a midway halt in a one-way traffic to the Islamisation of the valley. It has been pointed out that all leading disciples of Nund Rishi were not only Pandits but one of them was an ardent practitioner of Shaivism. The Rishi cult grew so as to present the benign face of Islam, they seem to say.

Complementing him is Prof K. Warikoo who not only recounts the barbaric manner in which conversions were made over a sustained period, but also the myth created during the first half of the 20th century that the Pandits were rich landed aristocrats during the Dogra rule. Chaman Lal Gadoo rightly feels that the golden period in recent history of Pandits spanned the 128- year-rule of Sikhs and the Dogras, during which they not only practised their own faith the way they liked but also spread to various parts of the country where they occupied high positions by virtue of their learning and proficiency in ancient and modern languages.

At the other end of the spectrum stands Prof S.L. Pandit, whose response to the past is tempered with the need to maintain correct relations with the majority in the valley. He tries to painstakingly underplay the role of Sultan Sikander the Butshikan in destroying the Hindu and Buddhist Kashmir and converting it to Islam.

He almost seems to justify the conversions as an event waiting to happen in the post-Buddhist, post-Shankara period. Like many others, he finds the rule of Lulbadshah Zainul-Abidin as benign and tolerant, not wondering if the greatness and tolerance were because of the comparative ruthless and intolerant rule of Sultan Sikander!

While the scars of the past continue to be raw and painful for many, there are others like S.N. Bhatt "Haleem", Prof Nirja Mattoo and M.L. Bhatt and Shafaq Bharati who prefer to dwell on the higher planes of life to find reason and motivation to survive and excel wherever they might be. One thing is certain that no matter what the state of physical being, the collective consciousness and the richness of the spirit that a Kashmiri Pandit inherits is a well of wisdom and knowledge which helps him lead a rich and fulfilling life.

It is interesting to note that only a handful of them dream of reclaiming the land of their ancestors. Though yearning for it, they know that their place in the modern context is too narrow to help them regain the full expression of their talent. It has been so for quite some time and that is why as individuals and units, the Kashmiri Pandits had been moving to distant lands in search of not only security but also better employment opportunities. Some talk of a homeland of their own, but do they really believe that in the present context that would be feasible, or help develop a composite Kashmiri culture, which again is at variance with the values they cherish so passionately? And when and if it does happen, would the generation be content to living in the lap of benign nature, knowing fully well that the rest of the world is in a hurry to pass them by?

It is in this context that one reads in disbelief the hope of M.K. Kaw, President of Kashmir Education, Culture and Science Society and at present education secretary to the Government of India. He says in his keynote address, "I can see that one day Kashmir will be a Hindu majority state as in old times.

How this will be brought about I cannot say. India cannot have peace in Kashmir if it is not a Hindu majority state. I feel that some day, some party in Delhi will wake up and do what ought to have been done in 1947. We should work for the achievement of this goal."

The book is a disjointed history of Kashmir and its culture. Though priced very high, it does help in understanding not only the community and life of the Kashmiri Pandits but also their pain and anguish at the injustice of having to become victims of continued persecution although they have done so much to enrich life.



A primer on mass communication
Review by Gobind Thukral

Handbook of Journalism and Mass Communication
by Vir Bala Aggarwal and V.S. Gupta. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 474. Rs. 180.

MORE than three decades ago as a student of mass communication and journalism; I had the privilege of being taught by a teacher who had set up the first school for journalism in the country at Lahore. But the problem with the aging teacher was that he could dictate mostly from his written notes. These were so old that even the paper had yellowed and become brittle. Now there is a large number of textbooks on mass communication and journalism; devoted to every aspect of the course such as mass communication, print media, electronic media, media ownership and management, public relations and advertising, ethics and now, of course, the Internet and instant journalism.

Most have followed the pattern set by British or American universities. Some of the books still come from foreign universities. In Indian books, the information and case studies are related to this country. Right now more than 60 universities or institutions offer a regular course, mostly at the post-graduate level.

Nevertheless, the requirements of students are never fully met. Hence any effort by professional journalists or by experienced teachers is welcome. Here are two well-known teachers trying to fill the gap with a new book. It is a useful handbook that takes care of mass communication, its origin and development, media and communication, print media that includes the study of several laws concerning press and electronic media. Patterns of management and forms of ownership are discussed in a separate chapter as are other subjects like public relations, advertising and the related issues. The annexures and the glossary provide vital information like the Press Council of India’s guidelines, media’s coverage of communal issues and flare-ups, ethical code for financial journalists, international code of ethics, broadcasting code and the Times of India code of ethics and several other codes.

