The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 12, 2001

Painful experience of individuals with ‘wrong past’
Review by Randeep Wadehra

The pain of personality development
Review by Akbar Hussain

Poetical grammar of yore
Review by M.L. Sharma

Prince of the poor, and how he made them poor
Ram Vir writes from Faridabad

Was Chekhov an escapist? I think not
Review by M.L. Raina

Five generations of changing Indians
Review by Ram Varma

Twinkle, twinkle faded star
Review by R.P. Chaddah

A simple story of cheese and better
Review by Deepika Gurdev




Painful experience of individuals with ‘wrong past’

Review by Randeep Wadehra

What Went Wrong?
by Kiran Bedi. UBSPD, New Delhi. Pages xiv+205.: Rs. 175.

IT is a rare soul who does not experience pain at some point of time in life. Rarer still is the person who is sensitive to the agonies of the less fortunate fellow beings. Kiran Bedi – the first Indian woman IPS officer among other things – is one such soul. A winner of gallantry award, she has also won the Magsaysay Award, the Asian Region Award for Drug Prevention and Control, and the Morrison-Tom Gitchaff Award in June 2001.

Bedi has founded two voluntary organisations —. Navjyoti and the India Vision Foundation. These organisations "reach out to thousands of poor children daily for primary education, adult literacy for women; provide vocational training and counselling services in the slums, rural areas and inside the prison, apart from treatment for drug addiction"..

The volume under review is a compilation of first-hand, voluntary accounts of painful experiences by individuals with a "wrong past". Kiran Bedi avers that these persons – men, women, adolescents, and even children – had the courage to state what went wrong in their lives. There is also an attempt to analyse the factors that marred their lives. Bedi has, at the end of each narrative, given her views on the situation(s) responsible for destroying each narrator’s life and what could have prevented such tragedy. Wherever possible, she has also suggested corrective actions and remedies.

Afsana was born in a prosperous Hindu family in a Haryana village. Her father was working for a premier intelligence organisation in Delhi. He had little time to share with his children. Afsana’s mother did try to make up for the father’s absence but in vain. Afsana started drifting away from her studies when she was living in a hostel on joining college. The insensitive warden only made her life worse.

She decided to meet her father who was not responding to her distress signals. On the way the auto-rickshaw driver raped her. She then married her tormentor who was a Muslim. Thus she became Afsana. Her father reached out to her a bit too late. From living a life of comfort to be a rickshaw driver’s wife was a shocking downfall. Life has become a burden for her now.

Then there is the tale of the 40-plus old Deepak who had a none-too-happy childhood. Poverty, illiteracy, bad company, neglected schooling, dishonest and indifferent policing, and corrupt prison management are the perpetrators and facilitators of miseries in the lives of people like Deepak.

Poverty and lack of education forced him into doing labour at the age of 12. Soon he started smoking and keeping bad company. Drinking was the next step towards disaster. Gradually he took to drugs. Marriage did not improve his lot, contrary to his parents’ expectations. He joined a gang of pickpockets. Being in and out of jail became a routine affair for him. There was no dearth of drugs in the prison. But he was reformed. How? In Deepak’s own words, "I was approached by a counsellor from ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ who took me into one of his meetings where all former addicts used to interact with others. Slowly, I did not know how, I got to see myself with them every evening. And with every day, the desire to become drug-free took me to a treatment and rehabilitation centre… Now I am drug-free for last two months and under the care of Navjyoti – an NGO which provides addicts like myself a new lease of their lives. I am working as a volunteer with Navjyoti – and look forward to a brighter and a drug-free future".

One can only say amen to such optimism.

This book is certainly more than a collection of interesting and thought-provoking narratives. It is not just a litany of woes. No doubt it gives you the sordid side of the social picture, but it also suggests time-tested remedies that would make the picture less ignoble if not altogether bright.

Over to our social scientists and students of social sciences.

* * *

India: Decentralised Planning
 by B.M. Sanyal.
Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 206. Rs. 300.

After independence India decided to have a planned economy a la the Soviet model despite the fact that there was a difference of opinion among various economists on whether the model made centralised planning compulsory or there was scope for decentralisation.

Centralised planning, as we all know, created lots of regional imbalances. Thus the mineral rich eastern states like Bihar and Orissa remained essentially backward because of lack of infrastructure and planned development. On the other hand, the states traditionally close to the Centre like Punjab and Haryana developed despite a lack of natural resources. Today there is a lot of heartburn because the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is able to extract more than a fair share of central funds for various developmental projects in his state. In a decentralised economy this sort of arbitrariness will be greatly if not completely checked.

Sanyal avers that the concept of decentralised planning can be traced back to the pre-independence days and the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi who was an ardent advocate of small village-based communities that would be more or less self-sufficient. Sanyal also mentions the Ripon Resolution of 1882 that laid the foundation of modern self-government institution in India. The author defines decentralisation as, "an even distribution of power (in any or all of many forms) among all agents in the social, political and economic spheres". Decentralised governance, from state capitals to towns and villages helps facilitate participation in the country’s development by people from all socio-economic strata. Perhaps Sanyal could have used a model where the power flows from the grassroots level to higher echelons, instead of the one used by him.

The top-to-bottom model envisages a situation where the powers enjoyed by the people lower down the hierarchy are at the pleasure of the higher-ups. In fact it is the class at the top of the pyramid that should be beholden to the grassroots level support for its privileges.

