The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 26, 2001

Yesterday's Sita, today's Draupadi
Review by Jaswant Kaur

The origin of the pothi
Review by Roopinder Singh

How to regain the lost paradise
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Woman-centric? Yes, feministic? No
Review by Priyanka Singh

Rasputin - the real one who refused to die
Review by V.N. Datta

Ghadar revolutionaries revisited
Review by Jaspal Singh

Too important to be left to women alone
Review by Shelley Walia

Faith, grace & amen
Review by Kuldip Kalia





Yesterday's Sita, today's Draupadi
Review by Jaswant Kaur

Sita Must Live: The Role of Women in Society
by M. Lakshmikumari. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.
Pages 90. Rs 60.

WOMAN is generally considered as the "woe of man" to be maltreated by him in every aspect of life. From the day she is born till she is married off, she is a "burden on the family". After marriage, she is a slave to the likes and dislikes of her husband and his family.

If she is a working woman and outwits her colleagues, she is termed "aggressive", "unwomanly" and so on. She is suppressed, tortured and burnt alive for want of dowry. So much so that she has accepted this as a by-product of life. Even if she revolts, her voice is confined to the four walls of her house with no one to listen to her.

Those who have made their place in society have no different tale to tell. They had to face great resentment from their family members, friends and relatives. Why this injustice to her? Why is she considered inferior to man? Is she really inferior to him? Does she not play any role in society? Is she a useless creature with no identity of her own?

The book "Sita Must Live: The Role of Women in Society" provides an answer to all these questions. It is a collection of select editorials written by the author for Yuva Bharati magazine published by the Vivekananda Kendra. Being a follower of Vivekananda Lakshmikumari projects woman with unique qualities and as an evolutionary force to entrench a value system in everyday life.

Spread over 16 chapters the book brings out the personality of woman as a source of power, strength, love and happiness.

Many centuries before, woman was treated with respect and was considered as a beautiful representative of nature. She was named Durga — the embodiment of strength and power — Lakshmi — the bestower of wealth — and Saraswati — the source of knowledge. There are no male equivalents in the Hindu mythology.

As a wife, she was a symbol of the glory and prestige of her family and a transmitter of tradition from one generation to another.

As a mother, she was a teacher and protector of the heritage. And therefore, a moulder of patriots, which made her universal — a Sita with unbound capacity to love, sacrifice, serve and suffer.

Even the land of one's birth came to be called as Mathrubhoomi — and motherland. Man had great respect for the mother and motherland. He has been ready to sacrifice his life to protect its honour and dignity. Nation prospered at that time and had no social problems.

Unfortunately today woman has forgotten her role as Universal mother. Her materialistic pursuit has reduced her to a commercial product. She has lost her identity and lusture.

The home has turned into a house, devoid of love, happiness and peace. Children have lost their link with tradition. They do not recognise the right or the wrong and often go astray. Some of them are drug addicts and petty criminals. Sita, the universal mother, has lost.

Everyone has his or her significance. Even a moth which burns itself in the candle has some purpose. How can a woman then be useless? Is she? Certainly not.

Why this self-inflicted suffering. The reality is that she herself is responsible for her plight. Yes, she herself. She has accepted the dominance of man merely because he is the bread winner and fulfills the basic needs of the family. She is the one who has created this inferiority complex and she will have to get rid of it.

The need is to educate woman and to make her aware of her strength which lies within her and her identity — the identity she has lost in the midst of neon lights and stage effects. Her capacity to love, sacrifice and serve can change the world. She can teach her children how to subside hatred, violence with nonviolence and be compassionate and selfless. She can restore lost moral values in society and can show the youth the right path.

The author says that "By strengthening the three main currents of her life — the capacity to love, sacrifice and serve — a woman can transcend the barriers of her limitations of motherhood and add a universal character".



The origin of the pothi
Review by Roopinder Singh

The Making of Sikh Scripture
by Gurinder Singh Mann. Oxford University Press, New York. Pages 193. $39.95.

THE author traces the history of the Guru Granth Sahib, the primary Sikh scripture, in this important new book. He reconstructs the compilation of the Sikh sacred text from the time of Guru Nanak, the founder of the tradition, to the text presently used in Sikh worship. Given the importance that the Guru Granth Sahib enjoys in the Sikh community, the study deserves serious attention.

The book is divided into eight chapters. Mann begins by placing the origin of the Sikh sacred text in the larger context of Guru Nanak’s foundation of the Sikh community at Kartarpur on the right bank of the river Ravi. He explains Guru Nanak’s activity as follows: "During the final stage of his life, we see him translating the theological and ethical ideas in his hymns into reality. Using families as building blocks, Guru Nanak gathered his followers at Kartarpur, involved them in agricultural activity for sustenance and attempted to replicate what he thought to be the ideal way of life."

Mann differs with W. H. McLeod and many others who have argued that Guru Nanak belonged to the sant tradition and emphasised a religion of meditation and interiority. He contends that "In Guru Nanak’s case, however, meditation is one critical piece in an otherwise larger vision of life that constituted the basis of the community of Kartarpur. For Guru Nanak, three key virtues — meditation of the divine (naam), charity (daan) and purity (ishnaan) — are prerequisites to a successful search for liberation.." Thus, for the author, the compilation of the pothi fits into his general effort of building a community.

In the second chapter, "Writings on Sikh Scripture", there is an overview of early scholars’ works on Sikh scriptures. Mann should be given credit for paying due attention to indigenous scholarship. He painstakingly summarises the significant contribution of Sikh scholars, beginning with Chaupa Singh in the early 18th century coming up to the works of Giani Gurdit Singh, Piara Singh and Pashauara Singh in the 1990s.