The book contains useful information in one volume, helpful to students. But teachers who do take pains to teach students what mass media and journalism are would not be satisfied with the basic information. While describing the different kinds of ownership, an in-depth discussion is missing. There should have been a more meaningful discussion when big business houses own newspapers, news magazines, TV or radio stations. How they monopolise information and tailor it to suit their business interests! Or, how the advertisers with heavy budgets influence the readers, listeners or viewers, not only to buy their products, but also how they should be voting and what political opinions they should hold.

The advertisers and owners act as censors and filters. Inconvenient journalists are not liked and are eased out. Also, there is need to discuss the ownership pattern and what the best alternatives available are. These could be like The Tribune Trust or the BBC’s public broadcasting system funded by the state or private multinational ownership like that of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire across the globe. Budding journalists should know more and in detail.

In short, the political economy of the media should be discussed in detail in the class rooms. So that when students land in newspaper offices or at TV or radio stations, they should have their eyes wide open and their mental faculties sharp enough to discern what is happening around.

The mass media is no longer seen as the purveyor of undoctored information and fair comment. There is increasing apprehension that idealism and liberalism are deserting the profession. TV and print journalists are impatient and unload pre-cooked and packaged news and views. Consumer culture and trivial issues seem to dominate. Those who saw the live coverage of the Agra summit would have seen the sameness and emptiness. The viewers were left with little insight. A dialogue between the communicator and the object is now being missed.

The media exercises vast power and its reach in this information age when everyday when there is some technological breakthrough increases its reach and scope is tremendous. The print media — that is, newspapers, magazines and journals — continues to exercise vast influence while radio has brought speed and increased its scope by crossing national boundaries. Television has added an entirely new dimension through visual and speedy presentation of news and views. Its visual impact could be best gauged by how the two major wars, the Vietnam war from 1970 to 1975 and the Gulf war in 1991 were really fought on the television screen in the drawing rooms.

Media is considered a pillar of democracy. In theory the media stands for equality and social justice and should be deeply concerned with discovering the truth and offer the people information and knowledge. We really cannot think of the industrial age and democracy without the enlightening role of the media. Hence and importance of teachers of journalism and books on the media.

But all this does not mean that the handbook is not a useful attempt. It is. It shall certainly help students get a lot of information in one book. Mrs Aggarwal who heads the department of mass communication at the Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, surely knows the need of the students and hence this handbook. The co-author who retired from Hisar, has made his own useful contribution.



Did Ambedkar have a choice?
Review by
Lalit Mohan
writes from Gurgaon

AFTER the publication of Arun Shourie’s scathing critique of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s political career it was but natural that any biography or film made on his life would try to rationalise and explain his subservience to the colonial rulers at a time when most Indians had resolved to throw them out. D.R. Chaudhry’s review. ("Ambedkar was no British Toady", The Tribune, July 8) of H.S. Sarkar’s "True Gods — False Gods", looks at the circumstances that prompted him to oppose the freedom struggle and accept office in the then Government of India. Even if we accept the premise that he did not trust the Congress to do justice to dalits, the question still remains: did Ambedkar have no other option?

Bhimrao AmbedkarBhimrao Ambedkar was born in 1891 in a Mahar family in Mhow, Madhya Bharat, and from as early as he could remember, experienced insults and repression because of his caste. His father was a low ranked soldier in the British army, which may explain partly the son’s attitude towards the government of the day. He faced formidable hurdles in pursuing education. However, with grit and determination, and the fortuitous support of the Maharaja of Baroda, he overcame these obstacles and won scholarship and got a doctorate from Columbia University for his thesis on famines in India.

Ambedkar knew poverty as only a person who has lived in it can. Having experienced the most degrading type of discrimination first hand, he understood only too well the structure of Indian society. His distrust of the upper castes which, despite Gandhi’s efforts, dominated the Congress, cannot be faulted and he had said more than once, "Can anyone who realises what the outlook, tradition and social philosophy of the governing classes in India is, believe that under the Congress regime, a sovereign and independent India will be different from the India we have today?" ("Writings and Speeches", vol ix).