Sanyal states that decentralisation is both vertical and horizontal. The horizontal decentralisation distributes power among institutions at the same level, while vertical decentralisation envisages delegation of power by the higher authority to the lower ones. According to the author, planning in India has the following three characteristics:

1. The process operates under a democratic framework with elected governments at the Centre and the states.

2. The planning process operates through a system of federation where concurrent planning is involved.

3. The planning process operates in a market-friendly economy.

Despite more than five decades of planning, the problem of poverty remains as intractable as ever. Centralised planning has benefited mainly big farmers in the rural areas while the rest of the population wallows in poverty. Similarly, the urbanites have certainly usurped more than a fair share of the developmental pie, yet slums have proliferated like cancer. Sanyal recalls that it was during the fourth Plan that the issue of this imbalance was first raised. However, things are not improving at the desired rate.

The author has made a strong case for decentralised planning. Worth reading.

* * *

Secularism in India
by S.K. Ghosh.
 A.P.H. Publishing, New Delhi. Pages xiii+215. Rs 400.

Secularism is a key part of our ethos. Mutual understanding and respect among various religious, ethnic, linguistic and other groups has evolved over the ages for the simple reason that peaceful coexistence is the only possible way of living for the subcontinent’s multitudes. It is no accident that the Republic of India, which is the largest country in the region, is the most convincing argument against two-nation theory and bigotry.

Secularism has been inscribed in the Preamble to the Constitution. Ghosh points out, "…socialism, secularism and democracy cannot be realised unless all sections of the society participate" in the decision-making progress. Unfortunately, socialism has been discarded in favour of free market economy. Secularism too has been coming under immense pressures of late. These pressures are as much due to minority appeasement stunts of the Congress as due to competitive bigotry by various elements in the Hindu and non-Hindu segments of society. To complicate things further, casteism too is raising its head. So, whither secular democracy?

In chapter three, the author has enumerated the various constitutional provisions that go into making India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. He also provides the text of various articles like Art. 15, 16, 17, etc that deal with discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race, sex, place of birth; equality of opportunity in matters of public employment; abolition of untouchability; trafficking in human beings and forced labour, etc.

He then goes on to give a historical background to religious tolerance in India in chapter four. In subsequent chapters he deals with the various issues related to intolerance and secularism. However, what one would have liked to know was how does one meet the myriad challenges faced by our secular society today. The groups that were on the lunatic fringe of our polity till 1970s have slowly but firmly started taking the centre stage — at least from the decade of 1980s onwards. Consequently the voice of reason has become weak..

In order to redeem the secular ethos would it suffice if only administrative/legislative measures are taken? Do political parties need to change their attitude towards vote banks? What should be the role of the various religious heads in promoting secularism? Last but not the least — a system prospers only if the common man perceives it to be beneficial to his interests. Has secularism outlived its utility at the grassroots level? Does the common man in India feel inclined towards bigotry today? Ghosh has not even touched these questions. Perhaps he would like to do so in a subsequent volume?



The pain of personality development
Review by
Akbar Hussain

Personality Across Cultures
edited by Jitendra Mohan. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages 362. Rs 695.

THIS book is a compilation of contributions by experts in personality from all over the world. As a fitting tribute to Professor H.J. Eysenck, who was probably the most powerful voice in personality research for almost half a century, the new look in personality and intelligence research refers to the advent of the paradigm of a unification of procedures of corelational and experimental approaches. He proposes a model of personality which presents a causal one of genetic personality determinants, biological intermediaries, psychometric trait constellations confirmed by experimental studies and revealed through social behaviour.

Jaffrey Gray highlights the role of brain, physical chemistry and molecular genetics in behavioural functions, particularly emotions and their outcomes.Charles D. Spielberger and Reheiser clearly show the formidable adverse effects of stress in the workplace on productivity, absenteeism, worker turnover and stress related medical problems. These effects have certain gender differences in terms of perception of stress and coping strategies.

Allan Baddeley et al locate a link between short-term phonological memory and language acquisition among normal and neurologically impaired adults and children.

Michael Eysenck and Calvo in their processing efficiency theory of anxiety, say that worry has two main effects — a reduction in storage and processing capacity of the working system available for a concurrent task and an increment in on-task efforts and activities designed to improve performance.

Agochia, Mohan and Kakkar present an appraisal of altruism among youth workers. Altruism, as action carried out without intent to benefit others and without the desire to receive benefit in return; is an important feature of the orientation of youth workers in their pro-social behaviour.

Nathan Brody re-evaluates the theory of intelligence of Speaman, bringing out its relevance and rationality even after a century or so.

Meena Sehgal and Rajinder Kaur link teacher effectiveness with the personality characteristics like knowledge, feelings, self-awareness, interpersonal skills and human relations skills and balance in temperament. This evaluation is based on a series of studies in this field of teacher education at school, college and university levels.

B.S. Gupta and Uma Gupta in a review of Indian studies on drugs in personality research in relation to perceptual judgement, figural after-effects, short-term memory, verbal conditioning and cognitive performance conclude that dose response studies are more revealing than the single dose studies. B.C. Muthayya, in his research on rural development personnel, find that structural changes in selection, training and promotion must be viewed in terms of personal ability and social skills of such people.

In a typically incisive paper Chris Brand raises the question: what is it to be high-neuroticism people? Drive, vigilance or personal memory? It gives the high-neuroticism people a "psychotic" character, experience their emotions being carried forward and resolved involving reinforcement responsiveness, reallocation of cognitive resources; national differences in music and romance (as in Austria, France, Italy and India) versus the people from British Isles).

V.V. Upmanyu and Sushma Upmanyu evaluate and reiterate their faith in the word association test as a diagnostic instrument.