In the next three chapters, basing his argument on the evidence available in the early manuscripts, Mann presents his understanding of the history of the compilation of the Adi Granth. Mann highlights the importance of the Guru Harsahai Pothi, in the early formation of the scriptural text. Quoting Giani Gurdit Singh, Mann reports that the opening text of the Guru Harsahai Pothi contained only the hymns of Guru Nanak. To date, no comparable manuscript recording the hymns of Guru Nanak and him alone, has come to light. All other manuscripts we know of contain his hymns followed by those of his successors at different stages in the development of the Sikh text.

The Goindval Pothis are the next landmark in the author’s examination. His analysis supports the Sikh traditional view of their being compiled during Guru Amardas period (1551-1574). He maintains that originally there were four of these of which only two are extant. These two pothis are in the custody of the descendants of the third Guru and are at present in Pinjore and Jalandhar.

The pothi, that is at present with Sodhis of Kartarpur comes into focus next. Mann supports the firmly-held Sikh tradition of its being compiled during the period of Guru Arjan (1584-1606). He analyses the contents of the pothi and discusses the changes introduced from time to time. He, however, argues that it is at the fountainhead of the later scriptural tradition.

In the following chapter, Mann examines the data in 27 extant manuscripts of the Sikh sacred text created between1642 and 1692. He traces the compilation of the canonical text known as Guru Granth Sahib. Here he differs from the traditional accounts of there being three families of manuscripts available during this period and argues for a two branch picture. For him, "The Kartarpur Pothi began to be copied while still in the process of reaching its final form; a copy of it made in 1605 was taken to Peshawar area where it served as a source for manuscripts that constitute branch 1; the Kartarpur Pothi reached its final form in 1606 and then its copies became the manuscripts of branch 2."

Discussing the organisation of the text at various stages of its expansion, the author contends that while the use of raag and the compilation of the sacred text according to raag assignments of the hymns is not unique; the way the Gurus applied raag-related knowledge in compiling these texts indicates a high degree of originality.

He differs from the traditional view and argues that bhagat bani was incorporated during the time of Guru Amardas. The incorporation of the bhagat bani into the Sikh scriptural text provided Guru Amardas with the unique opportunity to assert the "Sikh belief in social equality, without diluting the doctrinal thrust in any way".

In the final chapter, Mann traces the history of the Guru Granth Sahib from 1680s up to the present day and explains the variations in manuscripts in terms of the continued re-copying of the early scriptures. This situation, however, underwent major change with the coming of the printing press to Punjab in the 1860s. The SGPC produced the first one-volume Guru Granth Sahib in 1952 after establishing its own press. The text came under criticism for not following the Kartarpur Pothi. Subsequently the SGPC brought out a revised edition presently in use.

Mann also examines the future prospects and talks about the Sikhs born and brought up abroad and the new converts to Sikhism in the West. They both have difficulty in reading the text in Gurmukhi and "the inevitable need for a non-Gurmukhi text for performative and ceremonial purposes."

In examining the dilemma that this issue raises, he notes that the Jews and the Muslims have similar views on the notions of sacred language and script. He explains how the Jews have reaffirmed the sacredness of Hebrew, while simultaneously permitting the use of translation of the Torah in congregational worship and individual study, while the Muslims have stuck to the original Arabic script for all devotional purposes. There is still tension in both the religious communities about this issue.

Understanding various dimensions of the Sikh scripture is a continual effort that has spanned centuries. Gurinder Singh Mann has spent the past 10 years studying the history of the Guru Granth Sahib and has presented a well-researched and considered account of what went into the compilation of Sikh scripture.

No doubt scholars will examine his observations and his theories, and may differ with his position. The book, however, deserves to be commended for its comprehensiveness, the sensitivity with which the author approaches the subject and in demonstrating what is now, unfortunately, a rare quality of scholarly examination of tradition without the condemnation of positions inimical to one’s own.

The book is refreshingly jargon-free, which is no mean accomplishment. The writer establishes a tone of scholarly humility, and prefaces his observations with statements like "it seems to me…; the evidence at our disposal points to this…." And makes no claim of giving the final word on the issue.

It is an expensive book for Indian readers and one hopes that OUP, Delhi, would publish an Indian edition so that it becomes more accessible to scholars in the region. It could also be translated into Punjabi for wider dissemination, since this book will be read by those who are interested in Sikh studies.



How to regain the lost paradise
Review by
Randeep Wadehra

Forests of Kashmir: A Vision for the Future
by M. A. Kawosa. Natraj
Publishers, Dehradun. Pages 262. Rs 550.

KASHMIR, the land of blazing Klashnikovs, the valley of blood and tears where widows in black and widows in white weep separately for their dead. Kashmir, for the present generation, has become a metaphor for mindless violence.

But there is another Kashmir - the valley of divine saffron flowers; succulent apples, deodars swaying to the music of water flowing in silvery streams…an idyllic place where spiritualism manifests itself in the most natural manner. Unfortunately, this Kashmir is lost in the haze of gunpowder smoke.

The needs of today’s Kashmir are mundane — namely, provision of clean drinking water, food, clothing and shelter for the ordinary folks. The statee’s economy is heavily dependent upon its forest wealth. The author warns, "If we fail to arrest the degradation of forest resources and its consequent environmental catastrophe, it will not be uncommon to see the people in the villages fighting over sharing their meagre water resources…" Is then the state heading for water riots even when it is being assailed by terrorism?