Again he says, "It is a pity that they do not seem to distinguish the case of a tyrant who is held down and who pleads for liberty because he wants to regain the right to oppress and the case of an oppressed class seeking to be free from the oppression of the tyrant."

Much the same sentiments were expressed by another, younger man. In one of his letters to his mother, written in the late 1920s, he said, "Ma, I have no doubt that my country will be free one day. But I am afraid that brown sahibs will sit in chairs that white sahibs will vacate."

On another occasion, writing to his comrades through the columns of a newspaper, he said that for the revolution "the toiling masses have to be mobilised, because for them it won’t matter much if Lord Reading is replaced by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru or Purshottamdas Thakurdas." Later he summed up his views very clearly. "Revolution means complete overthrow of the existing social order."

The last note was written a few weeks before he was hanged. This young man’s name was Bhagat Singh.

Ambedkar could not have agreed with him more. And both stalwarts had nothing but disdain for Gandhian satyagraha. They were two of the most original, daring and perceptive thinkers of India in last century.

They lived at different times and hailed from different regions and different ends of the social spectrum, but their analysis of India’s problems and their assessment of the Congress’s inventions and ability to solve them was nearly identical.

Even though he viewed the Indian system through the prism of class, instead of caste, Bhagat Singh’s "oppressed masses" were in reality the same as Ambedkar’s — people at the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder. Yet, having made a similar diagnosis, their respective perceptions of India’s ills were so radically different that they took them to two different extremes of political action.

Bhagat Singh’s political strategy was quite clear.

He wanted to fight the British colonial rulers first, get rid of them and then confront the Congress. Like Ambedkar, he also believed that the departure of the rulers would not be the end of the struggle. Only, it would enter a new phase of social upheaval. He would compromise with neither the British nor the Congress.

Ambedkar, on the other hand, would rather have had the British stay on than even contemplate a temporary transfer of power to the Congress. At one of the Round Table Conferences he said, "We are not anxious for transfer of political power." He called the freedom struggle a "dishonest agitation" whereby the Congress was "sidetracking the servile classes and fooling them to play upon the sentiment of nationalism." He would rather sup with Jinnah than with the Mahatma and even joined the former in celebrating his "Deliverance Day". His stand at the 1931 conference was so inimical to the nationalist cause that it prompted the Secretary of State to the Viceroy to give him a patronising pat on his back with the remark, "Ambedkar behaved very well and I am most anxious to strengthen his hands."

Ambedkar, too, could have joined in the struggle to throw the firangis out of the country. And after their departure launch a crusade for a social revolution in India as, indeed, Bhagat Singh would have done had he lived to see India free. Instead, the dalit leader accepted appointment as the Labour Member of the Viceroy’s Council, at the very moment when the masses in India were demanding that the British "quit India". He called the movement "treachery to India" and collaborated fully with the imperial power to suppress and sabotage it.

His hostility towards Gandhi was in marked contrast with the gratitude he expressed for the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, when the latter demitted office.

Bhagat Singh, for all his differences with Gandhi, was never disrespectful. But in his commitment to a political and social revolution he never wavered.

Ultimately he paid for his beliefs with his life. No such sacrifice was required of Ambedkar. He could have revolted against the British while he held the reins of power and, after independence, fought the Congress. Instead even after India became free, he remained part of the ruling establishment, helping draft the Constitution that his own followers say is biased in favour of the affluent classes.

Whether he can be called a toady or not, on both occasions he made the wrong choice.



Notes of devotion, the Indian style
Review by Kavita Chauhan

Singing the Praises Divine: Music in the Hindu Tradition
by Selina Thielemann. A.P.H.
Publishing, New Delhi. Rs 500.

THE book under review is a selection of lectures and articles based on the theme of music in Hindu tradition, with special emphasis on song as a mode of worship in Vaisnava Bhakti. The writer’s basic concern is to discuss music as part of religious tradition in the South Asian cultural context.

In India, the religious element is perceived as the essence of music and the prime cause of musical activity. The Indian music theory was not developed as a separate science, but it emerged from the Vedas.

In the Vedic tradition sound is identified with the supreme reality, Shabda-Brahman, the prime object of worship and mediation. The music of today represents a direct continuation of the practice of ritual service through the medium of sound that organised from Vedic chant.