Extending the work of Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek in India by validating the personality stress questionnaire; H.J. Eysenck, Jitendra Mohan and Meena Sehgal present a formidable study of 100 coronary heart disease patients, 100 essential hypertension patients and 200 healthy controls. In addition to a cross-cultural validation, this work adds to the growing evidence that psychological factor play an important role in health and disease.

Anuradha Bhandari and Komila Parthi present a good account of research in empathy and its development. Pittu Laungani discusses cultural influences on development of identity in India and England. He emphasises the paradigm shift in cross-cultural psychology in terms of indigenous approaches.

The significant as well as documented paper of the editor of this volume. Jitendra Mohan extends the meaning of his review of cross-cultural experience of collaboration in personality research with Eysenck, Spielberger and Paul Kline to the analysis of different tests, methodologies and models of personality spanning more than a quarter of a century. His hints that personality research may prove both suggestive and futuristic.

Paul Kline in his paper on future of personality measurement as well as personality theory critically evaluates questionnaires, projectivve tests and objective tests. He re-emphasis his trust in the personality questionnaires as they are the only one to reach the criterion of reliability and validity necessary for scientific measurement.

This volume is an important collection of papers in the field of personality. The production value adds to the enlargement of the range, orbit and possibilities of debates on personality research.



Poetical grammar of yore
Review by
M.L. Sharma

Panditaraja Jagannatha’s Rasagangadhara Part-I (The Stream of Bliss)
by Shankaraji Jha. Mithila Prakashan, Chandigarh. Pages 210+xxv. Rs 400.

THE celebrated Sanskrit poet, literary critic and grammarian, Jagannatha, with the title of Panditaraja conferred on him by Emperor Shahjahan and immortalised by his Piyush Lahiri or Ganga Lahiri, is well known as the author of Rasagangadhara which is considered as his magnum opus. The author remarks: "Panditaraja Jagannatha is primarily a poet rather than a critic as is evident from his numerous verses... His poetic works, Ganga-Lahiri and Karuna-Lahiri, Bhamini Vilasa, etc. bring out his extraordinary mastery over the elegant style of Sanskrit poetry."

This book, one of his 15 extant and non-extant creations, is a sublime work on poetics written in the prose form and is deliberately left incomplete on the model of Appayya Dikshit’s "Chitramimansa". Shankaraji Jha, a Sanskrit scholar and an educationist, has translated "Rasagangadhara" with commentary and critical appreciation in a racy and not too technical style. This is preceded by six such commentaries by eminent Sanskrit and Hindi literary critics. This work disproves the oft-quoted remark that Sanskrit is a dead language and is far from belying our hopes about the richness of Sanskrit poetry as well as prose.

Panditaraja Jagannatha, a staunch devotee of Krishna, flourished during the reign of Shahjahan and was made an outcaste for his love and marriage to a Muslim of matchless beauty by the name of Lavangi. He along with his wife was drowned in the Ganga after he completed the recitation of his poem, Ganga Lahiri in 52 stanzas at Kashi, where he was staying after the death of his patron, Shahjahan.

About this book of poetics, Jha says: "All the fame of Panditaraja Jagannatha rests on this work, but is not in full form. Still, very important observations have been put forth in the available part of the Rasagangadhara, bestowing on its author an immortal and supreme position among the cognate critics." In the first chapter, "Concept of kavya", the definition, cause and kinds of kavya are discussed.

He defines kavya (poetry) as the word conveying beatific (ramaniyata) or blissful meaning. By the word beatific or beatitude (ramaniyata) he implies "having a knowledge which produces super-temporal or extraordinary bliss". Again he defines super-temporal (lokottara) or extraordinariness (chamatkara) as a special type of genus (jati) which lies in bliss. Panditaraja holds super-temporal and extraordinariness as synonyms but a noted commentator, B.N. Jha, has defined extraordinariness as an attribute of psyche in which the mind (chitta) is expanded, as in amazement.

In this chapter, there is an interesting discussion on all aspects of poetry, especially romantic poetry, how the lover and the beloved are portrayed in poetry in different situations in a dramatic manner. There is a categorisation of poetry on the use of words and their meaning. There is a close examination of all aspects of bhava (emotions) rati (love), portrayal of amorous acts, etc. He establishes this with illustrations that good poetry can exist without gunas (merit) and alankaras (poetic embellishments). His illustrations establish these findings. His arguments are as fascinating as the arguments of Socrates in Plato’s "Symposium". It is this factor which puts it on a higher pedestal than Aristotle’s "Poetics."

In the second chapter, "Concept of rasa", there is a discussion which is explained on Vedantic lines. He expounds 11 tenets of rasa. "Rasa is the form of the light, bliss and himself". But this light and bliss are perceived or experienced when the cover of ignorance is removed by supra-normal functioning (alukikavyapara).

The third chapter deals with poetic merits, the fourth with the concept of suggested emotions (bhava dhvani), fifth with the different types of dhvani and power of words.

In the sixth chapter "Alankara" (poetic embellishments) he explains with illustrations drawn from epics and Sanskrit poetic works all types of alankaras. In the last chapter the author has dealt with the refutation of Panditaraja’s views by an equally remarkable scholar, Nagesa Bhatta. There is also refutation of the refutation. The ex-communication of Panditaraja, a court laureate, from the Brahmin community and the labelling of the word mlechh (impure) by the rival lobby, coaxed Panditaraja to refute the tenets in poetics of his rivals.

W.R. Rishi, a Sanskrit scholar and editor, has appreciated Jha’s efforts in producing this elaborate exegetical translation along with critical annotations of the most abstrusse text into English.