Kawosa notes that J&K’s geographical expanse is approximately 6.74 per cent of India’s total area as it is spread over an expanse of 2,22,236.00 sq km, including 1,20,849.00 sq km occupied by China and Pakistan at present.

The agricultural area accounts for 20 per cent of the total land, while forests cover 30 per cent and cultivable wasteland accounts for 12.34 per cent. The state has five types of forests — subtropical dry deciduous, subtropical pine, Himalayan dry temperate, Himalayan moist temperate and the Alpine forests. These forests are coming under increasing pressure due to the rising demand for fuelwood, timber and grazing fields. Moreover, there have been attempts to set up wood-based industries like paper pulp, matchsticks, plywood, etc. which will put further strain on the dwindling natural forests..

In the past six five year Plans several schemes were implemented to preserve and enrich the state’s forest wealth. Afforestation and plantation, improved communication, demarcation of newly cleared areas in order to rehabilitate them, improvement of the growing stock and strengthening the forest administration are some of the important schemes in this regard. The policy resolution of 1952 lays down the main direction for the country’s various forest departments prescribing measures for complementary and balanced land use, protection of natural forests, checking denudation in mountainous regions and prevention of erosion and land degradation.

A book written by a government servant invariably becomes a double-edged sword. The various statistics given in it cannot be challenged for the simple reason that these have been from official and hence "authentic" sources. At the same time one cannot be sure whether the projections are realistic or mere official propaganda. The author has given a lot of statistics regarding J & K’s natural, especially the forest resources. He has also delineated the various measures to protect the state’s bio-wealth and water resources. He in fact talks of improving the standard of life of the state’s denizens. All this sounds very nice in theory. Our academicians too will find the various schemes quite acceptable.

But what about the practical side? The actual ground realities are quite different. The shameless exploitation of the forest wealth and the government attitude of indifference to the common folk’s aspiration are well known and documented. One need not go into too many details here. All one need ask is whether the people of Jammu and Kashmir require bare essentials of life or the highest Golf Links in the world built in record time that the State Chief Minister is so proud of? With such callous attitudes in the corridors of power can Kashmir ever live up to its famed sobriquet of being a paradise on earth?

However this book comes in the category of a must buy book for it provides us with invaluable information regarding various aspects of the state of J&K, and compels us to think about its ecological future.

* * *

Subregionalism in Asia: ASEAN and SAARC Experiences
by Abul Kalam. UBSPD, New Delhi. Pages xiix + 254. Rs 395.

South Asia is burdened with too much of history. This "baggage of history" creates enough suspicion in the countries here to discourage them from going full steam ahead in economic cooperation. Not that attempts have not been made to cast aside the unwanted paraphernalia and foster subregional interdependence for the benefit of all countries in the region.

Prompted by the ASEAN experiment in subregional cooperation, SAARC was formed. Further, subregional organisations like the SAGQ (South Asian Growth Quadrangle) launched in 1996 by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal; and the BIMSTEC established in June, 1997, and elaborated as Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation "are now a reality". The member states are at the moment giving shape to a common agenda for multi-sectored growth such as transportation, environment and infrastructure-related projects, common energy grids, and optimum use of the region’s water resources for the increased benefit of the member states.

Abul Kalam surmises: "Thus, new transnational structures of cooperation have come into existence, encompassing states of both South Asia and/or South-East Asia. Apparently, the new growth entities have become part of international life, distinctly visible across the ASEAN and SAARC crossborders, seemingly ordered to replicate the East Asian and ASEAN experiences."

However, there are snags. The lingering border disputes, the questions involving sharing of common sources of water, exploitation of hydroelectricity generating potential in various international border areas involving India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar can easily put an end to all well-meaning attempts at economic cooperation among the various countries. It is imperative that an independent mechanism for resolving all such disputes and also for anticipating future problems should be set up. Perhaps such a body should have the powers of a court of law.

Abul Kalam presents this book in the form of a three-part study of the new geo-economic model of growth in Asia - namely, subregional cooperation. Part one deals with the ASEAN growth triangle, with the hindsight of similar efforts in southern China. "Conceptually it views ASEAN’s model for subregional growth as modified structuralism that is supported by appropriate vision and followed by serious efforts to make operational a blueprint of action towards cooperative/interdependent development."

Part two points out that the subregional effort in South Asia lacked the necessary conceptual inputs to give direction to developmental and cooperative efforts. It failed to come up with a coherent plan to replicate growth effort in the ASEAN region. Politics, rather than developmental economics, became the salient feature of all projects.

Part three deals with policy recommendations. It includes the framework for a conceptual model, to be supported by an effective plan for both subregional and regional development.

A well-researched book that one would like to keep handy for reference and further research.

* * *

People’s Participation in Sustainable Human Development
by Kamal Taori. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 276. Rs 400.

Development has different connotations for different people. Factors like the standard of living, the type of governance, natural resources, prospects for further and industrial and technological advancement play a role in defining development. Thus for an advanced country the term development will have an entirely different significance from that for a developing country like, say, Bangladesh.

India too is a developing country but it comes in a different category. Its geographical span and diversity, the range of natural resources, its huge population and the complex ethnic-linguistic-religious mosaic, its inherent economic and technological contradictions — different segments of the populace live in different stages of human development from the pre-historic to medieval to post-modern. On the roads of even a megapolis like Kolkata one sees swank cars and hand-pulled rickshaws jostling for space. The fact that in the same village one farmer uses tractor and the other animal power shows how uneven the economic-technological distribution has been..