If in India music is perceived as a divine art, it is so because of the positive powers and bliss-giving effects inherent in the medium of sound. The Indian term for the aesthetic experience, rasa, is equated with divine bliss and it is through music that man becomes blissful, for music acts as the motivating energy that causes the current of rasa to flow.

Sound is the medium that carries the flow of rasa, thus establishing the direct communication between man and the divine force. In the Hindu tradition, no ritual can be performed without the use of sound. Bhakti, a term which is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root bhaj is understood in two senses — first, in the sense of partaking of divine bliss and second, it denotes loving devotion to God.

Music as the foremost vehicle of devotional expression in the context of bhakti, establishes a personal bond between man and divinity and it articulates the bliss arising from the ultimate experience in union with the divine. The principal function of music is to verbalise the praise of God. Among all musical instruments, the human voice alone has the capacity to pronounce the sacred words composed for the glorification of the divine. In this sense the word ‘samgita’, the modern term for music, literally known as "together with song" can be interpreted as the vocalisation of divine praises (gita) enhanced by musical accompaniment of various kinds (sam). Just as rituals cannot be performed without the sound of appropriate mantras in bhakti tradition. God cannot be worshiped without devotional songs.

In India, music and performing arts have been carried forward by a continuous flow of religious traditions and many cultural treasures have been saved from extinction because of its permanent religious value that left it unaffected by changes in aesthetic perception. Despite Islamic invasions in North India, the classical music of this region does have its roots in the musical practice of Hindu temples and, in particular, in the Vaishnava tradition.

Along with the Indian classical music, the great classical dance styles of India, too, evolved from Hindu temples. The author refers to bharatanatyam, kathak, kuchipudi, odissi and manipuri as the five main stylistic traditions in dance pertaining to different regions of India. All these classical dances have a common origin in the temple tradition of their respective regions. Surprisingly the author has not mentioned kathakali amongst these classical dance forms.

Since the bhakti tradition empahsies the emotional relation between man and God, in Indian aesthetics, rasa is equated with experience of the divine. Rasa is the connecting link that emerges from unbounded love, from unlimited commitment of the soul to God. And for the author the best medium to express the spiritual reality in tangible terms in music. Music is the motivating energy — the energy that sets the flow of rasa in motion.

The author holds that the religious element represents not only a determining factor for the presentation and development of musical traditions, but is also vital for the survival of all musical genres. To substantiate this point she gives the example of the North Indian dhrupad tradition. Dhrupad originally took its birth as a devotional song in the Vaishnava temples. Later on, it was taken to Mughal courts from where it became the part of the classical musical tradition. Whereas the pre-eminent theme of the South Indian kirtans is separation, dhrupads are composed as praises of major Hindu deities. Dhrupad was regarded as the most pure and powerful form of devotional singing.

The concept of associating ragas with the times of the day and seasons is of particular relevance to the North Indian cultural sphere. In India, the day is divided into eight period of three hours each, referred to as ashtayama or ashtakala. The songs for the first watch mangala are rendered in early morning ragas such as Bhairava, Ramakali and Bhairavi and remain relevant for second and third watches Bala and Sringara.

Bilavala and Asavari ragas enjoy special popularity in songs for Sringara arati.

Ragas such as todi and Saranga are sung around rajabhoga, and ragas Purvi, Gauri, Sri and others for Utthapana.

Early evening ragas such as Yamana, Hamira and Kalyan for Sandhya arati and the late evening ragas such as Keddar, Kanhar and Bihag are sung for the seventh watch. Raga Bihaga is the characteristic melody type to render the concluding songs of the day at sayana.

The devotional religion in India has preferred to use vernaculars in place of Sanskrit as literary and poetic language. During that time, a rich tradition of devotional poetry developed in Braja and Brajabhasa came to be the foremost language of Vaishnava poetry. The author focuses on the devotional music in Braja, one of India’s important pilgrimage centres.

The author concludes that various traditions of bhakti are responsible for India’s rich variety of musical forms. She contends that according to its innate nature, music can grow and unfold only in an environment that is characterised by faith in and devotion to God, and where there is no devotion, music too will perish.

All told, the book makes very interesting reading for anyone wanting to have an idea of Indian classical music. Since the author is herself a musician, her remarks have great authenticity.