Prince of the poor, and how he made them poor
Ram Vir writes from

REVIEWING the book "Laloo Phenomenon" (The Tribune, July 22) the reviewer claims that the work is a "great deal exciting and provocative". Provocative it indeed is! While dealing with persons and places in distant past, historians may indulge in histrionics, but it is beyond imagination that a living politician, whose acts of omission and commission are not hidden from anyone, is portrayed as a prophet. "The wretched of the earth have become, thanks to his efforts, honourable citizens" claims the reviewer.

On the other hand, the stark reality is that in spite of the so-called social revolution initiated by Laloo Yadav, poor people from Bihar continue to leave their otherwise rich homeland to get petty employment as rickshaw-pullers and labourers in the cities of Punjab, Haryana, UP and, of course,s Delhi and Kolkata. Come March and all trains leaving Bihar to northern and western parts of the country will be packed with Bihari labourers coming for harvesting wheat-fields of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

How is it that the fertile land of Bihar needs no harvesters? When will these social revolutionaries of Bihar realise that the fields irrigated by the blood shed in caste wars cannot produce a good harvest? No ruler can claim greatness while his poor subjects find his kingdom uninhabitable and migrate to far-off lands in search of food and shelter. Has the reviewer/author ever cared to consider what connotation the word "Bihari" has acquired in other parts of the country! Remember, it is not the first time that a maverick has risen to occupy the seat of power, attributing greatness to him for this is fooling the people.

Finding fault with the CBI, while discussing the fodder scam, reminds one of the incidence where a person found guilty of some serious offence begins to cast aspersions on the charactor of the judge’s mother. Are the flaws of the CBI proof enough of the scam as a philanthropic act?

Being an anxious Bihar-watcher, I never lose an opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of the background and living conditions of the rickshaw-puller I happen to hire. Almost 80 per cent of them are from Bihar, particularly from Vaishali, Motihari and Darbhanga districts. When these wretched people hold themselves honourable citizens merely because of the fact that their "big brother" is ruling the roost at Patna, it is a fit case for some sort of psychological research vis-a-vis a sociological study.

Barring relatives and close friends of Laloo Yadav, how many "wretched" from Bihar have become actually honourable? The false feeling of honour is rooted in being from the same caste to which he belongs. At the time of election, these false feelings culminate in mass hysteria and catapult strange characters to positions of power. Shrewd politicians know this weakness of the people and exploit it to the hilt.

That is why the Samajwadi Party chooses Phoolan Devi as a candidate for the Lok Sabha seat from Mallah-populated constituency and the Mallahs of Mirzapur feel pampered and send their caste woman to Parliament.

And at last, it is half in seriousness and half in jest, is it a coincidence that a book on Yadav by a Yadav gets reviewed by another Yadav. Insiders know the malady inflicting some departments of some of our universities where examiners for Ph.D. theses are appointed keeping in view the certainty of extracting favourable reports from them. Hope the bug does not travel from higher academics to the journalistic world.



Was Chekhov an escapist? I think not
Review by
M.L. Raina

Views From the Other Shore: Essays on Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin
by Aileen M. Kelly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Pages ix+260. $ 40.

Humans are bound by the necessity of knowing themselves to be free (Herzen)

All existing clothes are always too tight and thus comical (Bakhtin)

All is improvisation...there are no itineraries. (Chekhov)

In Chekhov’s "Three Sisters" Irina says at once place: "I kept waiting for us to move to Moscow: I knew I would meet my true love there." It took me more than three decades to discover my own deep involvement with Russian literature and thought. I have returned to the great novelists and poets of Russia with increasing frequency and found enough enlightenment. Of this confession I shall never be ashamed.

I came to Herzen through his 1847 novel, "Who is to Blame", a work I should like to place among the best novels of ideas in the 19th century along with Turganev’s "On the Eve" and Chernyshevsky’s "What is to be Done".

Chekhov has always fascinated me as a storyteller and Bakhtin is the toast of the literary academy today, though for the wrong reasons. In Kelly’s presentation they all come together as alternatives to the much-abused and misunderstood entity, the Russian soul.

The Russian soul is a concept which can be best understood in Russia’s troubled relationship with the West. Paradoxically, it provides Russians with the intellectual meaning of nationalism.

This enables them to define themselves in opposition to and in difference from the West. It also breeds a superior sense of Russian destiny, of the feeling that Russia has a unique historical purpose to fulfil.

Russkaia Dusha reflects the originality of and collective possession by the Russian people of something distinctive, summed up in 1837 by Peter Chaadev as the "passionate reaction against the ideas of the Occident".

This prejudice against the West had both political and philosophical consequences. It bred an extreme kind of xenophobia about the purity of the Slav soul, aggravated by Russia’s defeat in the Crimean war and the perfection of a repressive internal tyranny ridiculed by Gogol in "The Inspector General".

Philosophically, in the writings of Solovyov, Berdiaev and Solzhenitsyn, a messianic cult of Russophilia culminated in the Bolshevik takeover of the country in the name of a quintessential nationalistic belief, even if masked under an internationalist slogan.

Aileen Kelly explains: "Acutely conscious of their humiliating backwardness with regard to their European neighbours and of the terrible injustice of serfdom...a nationalist countereschatolgy — the Russian idea in its undiluted form — as developed in the 1840s by the Slavophiles".

This idea was incorporated in n sobronost described as both history’s goal and the means to attain it. As a goal it visualised a utopian community of peasants united in a pietistic fusion of religion, ritual and tradition. As a means it was a weapon in the making of the New Man.

With Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin appears what Kelly calls a new Russian idea, which, though not openly confrontational, rejects the unilateral mission of the Slavophiles.

It attacks all the manifestations of Slavic messianism while its adherents continue to "write their own prescriptions for the attainment of a final state of universal autonomy". Their targets are the teleological reasonings about history and society and they advocate openness.

Herzen’s "From the Other Shore" and his memoirs furnish Kelly with enough evidence to suggest that he was among the westernisers without abandoning the Russian heritage and history. Like Chekov and Bakhtin, Herzen went through periods of exile and this resulted in his repudiation of the close-mindedness of the unilateralists.

In his chapters on Herzen that form the bulk of the book, Kelly juxtaposes Herzen’s statements along with those of Bacon, Schiller, Mill and Proudhon to bring out their mutual affinities.

Whereas Kelly’s method avoids too much critical engagement with the subjects and their opinions, it allows far greater freedom to readers to draw their own conclusions. Herzen’s admiration for Bacon stems from a natural affinity between the two as far as their empiricism is concerned.

From Bacon Herzen derived the sense of nature as an evolving entity whose limits can never be fixed.

Much of his political journalism is given over to converting his readers to the Baconian vision of a genuinely scientific approach to history.

He emphasises the dimension of time in historical processes and rejects a quasi-divine prophetic interpretation of history.

It was in this spirit that he looked to the West, particularly France, for his release from the burdens of the Orthodox Russian Christianity. His final exile in France proved salutary in shaping his vision by bringing him closer to socialist thought.

As he says in his memoirs: "My restless spirit sought an arena and independence; I wished to try my strength in freedom."

This freedom involved both the acceptance of a philosophical naturalism derived as much from Schiller as from Bacon, and the need for a political consciousness that faced up to the tyranny of the Czarist forces in Russia itself.

From Schiller he gets the idea of the organic wholeness of man conceived sensuously or aesthetically. There is nothing aestheticist either in Schiller or in Herzen.

Both subscribe to the broad concept of the aesthetic as a quality of moral freedom and both seek to heal the rifts in human nature created by the dualities of the general and the abstract, on the one hand, and the individual and the particular, on the other. Like Turgenev, he agrees with Schiller’s notion of art as play — by the latter he always meant the spontaneous liberation of human instinct for life.

The fact that Herzen prized liberty the way Mill did (Kelly’s comparisons are quite apt), enables him to see the constrictions imposed by the ideas of revolution.

"The dignity of man, he wrote in his memoirs, "is measured by his ...significance purely as a citizen in the ancient sense. The revolution demanded self-sacrifice to the one and the indivisible republic." Here he declares in clearest terms how he looked upon mankind as poised between the two.

Chekhov’s thought had nothing activist about it. Nor was he exiled for political reasons: he chose to go to Yalta to recoup his health. Nevertheless, he is close to Herzen and Bakhtin in that his credo is "my holy of holies-human nature and its need for freedom".

His ideal, if it can be called that, is "man himself and that intangible natural world in which he happens to live". This is an earth-bound ideal and directs our thoughts to the multifariousness of human engagement with everyday experience.

Though Chekhov had his own quarrel with Tolstoy who represented to him the image of the Slavophile, he agreed with his predecessor that a balance of spiritual and physical realms is necessary for the survival and growth of humankind. In contrast with Dostoevsky, who is passionate about the supremacy of the spiritual-religious over the material, Chekhov strove to emphasise the wholeness of nature and humankind.

What a character says in his story, "Three Years" may be regarded as the author’s own credo: "I am worn out with ideas and images — I have absolutely no desire to become anything special, to create something great. I simply want to live, to dream, to keep pace with everything."

This is his a-political stance that has irritated many but found favour with liberals like Kelly. His overarching desire has been "to be idle and love a plump girl". Hardly a recommendation with the proponents of the Great Idea.

Was Chekhov an escapist? Kelly thinks not and I agree. Like Tolstoy Chekhov evokes the Russian countryside with a lyric feeling for nature. But unlike the older writer, he seeks comfort in the minutest particular, a quality he shares with Herzen of the memoirs. Though he claims that he is the "least serious, the most frivolous", he does not shy away from stressing a moral earnestness as a guide to action.

Like Herzen, Chekhov maintained that true morality was not faithfulness to a fixed set of principles, but what Herzen calls "aesthetics of behaviour attained through the cultivation of imaginative empathy with particular individuals and situations". Kelly accepts Chekhov’s valuation of himself as a writer first and last, though fully aware of life’s intangible opportunities for goodness.

As far as I know, Aileen Kelly is the first critic-historian to place Mikhail Bakhtin in the tradition of Herzen and Chekhov. Bakhtin has been compared with Lukacs and placed in the dissenting Marxist tradition.

He has been shown to share Nietzsche’s distrust of grand schemes and principles. But Kelly’s is the first serious attempt to trace his Russian antecedents. This, in my opinion, is a major achievement of this slim but deeply felt book.

Here we do not meet the Bakhtin of the much worked over theories of carnival, dialogism, heteroglossia. Kelly’s concentration is on Bakhtin’s early volume "Towards A Philosophy of the Act" in which Bakhtin is still close to the Marburg school of Kantianism which he studied in his early phase.

Bakhtin diverged from traditional and Saussurian linguistics in approaching language not as a formal system, but as utterances involving the speaker and the listener at one and the same time. His idea of the dialogical embraces the past as well as the present. "Nothing definitive has yet taken place in the world," says Bakhtin, "...the world is open and free."