Unlike countries with homogenous populations it is well nigh impossible to have a single formula for resolving the country’s myriad problems. Yet one has to come up with sophisticated tools to tackle the complicated obstacles in our quest for development.

The author suggests that our planners should concentrate on value addition to the products of rural industries by harnessing the experience and skills of artisans who traditionally works in a given field. These people could be trained in the latest techniques of production. Thus tannery, pottery, handmade paper, stone carving, construction and water management are some of the fields where the relevant expertise can be developed without great expense. Inputs like better technology, market orientation, computerisation and identification of competitive strength-building requirements could certainly be useful in value addition. This would result in greater benefit to the rural population.

The author points out that people’s participation in sustainable developments is a must. For this the development should be socially just, eco-friendly, economically viable and culturally vibrant. He has however not said anything about the attitudes of officials in the various rungs of the administrative machinery. Is it possible to set up an industry in any part of the country without confronting the hydra-headed ogre of corruption, red-tape and nepotism? Are not our attempts at economic liberalisation being thwarted by the machinations of corrupt politico-administrative combine? Perhaps this aspect of sustainable development would require a full-fledged analytical tome.

Kamal Taori further suggests that there is a need for developing and transferring relevant technologies to various traditional and non-traditional industries. It is imperative to improve the rural industrial product’s shelf life through quality upgradation, to develop effective technologies in the field of communication and transportation, and to improve the skills of workers and develop managerial resources.



Woman-centric? Yes, feministic? No
Review by Priyanka Singh

Ladies Coupe
by Anita Nair. Penguin India, New Delhi. Pages 276. Rs 250.

AMONG new writers, Anita Nair is the most promising and a writer to reckon with. With her second book she has carved a niche for herself. Her novel, "Ladies Coupe", is as good, in some ways even better than her first, the "Better Man". In fact, it will not be fair to draw a parallel between the two since they are hugely different. The "Better Man" has a male protagonist and a man’s worldview while ladies coupe is women-centric without taking a feministic tone. As a writer she excels in both.

She handles characters with dexterity, gently guiding and prodding them to tell their own story; never controlling them. "Ladies Coupe" is primarily the story of Akhila who is 45 and a spinster. Being the eldest in a conservative Brahmin family, she is expected to sacrifice her emotions and throttle her bottled-up desires at the altar of duty following the death of her father. Her siblings refuse to regard her as anything but a "cash cow".

Their insensitivity bogs her down and she develops a keen urge to find whatever little that remains of the real woman in her, prompting her to undertake a distant journey to Kanyakumari. On the train she finds herself in a ladies coupe with five other women. She opens her heart to them just as they do to her.

What develops is a camaraderie so strong and a bonding so rare that they reveal their darkest thoughts and deepest secrets. There is old Janaki married for 40 years to a man who absolutely adores her in spite of her mood swings. She finds it unnatural for a woman wanting to stay alone without a husband for a prop.

Then there is Margaret Shanti, a gold medallist in chemistry, married to a narcissistic husband whom she gradually grows to hate. At one point blind love for him had compelled her to abort her child only because he thought it was the right thing to do. As their marriage grows, so does his indifference towards her, making her toy with the idea of revenge. This she does by cooking sumptuous meals for him which he cannot resist, thereby reducing him to a caricature of his former self. Her revenge is complete.

Prabha Devi is a typical example of a woman who loses her identity and a sense of self-worth several years down the marriage line. As a young spirited bride, she transforms into a coquette after a trip abroad. When Pramod (not her husband) remains apparently unaffected by her charms, she makes an extra effort but when he comes on too strong, she withdraws fearing the consequences. She decides she would revert to being a coy, dutiful wife. Many years later though she begins to secretly learn swimming which puts the spark and excitement back into her life.

They also have a 14-year-old girl amidst them. She shows a rare sensitivity by understanding her eccentric grandmother better than her own children.

Lastly there is Marikolanthu whose character is the most interesting. She has suffered more personal anguish than all of them put together. Her plans for her future come to a nought after she is raped at the age of 18 in her village. She forsakes her son soon after his birth, unwilling to acknowledge his place in her life, and is ostracised by her brothers. For a brief period she becomes the lover of her mistress Sujata Akka and her husband Sridhar Anna. Much misunderstood, she is asked to leave. Her perpetrator later dies and with him dies her bitterness. She accepts her son, now eight.

After the element of verity in her story line, Anita Nair’s strongest point is her deep understanding of people and complexities of life which are easily manifested in the narrative. Hers are commonplace, everyday characters. They are alive, their tears real, their exasperation genuine and undramatic and their dilemma understandable. It could very well be a story of anyone of us. We could be them, they us.

Her language is evocative, smooth, simply put, splendid and her style easy. "Ladies Coupe" is an attempt to study traditional, social relationships and roles and put them in their right perspective. She even makes a departure and talks of love between women, arising out of an unfulfilled need to be cared for and understood. No relationship can work-even between women-unless there is mutual sensitivity and respect for needs.

The book ends with a happier, stronger Akhila who has found a direction to her life.The only question which haunted Akhila was whether it is possible for a woman to essentially live by herself; live without a man. The answers are all relative and the choices personal. What matters is not people’s reaction but conviction and the strength to hold one’s own.