Daughter as protector of mother
Review by Akshaya Kumar

Mai, a novel
by Geetanjali Shree, Kali for Women, New Delhi. Pages 208.
Rs 200.

MOTHER remains an absent character in mainstream fiction. This is not to say that the mother does not figure at all in this type of literature; as a topos of selfdenying love and affection, she is always there. What is missing is the depiction of mother as a significant functional being as one who has a distinct identity and a space of her own. More often than not she is taken for granted, she is presented to us as a vulnerable creature, one who does not have the strength to withstand the realities of life without male support. She is eulogised for her unflinching commitment to patriarchy.

In such a scenario of her gross appropriation by the ever-clever patriarchy, the onus of representing the mother obviously falls on contemporary women-writers, more gender-sensitive as they grow in the emerging awareness about women’s rights.

Geetanjali Shree, an upcoming writer of Hindi fiction, undertakes this task of retrieving the mother from the margin through her fictional endeavour "Mai". In Hindi fiction, woman writers like Krishna Sobti, Mridula Garg, Mrinal Pande, Usha Priyamvada, Raji Seth, etc have almost created a parallel discourse on the so-called feminist fiction which at times, due to its inherent revelatory potentials, overtakes the mainstream fiction.

In fact, on the literary firmament across languages it is the woman-writer who hogs the limelight every day. With her own gender-specific experiences, she has the authority to unfold the hidden and rather misconstrued sexuality of woman in ways which are unprecedented by the standards laid down by patriarchy.

In terms of story-line, the novel is a passionate daughterly account of a mother, mai, caught as she is in the drudgery of typical North Indian middle class joint family set-up. As the narrative opens, we are introduced to a mother with a weak spine, always attending to the needs of family members at the cost of her health. Dada, the intimidating patriarch, is loud and boisterous. Even the father, Babu, is helpless before the authority of Dada. The two children Subodh, the son, and Sunaina, the daughter, take upon themselves to free their mother from the clutches of patriarchy, but eventually the onus falls on the unmarried daughter who vows to pull mai’s fire outside and keep it alight in her effort to seek equal space for all women.

Spatial matrices of gender differentiation have been worked out very diligently in the narrative. Specific space has been allocated to characters according to their age, status and power position in the patriarchal set-up. The outer domain is meant for males, the inner belongs to females. Even in the outer domain, there is hierarchy. Grandfather’s (Dada’s) sitting room is the outer most part of the huge house. Dadi’s domain is inner vernadah. Babu’s room is sandwiched in-between. The inner courtyard is the space of the mai, where she, for most the time, remains confined behind a pardah. Even among servants, men-servants operate in the outer estate and maid-servants in the inner. Only "at boundaries objects, messages and scoldings were exchanged".

Only kids irrespective of their sex, do not have restrictions, but somehow Dada’s world does not fascinate them and they keep hovering around dadi and mai. The outer space is abuzz with roars of laughter, calls to servants, loud music, and countless commands to the "insiders". The inside is quiet, the site of silent (or silenced) mother who works without any noise.

It is only after the demise of grandparents that prison walls of the inside begin to open up. She takes over as the new mistress of the house. She could be seen "on the lawn, in the fields, bent over flower pots and beds". The character of the outer sphere undergoes a change. Instead of the usual guavas and mangoes, the garden of the house witnesses a "new womanly blossoming": "The mild smell of the lime trees mingling with the fragrance of harshringar, roses, chameli. A cool, fresh breeze and an innocence burgeoning everywhere..."

The success of the novel lies in its capacity to capture the complexity of the situation. One-sided narratives degenerate into propaganda literature. In the novel, Geetanjali Shree manages the contradictions or confusions within the project of feminist emancipation very well. While uplifting her mother from the mire of patriarchy, Sunaina undergoes moments of self-reflexivity: "I was tired of victories and defeats. If I was on the side of victory, I became an oppressor; if I was on the side of defeat, I became a martyr". The house depicted as an impregnable prison throughout the novel, at some other moments turns out to be a space of protection and security: "We had believed the house to be a prison and felt it to be suffocating. Then we began to miss this very house as if there was some shadow there which would protect us..."

The novel ends on paradoxical note as the daughter fights against the mother for the mother herself. "I have to fight till then, fight herself, the mai who is alive, who is in me, who is in the fire, in the ashes, who is there forever. Before whom I bow. I will fight her".