In "Towards a Philosophy of the Act", which is mostly ignored by his aficionados, he turned his attention to the nature and goals of moral philosophy. This latter is concerned with how an act, a deed is "oriented in the world". In Kelly’s discussion I did not read this statement, but I think Kelly is aware of the significance of what Bakhtin calls "utterance" which is directed towards a deed, that of communication. This deed involves more than one person and calls forth all the resources of spoken and written language.

Kelly is not interested in this fragment in itself, but in the way it relates to Herzen. He thinks it is "centrally concerned with the ...way in which teleological systems and doctrines of progress distort the reality of human participation in the historical process..."

For Bakhtin, as for Herzen, there are no moral norms that are valid in themselves, but there is a moral subjectivity answerable to the world.

As Bakhtin puts it in the fragment, "I am actual and irreplaceable, and therefore must actualise my uniqueness".

In other words, Bakhtin relies more on the potential than on the essential.

For Aileen Kelly Bakhtin, Chekhov and Herzen are united by the fact that all of them are outsiders to the prevailing tradition, see the world as constantly unfixed, and challenge the status quo.

They held forth what Kelly calls a "humanistic counter-tradition". But it is their relevance to present-day Russia that Kelly finds important — a Russia in which religious fanaticism combines with Communist authoritarianism in the name of a quintessential "Russianhood".

There is also a lesson for us in India. With the emergence of the sinister Hindutva brigade out to homogenise our plural life styles along with the mythical sub-nationalisms, there is a need for dissident voices such as those of Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin.

I do not see these voices emerging just yet. I have still to hear our own Andrei Rublev telling Boriska (after revolting against religious and political repression in Tarkovky’s epic film): "You cast bells, I shall paint icons."

We need bellwethers as well as iconoclasts.



Five generations of changing Indians
Review by
Ram Varma

The Seduction of Silence
by Bem Le Hunte, Penguin Books, Delhi. Pages 433. Rs 295.

IN this age of scepticism and doubt, hustle-bustle and hurry, this novel strikes a note of civilisational beliefs and faith, of space and stillness. It is a fascinating story of five generations of an Indian family told in hushed, reverential tones with an intimate autobiographical touch. The author Bem Le Hunte has a mixed parentage. Born of an Indian mother and a British father, she has both East and West in her blood. The twain have met in her, and she has weaved a tale of cross-cultural life experiences.

For a debut the novel is truly remarkable. It has been conceived on an ambitious scale — spanning five generations. The novel has five parts, each part expatiating on one generation. It is a story of the eternal yearning for silence in the Indian mind and the ingress of the West into this pristine world.

It starts in the early years of last century when the British colonials ruled India. The protagonist of the first part, Aakash, a young man, who is "self-contained, poised, silently watching the world from the intensity of his own space", has made his home in a sprawling farm in the Himalayas from where he can see layers of mountains on all sides "aspiring to greater and greater heights until they reached the snows". He grows medicinal plants at the farm in a spirit of social service. He keeps an elephant appropriately named Ganesh. The villagers hold him in awe. This otherworldly man is married to a worldly-wise girl Jyoti who bears him a son, Ram, and a daughter, Tulsi. Life is idyllic; "the air purer, the mind clearer".

The West intrudes in the form of Lily, an Englishwoman, who comes as a governess to tutor Tulsi. Later Tulsi’s life was to change radically after her loss of innocence at a convent in Lahore. Ram too leaves his home in search of a guru and has a taste of the English "untouchability" when he boards a coach not meant for Indians in the train.

He meets some sadhus and in their company sets out to explore the primeval forests of Central India, "thick with life left to its own devices". They come upon a sanctuary of nature, which "yielded the seekers every luxury available in the natural world. Isolated waterfalls, caves as big as castles and solitude so perfect they could have been the first humans to cut through the undergrowth. Quietly, curiously, they are being watched from the shadows of trees and vines by forest spirits trying to smell their purpose in the footprints they left behind them."

There in the forest, Ram meets his master and his years slip by in meditation.

The third generation is heralded when Tulsi gives birth to Jiwan and Rohini, one born in sin and the other in wedlock accepted in a spirit of resignation. The character of Rohini has been etched with empathy. She grows up in Delhi in free India, studying medicine. She yearns for love. She meets an English boy, Gordon, who has left his studies to go on a wild journey. He has slept in temples, in stables, on beaches, on roofs, in boats, in whorehouses. She envies Gordon his freedom and his fluidity". She opens her heart to him and they become lovers. Inevitably, she conceives and her father makes her marry Gordon, and they take a bus to London.

Gordon is a genuine romantic. When they reach the English soil after an adventurous and arduous journey, he takes her to Stonehenge where they make love in starlight. "She looked up at him and saw the stones circle his head, like a crown offering him its geomantic powers."

The fourth generation Saakshi is born in England and grows into a flower child, living in a house wahich has been turned into a "gypsy caravan" and where her parents go on LSD trips. "People would walk inside their house and immediately feel free to put on some music, light a joint, take off their clothes or go off into a bedroom with a lover." Rohini takes a guitarist as lover and Gordon starts living with another woman, and they part ways.

But another layer of reality is revealed to Rohini when she meets a woman who acts as a medium at the spiritualist church, who had "travelled often over the water that separated the living from the dead". Wonder of wonders, her own grandfather Aakash’s spirit enters this woman and assures her that he will help her find her lost brother Jiwan.. In the days to come Aakash’s spirit delivers spiritual discourses through this medium to a spellbound audience. Rohini meets her grandfather in spirit though she had never met him in flesh and blood.