Once Akhila had given up the love of a younger man, Hari, for fear of society’s acceptance of her. Now she seduces a younger man to prove to herself that it doesn’t matter. She gives in to her desires and calls up Ravi, wondering if he would still have her after so many years.



Rasputin - the real one who refused to die
Review by V.N. Datta

THERE is a universal tendency to create mythological saints and divinity. Human nature seeks to find comfort wherever it can. The myth of Rasputin as a holy man endowed with extraordinary spiritual powers has persisted for long and, of late, Rasputin is enjoying a popular revival. The book under discussion is by Edvard Radzinsky, "The Last Word" (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, pages 524, 20 pound sterling). Radzinsky, a distinguished Russian playwright and historian, has made use of a missing file which he had been searching for long.

This file is a very valuable source of first-hand information. Containing highly sensitive material about the sinister holy man it was bought from Sothby’s. Radzinsky’s aim is to understand his own past by analysing "the frightening symbiosis that involved a highly religious family, the mutually devoted tsar and tsarina, their chaste daughters - a lewd priest (Rasputin) whose escapades were on everybody’s lips."

The first part of the book deals with Rasputin’s early life. Born in a Siberian village in 1872, Rasputin showed no interest in his studies and was virtually an illiterate. At the age of 28, he gave up drinking, fighting and stealing. He visited several holy places and heard religious discourses, begged for alms and prayed. He joined a group of people who whipped themselves and whirled into sexual frenzies culminating in group sinning." Rasputin underwent a religious conversion which alternated between sin and repentance and followed by spiritual purposes and ecstacy.

He believed that the best way to attain divine bliss was through sexual exhaustion that came after prolonged bouts of debauchery. There was no question of his becoming a monk. At 19 he married Proskovia Fyodorova who bore him four children. But marriage was a routine affair which gave him no pleasure or excitement. This was so because his insatiable sexual appetite. He visited Greece and Jerusalem, living off donations from peasants and gaining a reputation as a starets (self-proclaimed holy man) with the ability to heal the sick and predict the future.

Radzinsky shows how in the Czar’s court in St Petersburg much interest persisted in mysticism and occult. No wonder Rasputin was welcomed there with open arms. In 1908 he was summoned to the palace of Czar Nicholas (Nicky) and Czarina Alexandra (Alix) during one of their haemophiliac son’s bleeding. Rasputin enjoyed the reputation of possessing powers of curing patients suffering from serious ailments. Rasputin succeeded in curing the boy’s suffering by using hypnotic powers.

He warned the parents that the destruction of the child and also the dynasty was irrevocably linked to him and, like Iago of Othello, he used his skills adroitly thereby setting in motion a decade of powerful influence in the imperial family and the affairs of the state. All through, Rasputin behaved as a humble and holy peasant. The Czarina was dazzled by his prowess of curing her son. She began to look up to him as her mentor.

Furthermore, according to the author, Rasputin gave the "imperial family an idealised look" to the "real Russian people which proved a refreshing change from St Petersburg’s venal offences and the arrogant court." Radzinsky has clearly documented the sexual excesses committed by Rasputin wherein ladies would yield to him with abandon on the warm sofa and obscure petitioners (his influence was widening) would make their down payments. Rasputin also visited bath houses with prostitutes. Preaching that physical contact with him had a purifying effect, he seduced many women and acquired mistresses.He instilled a strong belief among them that there was a close link between sexual indulgence and spirituality, and that he was himself a devotee of his pecularily novel interpretation of Christianity.

At a number of places the author does not hesitate in demonising Rasputin’s lecherous misdeeds, which goes against the principles of biogrphy-writing which he has set out with a flourishing rhetoric in his preface.When accounts of Rasputin’s conduct reached the Czar, he refused to believe that Rasputin was anything but a holy man imbued with the highest ideals of preaching Christianity.

There has been a long debate on the extent of Rasputin’s influence, on the imperial policy in resisting the revolutionary activities. Radzinsky illustrates many convincing cases of apparent success, though some of them speculative. Rasputin’s influence ranged from the appointment of officials to the selection of Cabinet ministers. The author shows that he intervened in military matters.

Though supporting no particular group, Rasputin was a strong opponent of anyone opposing the autocracy. Several attempts were made on his life to end his influence but were unsuccessful until 1916.The imperial authorities treated Rasputin’s critics severely, and despatched them to remote regions of the em

nfluence. By 1916 his behaviour had become a public scandal. Quite a number of the Czar’s confidants felt dismayed by the pernicious influence that Rasputin was exercising over the Czar and his wife.

Rasputin was expelled from the court but eventually Alexandra had him readmitted within a few months. Nicholas chose to ignore disturbing accounts against Rasputin. After 1915 Rasputin reached the pinnacle of power and became a personal adviser to Alix. The general view was that the weak and highly incompetant Czar was a puppet manupulated by his impulsive and hysterical wife and a holy devil. Probably Rasputin would have proved less "fatal for himself and the imperial family had it not been for his power-hungry friends".

Russia became host to a large number of naive searchers for spirituality, cunning politicians, greedy bankers and others who thought that they could secure immense material benefits through his powerful connections. It seemed that this reckless debauch exceeded all limits so much so that Alex’s obsession with him got politicised. Rasputin formed a formidable clique in the imperial court with the Czarina at the centre of the stage. This coterie started making suggestions to the Czar for political and church appointments. The Czarina badgered her husband to act on these "holy orders." As public opinion became hostile to Rasputin, conspiracies were hatched to murder him.