Patriarchy has great surviving skills. It taps all discourses of emancipation — from religion to English education — to its advantage leaving "the other" eternally deprived and utterly helpless. The son Subodh is sent to a boarding school, while the daughter studies in a local school. Colonialism with all its facade of liberal humanism ends up in consolidating the indigenous patriarchal systems thus: "it was dada who sent Subodh to a boarding school with some actual English teachers to turn him into an ‘English’ officer". Subodh in fact promises to "teach" English to his sister to help her run away from the Hindi household.

What really redeems the novel from lapsing into an easy dydadic allegory of female emancipation is the characterisation of Babu who is neither as authoritarian as Dada, nor as helpless as mai. The "poor" Babu’s predicament is well captured thus: "Everyone else’s life was bound by rules or even a sort of imprisonment, only he was like a pigeon among them all, hopping in all directions, feeble like a pigeon, free like a pigeon. With no problem of ever having to answer to anyone". He presents a very innocent face of patriarchy.

In the characterisation of mai, Geetanjali Shree excels with her terse observations such as these: "Her absence is her presence", "mai was the synonym of ‘not-becoming’", "The not-mai was the human for us". How ‘parda’ obliterates the individual behind it is well-articulated thus: "But looking at mai’s pardah we forgot there was something behind it as well".

The translator Nita Kumar deserves a word of praise for holding the basic drift and tenor of the novel intact. In the original Hindi version, it is easy to run down English as the alien language, but in its English translation it becomes a challenge to retain this alienness of English. Nita Kumar’s translation does in no way undermine "Hindi versus English binary" — a running motif of the novel. The extended introduction towards the "end" of the translated novel further unfolds "the matter of the mother" to the benefit of critical reader.

In an otherwise racy narration, occasional lapses into ideology are unwarranted. Shree should have allowed the narrative to speak for itself, abstract theorising only gives the feeling that somewhere the narrative lacks momentum, and that it needs external support in the form of overt authorial interventions. Also the novelist should have avoided the already exhausted imagery of "bird breaking free from a cage" as a trope of woman’s liberation. The imagery of fire, inside as well as outside, tends to be more polemical than aesthetically innovative. The sustained use of ladder and pit as a metaphor of struggle however does lend aesthetic maturity to the novel, but on the whole "Mai" remains more or less a microscopic anthropological documentation of a North Indian mother.

It must be read by all those who tend to take mother as an absolutely unproblematic site of Indian family system. There is nothing against motherhood; it only seeks to assert the humanness of mother. Maternalism with a human face, perhaps, is feminism for hard times.



Hindi Literature
Going downstream

Review by Satyapal Sehgal

MORE about Hindi poets of Himachal. Yes, as a collectivity, the poets of Himachal Pradesh have not been writing about mother nature, as one would expect them to do. So it is not surprising that none of them followed Sumitra Nandan Pant, the great Hindi poet of nature’s splendor, of the "chayavaad" movement of the thirties, who belonged to Kosani in Kumoun hills. Hindi poetry being written in Himachal has been mainly on social themes -– about men and women in the street or, as one may put it, about weather-beaten people climbing up and down the hills, labouring, and being easy meat for the insensitive power structures. It was not, therefore, a coincidence that during the nineties, two main national associations of leftist writers — Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh and Janvaadi Lekhak Sangh — which have always stressed the importance of sharpening social consciousness in literature, had good presence in Himachal Pradesh, particularly in Mandi and Shimla regions. Even poets who are not known to be activists of these organisations, like Amitabh and Arvind Ranchan, were busy with themes like disillusionment of the people with the present social system. .

A comprehensive list of such poets may include names like Devender Dhar and Avtar Singh Engil and a lot of old and young, wellknown and lesser known poets like Prakash Pant and Kul Rajiv Pant, Dev Badotara, Mohan Sahil and Tarsem Bharti. Poets come to attend poetry workshops held at various places in the state -– at Shimla, Dharamsala, Mandi or Nahan — or the conventions of Pragatishil Lekhak Sangh and Janvadi Lekhak Sangh. These meets are dominated by subjects like economic deprivation of the masses, unemployment, communal tension, discrimination against women, and corruption in politics.