Meanwhile Saakshi had been hobnobbing with Hare Krishna devotees who sing and dance and go into a trance, but she soon gets disillusioned. She freaks out in night clubs and all-night joints and takes lovers. She then meets Jason, her ultimate man, who lives in Australia. Jason gets a job in India and brings Saakshi to India, where she delivers a baby boy, ushering in the fifth generation. Rohini, her exulting mother, who joins her from London, tells her it is her great-great grandfather, Aakash, who has taken a new avatar. Saakshi is aghast and exclaims; "This is my baby, not some kind of a recycled person."

The tale is crafted with love. It has a grand design, and a fitting finale. The only problem is most of the characters, especially those belonging to the first and the second generations, appear to be enveloped in a haze, and have been drawn in either black or white. In reality, the early parts of the novel read like an essay. The sex life of Aakash and Jyoti is summed up in half a sentence: "...Aakash dutifully spent a few nights with Jyoti Ma to supply a son". They mate once again on karva chauth and Tulsi materialises.

Incidentally, the names seem to be symbolic. Tulsi is a sacred plant of the aromatic basil family; its leaves are used in charanamrit, the holy water offered to devotees in temples. The plant signifies utter submission. Appropriately, Tulsi sacrifices her life by surrendering to her teacher’s lust and her mother’s dictates. These characters appear to be prototypes rather than real persons. They seem to be bathed in puranic colours.

But the third generation Rohini and Gordon really come alive. They are both utterly convincing.

The author seems to have some quaint beliefs like an unflinching faith in the potency of ayurvedic medicines and faith healing (Col Chopra regaining his potency), one sex act sufficing for conception (Tulsi’s deflowering being reminiscent of Tess’s), reincarnation and seances, occult and aghoris, and so on. I have no quarrel with her on that score. However in a novel they stretch the reader’s credibility.

On the whole, the novel is a rewarding experience. Penguin India has done an good job in bringing it out.



Twinkle, twinkle faded star
Review by
R.P. Chaddah

Shadows on the Silver Screen — Poems by Som Ranchan..
Indian Publishers Distributors, Delhi. Pages 58. Rs 60.


SOM P. Ranchan is a significant signature in Indian English poetry. He has published over 20 volumes of verse. Ranchan, the professor-philosopher-poet, found his poetic moorings in the 60s of the 20th century when he published his first book of poems, "The Splintered Mirror", at the age of 28.

The lyrical impulse of the first book consciously gave way to a period of roughly 25 years when he was preoccupied with long poetical effusions of his spiritual encounters with the self and an energetic communion with some of the great souls. All these monologues and dialogues appeared from 1960 to 1985 — "Me and Columbia," "Christ and i", "Mother Sharda and i", "To Krishna with Love", and "To Vivek Then I Came". In spite of all these intellectual exercises the lyrical streak was forever present in Ranchan.

In 1985 he published "Loose Ends" which is based on emotions, experiences and observations.

Not for nothing, he has been called a "poet of many voices". A look at the title of this book reveals it all. More about the book will form the later part of this review article. The book in brief captures in lucid and evocative language the personality and art of a host of actresses, according to the blurb on the dust jacket of the book.

After "Loose Ends" he published "In the Labyrinth of the Self" which contains a variety of poems on diverse subjects — "Bar eclogues", "The pain", "The passion", "The opiate", etc. All these poems celebrate the Dionysian spirit induced by Bacchus and reveal the epicurian idea of drinking, forgetting and marry-making with sensuous undertones in the use of language.

In 1992, he published "Anteros — Opus Alchymicum on Friendship", falling back again on his innate love of Greek mythology. The appeal for Ranchan lies in the Dionysianess of Anteros, one of the three boys of the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite. This opus tells us in no uncertain terms that there is no full stop in friendship which just happens and "went from increase to increase so imperceptibly".

His collection of love poems appeared in 1998. The book revealed his hitherto unexplored aspect of life, the soft and mellow side, and he admitted it all in a poem called "Void".

"Once upon a time /I dreamt of being a love poet / The inspiratrice was missing/not any more though."

The book shows another facet of his multi-faceted personality which takes in all sincerity and seriousness the stars of the Hindi screen, especially the female of the species. The stars which rub shoulders with each other in this collection (they might not have done that in real life or reel life) are Nutan, Meena, Mumtaz, Rakhi, Rekha, Sri Devi, Dimple et al. Personal likes have paved the way for omission of artistes of the calibre of Madhubala (she appears at the centre of the cover), Nargis, Vyjantimala and Sharmila Tagore — the 50s and 60s stars of Ranchan’s youth and, of course, of the reviewer’s. Nostalgia is a powerful drug and Ranchan revels in it and expects us to revel in it.

The pen-pictures of the stars are a mental reconstrucion from memories, movies and magazines with the addition of candid observations and deft comments. I do not think that Ranchan ever bothered to meet the stars who throng the hill station Shimla for location shooting year after year. A few samplers from the format of the book tell us the range and mood of the poems that follow.

"The poet & the actress/Two of a kind they be/Theirs an outer personality/Part own and part by fans given/ Mediumistic/Interpreters of moods, profiles, portraits/hollow reeds/Chanting to fickle winds....The two seldom get togeter."

But in this collection, for once, they do get together and stay together for quite a while.

"Cypress grace/When you move on the celluloid/ The screen sizzles in slow burn" (about Waheeda Rehman).


"Your eyes whisper annular annunciations/To poets and lovers./ You’re a queen of romance/ You can play Helen, Cassandra... All rolled into one." (Rekha)

A direct advice to Madhuri Dikshit, not even a muffled one.

"Become Sybil, Chitralekha/Rather than crinkling the screen for goggle-eyed/Groundlings."