Even in the imperial court little sympathy, far less admiration, was left. According to Radzinsky, the general view is that Rasputin’s murderer was the aristocratic dandy, Prince Felix Yusupov, who had married the Czar’s niece. For this contention Radzinsky quotes Yusupov’s memoirs which offers a blow-by-blow account of the melodrama on December 6, 1911 - the cellar where Rasputin was beaten and tortured, then he was force-fed poisoned pink cakes, his horrific revival after being shot, the final shooting in the snow, and the dumping of his body in the Neva river where he finally died of drowning.

Radzinsky rejects Yusupov’s version. According to him, Rasputin and Yusupov were engaged in an erotic relationship; he bases this version on secret police reports. Radzinsky maintains that it was Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich (the Czar’s cousin) who shot Rasputin outside the Yusupov palace. The author argues that it was not right for the hands of a royal be stained with blood, and as a popular military man he would have been a claimant to the throne in case of a coup. Thus a story was invented to protect the Grand Duke "to perpetuate the myth of the terrifying devil man who refused to die".



Ghadar revolutionaries revisited
Review by Jaspal Singh

BABA Bhag Singh Sajjan was one of the founders of the Left movement inPunjab.He was born in Sajjan village inHoshiarpur district in the early years of the 20th century, participated in freedoms struggle,mostly doing underground work, was arrested several times and spent many years in jail. He remained a bachelor throughout his life. Nobody could ever imagine that a political activist of Sajjan's ilk would ever write a novel.

The manuscript of this novel was dug out from his old papers when one of his associates scanned them recently. It was written in 1955, eight years after Independence but has just been published posthumously by Desh Sewak Publishers, Chandigarh.

This novel pertains to one of the most glorious chapters of India's freedom struggle — namely, the ghadar movement that began in the western coast of North America (the USAand Canada) under the leadership of Lala Hardyal, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Harnam Singh Tandilaat, Baba Gurdit Singh and a host of other revolutionaries who then shifted the movement to India. They arrived abroad the Kamagatamaru in the middle of the second decade of the last century.

The events associated with Baj Baj Ghaqat tragedy and the later fall-out of the ghadar movement gave a new militant thrust to the freedom struggle of India that went parallel with the peaceful middle-class movement led by Mahatama Gandhi and his followers. However, the heroes of the freedom struggle inPunjab more than Kitchew, Satpal and so on were Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Madan Lal Dhingra, Kanshi Ram, Udham Singh and so on.

It is a different matter that after independence a generation of politicians quickly emerged to grab the loaves and fishes of the power structure and the Congress was the smartest of all the political formations in this.

Bhag Singh Sajjan's novel"Anmukki Vaat de Chiraagh" (The oil lamps of the unfinished journey) begins in the early years of the 20th century. Surjan, a very audacious boy belonging to a family of the potters is the protagonist of the novel. His boyhood pranks and bold outward actions frighten the village zaildar who finds something unusual in his behaviour which is unbecoming of a potter (dalit). In f act he is supposed to be extremely docile being a low caste menial. Once this boy thrashed the zaildar's son while playing in the fields. Hence Surjan's father who always observed caste norms, felt embarrassed and was under constant fear because of his son's activities which were not liked by the village chief.

The father once gave him a severe thrashing out of frustration because the boy would not mend his ways. The next day Surjan disappeared from the village. Since he was physically well built, he got himself recruited in the army by wrongly quoting his caste. When the police came to the village to check his outecedents, Kirpal Singh, a progressive Jat Sikh, and the Muslim lambardar Sher Khan gave a good report. Somehow the caste factor remained unnoticed as the police did not doubt it. Sher Khan served them a good meal and Kirpal Singh who was very sympathetic to Surjan gave them a few rupees while they were departing.

So nobody in the army doubted that Surjan was from a low caste. He now sported long hair and became an Amritdhari. He already knew a little"Punjabi but in the army he learnt a smattering of English as well. Soon his battalion was sent to China.But some of the soldiers deserted once they found the Chinese cause justified.The British officers demobbed the battalion and thus Surjan came back to his village after two years. Now he was a changed man educated, disciplined and an Amritdhari.he would wear a pair of pants and creased shirts and would behave a little differently from others in the village.

Kirpal Singh's son Harnam Singh who was a friend of Surnaj had gone to Manilaa few months earlier from where he reached the USA. He sent money to Surnaj and asked him to come to America. The lambardar's nephew Fazal also got ready to go with him.

After a month or so they reached Hong Kong from where they set out for America. Four months later,Surjan's family got a letter from him. He worked hard there, earned a lot of money which he sent to India. His father was under heavy debt but now he became a free man. Surjan's elder brother, Arjan, started taking trade tours on his mules to distant lands upto Afghanistan and beyond and thus earned a lot of money. Surjan in America came in touch with some trade union leaders and Indian Indian nationalists who inspired youngmen to go back to India and fight for India's freedom. Many white fellow workers taunted them for being the citizens of a slave country.

Once race riots broke out in California which were engineered by the capitalists to divert the anger of the native workers towards the immigrant workers. This way the labour movement could be divided in the interest of the capitalists. Surjan wrote all these things ina letter to his sister-in-law called Bobo who is the narrator of this novel.

After some time a group of Indian revolutionaries including Surjan sailed to India with a pledge to liberate India from slavery. They came to Columbo and from there entered India through boats. They had in mind the tragedy of Kamagatamaru that took place a few months before which is why they did not land at any big harbour.

Surjan and his friends after reaching their village worked in disguise. They were able to recruit many young people from the neighbouring villages, whom they trained for starting the "ghadar" in the country on an appointed day. They even infiltrated into the army and were able to create a cell there.