It is for the critics and researchers to show to what extent prevalence of these themes in Hindi poetry of Himachal reflects the hegemony the mainstream Hindi poetry exercises over lesser streams, like that of Himachal. Presentation of these themes in the Hindi poetry of Himachal is somewhat alienated in character. One may not contest the local social determinants of this kind of poetic endeavour but one must question the literary idiom and style these poets choose. And are not there any subaltern issues!

Incidentally, Hindi poetry in Himachal is not known for the dalit voice though the percentage of dalits is highest in the state next only to Punjab in whole of the country.

Highly respected and one of the seniormost poets of the state, Sri Niwas Srikant has always been different. He has great poetic energy with a fascination for mythical contents. Dinu Kashyap is also in his own mould. (He is a public relation officer with the state government posted at Una. There he is known as Dina Nath (ooch!). He was in the Indian Army as a signal man. Service conditions took him to various regions in Hindi heartland which gave him the necessary exposure to the Hindi literary milieu. A blue-eyed boy of stalwart Trilochan, he had a great passion for reading and writing poetry. He came out with widely acclaimed poems on the life of a sepoy. His achievements are extraodinary.

Keshav, Anil Rakeshi, Rekha, Satyender Sharma, Ram Dayal Neeraj and Sunder Lohiya are simply unforgettable. They have earned respect of literary circles in Himachal and beyond. Keshav is a known Hindi short-story writer and so is Rekha. The maturity they show in the use of language is there in their verses as well. Missing out a local touch though, Rekha has a sensitive and refined feminine touch in her poetry. Anil Rakeshi, a retired handsome Principal of the famous Evening College of Shimla, is a father figure, particularly to the writers of Nahan (where helives. He is so popular that he might win a seat the Assembly election there, I guess!).

Sunder Lohiya, who like Dinu Kashyap hails from Mandi, is a short story writer of repute and felt this sudden urge for poetry in the nineties, wrote some well received poems and then involved himself in the activities of Literacy Mission. Ram Dayal Neeraj is the grand old man of Hindi poetry in Himachal. And he will remain so forever.

And there are more. Patronage of academies or state governments or favourable social or literary conditions are not a pre-requisite for poets. (These factors do go to nourish and sustain them. They are always there, at all places. I take this opportunity to mention a few of them whose works were available to me and whose verses and other writings appealed to me for one reason or the other, inspite of my the dis-satisfaction I have mentioned earlier. Among those I remember are the likes of Madhukar Bharti (Theog), Kishori Lal Vaidya (Shimla), Ravi Rana Shaheen (Mandi), Hem Chand Shastri (Nahan), Yadvinder Sharma (Sundernagar), Rajesh Sharma (Una), Aditi Guleri (Dharamsala), Suresh Rana (Lahoul-Spiti) and Satish Tegta (Navodaya School, Theog).

But where is Kumar Krishan, that poet and master of calligraphy rolled into one, who as a teacher of Hindi literature knew that literary movements make poets. So he got into preparing a manifesto for one –- the "Bhoo-Kavita". And there is Praful Mahajan, an engineer by education and administrator by profession but a passionate poet of basic relationships and a kind soul. Where is he? In Mandi? In Shimla? Is he writing? Writing ghazals, his first love, or free verses?

And what about Anup Sethi? That promising Hindi poet acclaimed all over the Hindi belt and now working in Mumbai, outside his home-state for almost two decades. He is from Dharamsala. Should we call him a Himachalì? Is he now part of the literary lore of Shimla? By now, he must be quiet old. Is he still the same Zia, Kumar Vikal was very fond of? Always.



Lots and lots of labour, but to very little effect
Review by H. P. Sah

An Encyclopaedia of Buddhism: A World Faith (Five volumes),
by M.G. Chitkara. A.P.H. Publishing, Delhi.

IT is expected from the title of a book that it will give an idea of its contents at the first glance. This is a norm. Since this is a norm, it is very often violated. Many titles do not rightly give an idea of the content of the work. But one is shocked when one finds that the title is just misleading. "An Encyclopaedia of Buddhism: A World Faith" is one such misleading title.

When you open up the book clad in art-paper jacket bearing a picture of the Buddha, you expect that you will get enormous piece of information about Buddhism. But your expectation dies very soon. You come to know that it is no Encyclopaedia of Buddhism at all; it is an attempt by the author to acquaint you with his encyclopaedic knowledge about Buddhism, about Yoga, about Vedanta, about particle physics, about human psychology, about global problems of peace, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. ...and so on. You are impressed. But at the same time you are left bewildered because you expected some historically authentic information about Buddhism, which you don’t get at all.