An out and out praise for Sri Devi’s art of dancing.

"While Hema Malini’s dancing is an art/Yours an instinct."

Ranchan’s thorough knowledge of Greek mythology, a deep study of English and American literature, Indian ethos of bhava, sahridya, karma, tapasaya-and a bit of star-names popular in the 50s of Hollywood movies come handy when he wants to draw unnecessary parallels of the present-day stars, sometimes with legendary heroines and sometimes the flesh and blood silver screen heroines.

"Your large, black eyes/that dim, dilate and flash/Sculpt an iconography/that eluded D.H. Lawrence/What a feat!" (Smita Patil)

In one go he takes note of his subject’s persons in full measure — personality, eyes, voice, acting, appeal and what have you.

"Your voice/The cares of rose-petals/The moan of Madonna/The stricken flutter of a wounded wing/Vibrates like an acolyte’s prayer." (Meena Kumari)

"Your acting a hieroglyphy of deep emotions/gave wings to the sublime’Lent grace to the subtle."

When the newness of the subjects of Ranchan’s poems peters out and wears off in comes repetition of phrases and metaphors, and the poet’s language projects staid images. Words like sizzle, puela, cypress, conchshell, velvetten, gestalt, grace and aplomb weaken the tenor of the poems.

This type of book, perhaps the first of its kind in Indo-English poetry, is bound to get imitators. But, of course, it is a sort of come-down from the heights Ranchan has achieved over the years in the field of poetry of the intellect, self, soul and the like.

I think the take-off point was the persona of Meena Kumari, whom he gives the title "The most vibrant shadows on the silver screen."



A simple story of cheese and better
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Who Moved My Cheese?
by Spencer Johnson. Vermillion, London. Pages 94. Singapore $15.

WOULD you be willing to spend close to Rs 375 for a mere 94 pages on a book about cheese? Does sound a bit cheesy, does not it, especially when one is talking about cheese in the metaphorical sense of the term. Now, this one has nothing to do with food, calcium, smile (as in say cheese) or even the famous French cheese. It comes at a fraction of the cost of the designer cheeses, it promises not to get old and moldy and even offers desep lessons about adaptability, perspectives and helps develop an attitude, in a positive sense, towards life as a whole.

Though this is essentially a book for all those who have absolutely no time to stand and stare — that is, the busy executives — it can be read and enjoyed by readers of all ages. This simple parable that unravels profound truths is quite simply the story of Hem, Haw, Sniff and Scurry. All four of them live in a maze. In this maze, Hem and Haw are "little people" who are analytical and judgmental. Sniff and Scurry are survivors who believe in cutting to the chase. They tend to see things as they are, not through prism-like perspectives. What they want in their life in the maze is very simple - they just want the cheese and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Cheese for them is sustenance and the search for it is not something they view as an image building exercise.

In the story, the characters are faced with an unexpected change. Eventually, one of them deals with change successfully and writes what he has learned from his experience within the maze walls.

Cheese here is a metaphor for what we as individuals want to have in life — for some it may be a good job, for others bright kids, for still others a healthy relationship or something more material like more money, a better house or even a better car. And the maze is where you look for what you want — the organisation you work in or the family or community where you live.

Whatever it is that they want or aspire for in this life, the book drives home the point that we need to be alert to changes in the cheese, and be prepared to go running off in search of new sources of cheese when the cheese we possess runs out. The message hidden in the cheese is quite simply: anticipate change, adapt quickly, enjoy the change and be ready for more, so that as you move in life you suffer less stress and enjoy more success.

Now what happens when the cheese runs out or is moved? That is when change occurs. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on individual perspective. It can be a blessing, if people understand the nature of cheese and the role it plays in their lives and a curse, if people want things to remain the same and want very little upheaval or adjustments in their life.

The fact of the matter, whether one likes it or not, is that things change. They always have changed and always will change. While there is no one way or correct way of dealing with change, the consequence of pretending change will not happen and always the same, some day, sooner rather than later the cheese runs out.

The message Spencer Johnson drives home is that rather than being a sitting duck or a victim of that, one needs to not just anticipate change but should be willing to embrace it as well.

Seen in this light "Who Moved My Cheese?" offers messages with universal appeal. And that quite simply is: change is inevitable so you need to adapt and move on when it happens. In today’s environment when change is occurring at an accelerated pace, this message has a significant impact and meaning. It calls for a major attitude adjustment. Acceptance or denial of it is what makes a big difference between people who will end up adapting well compared to those whowould not.

People who are willing to anticipate and embrace change at a personal as well as professional level are the ones who are more likely to find contentment and happiness, compared to those who expect status quo.

Johnson makes a strong case for his book by offering insightful, bite-size advice summarised in "The handwriting on the wall":

Change happens.

They keep moving the cheese.

Anticipate change.

Get ready for the cheese to move.

Monitor change.

Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.

Adapt to change quickly.

The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.


Move with the cheese.

Enjoy change.

Savour the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese.

Be ready to enjoy change quickly, and enjoy it again.

They keep moving the cheese.

Probably the best advice the book offers is "to laugh at your own folly — then you let go and quickly move on."

Given these simplistic truths that hold true in a world of rapidly changing business environment, downsizing, mergers, acquisitions and what have you, it is little wonder that the book has stayed on the business bestsellers list since June, 1999. It is also being sold in 11 languages globally: Korean, Spanish, Turkish, English, Israeli, Japanese, Italian, Tawainese, Dutch, Portugese, French, German and Greek.

So this slim book is pretty obviously more than just another cheesy bestseller. Miss it at your own peril.