The police got a clue of their activities. Moreover to a dies like the zaildar were always around to keep a watch on and to send regular reports to the government about the activities of the freedom fighters. The ghadar revolutionaries were able to organise a network for carrying out their plans. Bobo played a great role in their activities as a courier and as the one who would cook meal for them at odd hours.

The ghadarites were not interested in the mere transfer of power. They also wanted a just social order. Acting on intelligence reports the government was able to pre-empt their action and at an appropriate time they swooped down on the revolutionaries.Many of them were arrested. Dozens were sent to gallows, many were deported to the Andemans or imprisoned for various terms to rot in jails. Surjan and his three friends from the village were sentenced to death and were hanged. The narrator, Bobo along with some other village folks went to Lahore for the last meeting with her brother-in-law, with whom she was attached. He was in great spirit, without any fear of death.He said, "Every body has to die someday. We are dying for our cause which is dearer than life." He advised his kinsfolk not to weep but to rejoice that their boy was dying for his country and the people in the country were waking up on account of their sacrifices to launch a struggle against the British.

Even his body was not handed over to his kins but they were able to get a handful of bones and ashes which they burried under a ber tree in the moor that lay at a distance from the village. Every year on Diwali night Bobo, who now had grown very old went there to pay homage to the martyrs.

The last chapter of the novel is located in 1955. Even now eight years after Independence, the freedom fighters were brutally dealt with by the present government if they agitated for the rights of the common people.

Now this small novel in a nut-shell delineates the momentous history of the ghadar movement which has mostly been forgotten by the people of India.

A large chunk of the upper classes never wanted freedom from the British yoke since as collaborators they shared the colonial spoils.

Today the middle classes, enamored as they are of the dazzle of the market economy have no time to think about the chequered history of Indian freedom struggle. The martyrs are selectively remembered for electoral purposes by the ruling oligarchies in different states of India. Sadly, very few young men and women in the present generation have any idea of the legacy of the ghadar heritage.

The publication of this novel now in the beginning of the 21st century is an apt reminder of the "brave new world" that rules the roost today to pause and ponder for a moment and remember those who made them the citizens of a free country.



Too important to be left to women alone
Review by Shelley Walia

What is a Woman? And Other Essays
by Toril Moi. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Pages xviii + 517.£ 25.

THE pressures of our times makes it impossible for us to overlook the ideological constructs of any discourse. The systematic oppression by patriarchy along with sexism has amply shown that it was not an act of unconsciousness. Language and literature is already ideologically constructed before we learn to speak or read. This has been posited by all feminists, but Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Toril Moi and John Kristen would not want to exclude the male voice. They endeavour to recognise "especially the need to appropriate by revision the work of men for feminism".

Feminism is indeed too important a subject to be left only to the domain of women. The male feminist voice is a vital intervention that cannot be ignored. Only then can feminists be exonerated from reverse sexism.

As pointed out by Michael Ryne, "What begins as a parochial matter of pedagogy expands far beyond the classroom and academic politics once literature, criticism and theory are seriously taken as being about the encounter of readers with all forms of situated discourse, or, even more broadly, about language intricately marked by culture." Students need to be initiated into the study of literary theory and cultural studies and this can be done when teachers begin to destabilise the established "patriachalism of traditional discourse".

As Toril Moi writes in the preface of her book "Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir", "Now the possibility of value-free skepticism is itself in doubt as many feminist, Marxist and psychoanalytic theorists have stressed the inescapability of ideology and the consequent obligation of teachers and students of literature to declare their political, axiological and aesthetic positions in order to make those positions conscious and available for examination." Such expansion and deepening of literary studies has, for many critics, revitalised their field.

Many so-called feminist scholars are obviously naive in their passions and sloppy in their scholarship. They seem to have an uncritical admiration for many feminist writers without having read them or understood them. My own view is that this artificial position of critical superiority is one of the reasons that the women’s movement has no clear agenda before it, and more often than not, personalise the issues, with no concrete outcome from any debate. I cast my doubts on their sincerity and I feel they are doing more harm than good to the cause of women.

Moi too admonishes those who "never finished" reading "The Second Sex", a text that is "rapidly genuflected to in prefaces and introductions; and then when it is engaged with, the text is usually read from a stance of critical impatience and superiority".

These scholars cannot afford to be sanguine and must take a politically confrontational view of their stand if they are to recognise the politics of their own theories so as to become politically effective. To do so, a theoretically enlightened criticism is needed. The politics of literature and the subterranean ideologies that lie under the texts have to be decoded. The discipline of feminist studies has opened up to textual, philosophical, psychoanalytical, linguistic and semiotic analysis crossing the established academic boundaries.

In all these areas Moi has rehearsed, rethought and extended her distinguished contributions to feminist theory and interpretation over the past two decades. Toril Moi, Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Bergen and Professor of Literature at Duke University, has over the years acquired a powerful reputation for her incisive and often controversial interventions into contemporary feminist theory.

Not paying too much attention to the oft-beaten and fatigued arguments about feminist theory and its links with post-structuralism, she engages here in an exciting re-reading of Simone de Beauvoir, collating this to consequential reconsiderations of Pierre Bourdieu and Sigmund Freud. This book is a significant addition to her two former books, "Sexual/Textual Politics" and "New French Feminism" in which she explicates the works of Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigary, giving this French school of theorists an immense exposure and following in the Anglo-American world.