The first volume of "Encyclopaedia of Buddhism: A World Faith" is the author’s commentary on Dhammapada verses and stories. Tripitakas are the basic texts of early Buddhism. Every Pitaka contains many Nikayas which are divided into many books. Dhammapada is one of the books of Khuddak Nikaya of Sutta Pitaka. Dhammapada has almost the same importance for a Buddhist as the Bhagwad Gita has for a Hindu. It has 26 chapters.

The author has given an elaborate commentary of all these chapters and has tried to explain the themes with the help of thoughts from other thinkers and through scientific theories too. Vedant has been frequently used to support the explanation. Buddhism and Vedant are normally regarded as opposite schools of Indian philosophy — the former denounces the existence of Atman whereas the latter strongly defends the existence of it and argues that only Atman is absolutely real and it is identical with Brahman.

A thinker can argue for similarities or continuity between Buddhist and Vedantic thoughts but in a work which is entitled encyclopaedia such statements and arguments are bound to mislead the reader. The author has not taken any care in commenting on Dhammapada to caution the reader that it is his own view and the points which he has tried to explain with the help of some other school of thought does not normally defend that point.

The second volume of "Encyclopaedia of Buddhism: A World Faith" does not deal with any specific Buddhist text. It deals with the problem of world peace in the age of nuclear weapons and tries to establish that only the Buddha’s message can help solve this problem. This view is expressed in 29 chapters. Various political, social and developmental issues are dealt with in these chapters. Hardly any one would like to oppose the author’s views on these issues but one just wonders what makes the author to call the collection of these chapters as another volume of "Encyclopaedia of Buddhism".

The third volume deals with the teachings of Bodhisattava. No specific Buddhist text is the base of this volume. "So says Bodhisattva" is the subtitle of this volume. This volume, in fact, is a kind of the author’s diary in each page of which he has written his thought for the day. So this volume begins with January 1 and ends with December 31. These pieces of thought are occasionally used by the author to convey good wishes to his friends and followers. These thoughts do not necessarily come from Bodhisattava’s teaching; it may begin with a poem of Milton, some statement of Abraham Lincoln or with a shloka from Bhagvad Gita. Love and friendliness to nature are the general message delivered in the 365 main pages of this volume.

Environment is the central theme of the fourth volume. The author tries to show that Buddhism preaches human being to live as "man in nature" in contradiction to "man versus nature". Nature has given human beings everything in abundance for survival and growth in harmony. But due to unnatural style of life, men exploited nature very brutally. The result is ecological unbalance. The author reminds us of the Buddhist teaching that Trishna (lust) is fundamental source of all Dukha (sufferings). He suggests that following the teaching of the Buddha is the only way to solve all the major national and global problems of our day.

Buddhist Nirvana is the subtitle of the fifth volume. In 58 chapters of this volume the author explains the nature of Nirvana, Maha Parinirvana,Praticcha Sammutpada (concept of dependent origination), Karma, re-birth and some aspects of tantrik Buddhism. He has tried to explain how the conceit of re-birth in Buddhism is different from the general idea of transmigration of soul, and why Dhamma (or Dharma) should not be confused with religion. The author tries to convince us that Buddhism is very different from other religions of India and the world (in some sense superior also) but by reflecting on it with an unbiased mind, one discovers that all other dominant religions of the world also have the same self-image.

The first and the last (the fifth) volumes have a distinct feature — the appendices. These appendices make these volumes very special. In the appendix of the first volume the Sanskrit and the Palil texts of Dhammapada are given. The author has rendered it in Hindi verses for easy grasp of its sublime thoughts. In the two appendices of the fifth volume the author has given the English rendering of Madhyamik Karika of Nagarjuna. It would have been better if he had given its original text also.

The aim of the author of these volumes is to spread the message of peace and compassion, which is the central theme of Buddhism. Perhaps this aim could have been more successfully realised if he had written a series of small handy books instead of writing heavy and costly volumes of encyclopaedia. The tremendous amount of labour and time imparted by Chitkara deserves applaud but his immense labour would have borne fruit if he only changed the form of his work.