Though she adhered to Kristeva’s idea of difference with respect to the marginalised status of women, she was always clear in her mind that as yet no proper or adequate feminist theory had come to the surface out of all western feminist writings. The answers to questions relating to "What is a woman?" or "Are women a political class or a discursive category?" or "Is the space of blank subversion to be always dominated by the masculine discourse?" still tormented her. Therefore, she turned once again to Beauvoir who has not been really understood or incorporated into feminist theory.

The year 1999 was important in drawing enormous interest and renewal in Beauvoir, as it marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of "The Second Sex". Conferences were held all over the world to highlight the philosophical and original contribution of this text to feminist thought. Moi illustrates this text not in its historical aspect, but "as a source of new philosophical insights". She stands up against the post-structuralist approach that has problems in dealing with the biological determinism of feminism. To her, the body is as consequential as the exploration of gender. In particular, Beauvoir’s statement that "One is not born but rather becomes a woman" has widely been misunderstood.

Moi in her first three essays which are seminal in her new writings examines the important question of "What is a woman?" through Beauvoir’s views on the voice and the methodology used by theorists to define the position of women. The differentiation between sex and gender has been the main understanding of Beauvoir’s position, but Moi disagrees with this formulation on the grounds that sex and gender co-exist and one is as considerable as the other; the biological is entirely germane to the lived experience of women and in turn to the social or, in other words, to the entire thinking of women. Social norms cannot be disassociated from the body which is always situated at a position from where women have a choice to use it to their advantage or be subservient to the conventional exploitation at the hands of the patriarchal set-up.

The body is subject to the biological or natural laws as well as to the social determination of its function and meaning. This ambiguity is essentially intrinsic to the existence of women. It must be clear to all that she is neither wholly sexed, nor completely a cultural product. A complete woman is both sex and gender. To know what it is to be a woman is to live a fully embodied life in varying situations.

Moi next takes up the argument of Jane Tompkins who believes in the imperative need to include the personal and the private into feminist critical practice. The personal and the philosophical is important to Moi but not that it must always turn out to be a mere autobiographical account. Beauvoir did use the personal, but only as an anecdotal method to illustrate the larger issues concerning women, not only as a pressing need to incessantly talk about oneself. To illustrate an argument through one’s experience is to only move towards an explication. One can use oneself as a philosophical case study to strike a robust dialogue with the reader through common experiences and language.

Here Moi is addressing Tompkins’s objections against the impersonality of language that makes most of feminist writing more obscure than comprehensible to the common reader. Thus to engage in theory is to create a personal and a more understsanding voice which sets up a vigorous debate and a response to the needs of a positive development in theorising on the problems of women. It is for this reason that she is more clear-headed and forthright in her use of language than her French counterparts like Kristeva and Cixous who have taken theory into intolerable vagueness. Setting up an encounter between contemporary theory and Simone de Beauvoir, Moi radically rethinks the need and the difficulty of finding one’s own philosophical voice by placing it in new theoretical contexts.

The second section of Moi’s book takes up the issues of feminist theory and its connection with Bourdieu’s sociology of culture. This arises out of the motivations of her interest in the subject as the subject of praxis — as the subject of acts, including speech acts. This involvement sends her constantly to the works of Lacan, Freud, Kristeva, Sartre, Wittgenstein, Austin and Cavell. And what is significant with her interest is the emphasis on subjectivity as opposed to the concept of identity which she feels is the "most Beauvoirean of (her) thought". This saves her from the general metaphysical mischief as her approach is to present a concrete analysis of specific texts. Her main concern is with reading and writing from a feminist standpoint, what we take words such as "woman", "style", "reality", and"’social beings" to mean.

Her new essays in this book are an original contribution to feminist theory and are deeply concerned with the "ordinary and the everyday". Post-structuralism for her loses itself in the realm of metaphysics, compelling her to challenge the mindset that continuously uses scare quotes for "reality" or "social beings". It is here that she expresses her incredulity towards deconstruction, but paradoxically, refuses to lay down theoretical requirements for femininity. Hers is the feminism of freedom.



Faith, grace & amen
Review by Kuldip Kalia

For the soul: Divine grace; a Book on Self-empowerment
compiled by M.M. Walia. Sterling, New Delhi. Pages 63. Price not mentioned.

DEVOTION, surrender or faith, whatever one may suggest, these are the basic ingredients for enjoying, experiencing, feeling and even appreciating the amazing grace of the Almighty. Miracles do take place everyday and these are suggestive of infinite divine power. It may sound strange but when fear dispels, replaces danger with protective cover and darkness leads to brightness, one realises the gift of God.

Grace is in fact the "redemptive power of the lord". It is intrinsically linked to devotion. The self-surrendering attitude itself is a gift from him and when we speak of "surrender", it means the willingness to accept his power and grace.

It is a general feeling that the theories of karma and divine grace are opposed to each other and thus there is no room for self-effort and free will. The same free will and divine grace are said to be the basic factors in achieving success in life. Moreover how do we think of divine grace when everything is destined? Here is an answer for such feelings and doubts. It is rightly said, "One must set with a fishing rod if one wants to catch fish."

Mother Sharda gives an apt illustration. In her words, "If a man were destined to lose his leg because of his past karma, he will escape with only a scratch by calling the lord." Sri Ramkrishna goes a step further. For him, the man is not absolutely free. He is controlled either by karma or by God. Man’s situation or position is like "a cow which is tied to a post with a 20-yard-long-rope.

Grace stands for divine mercy and karma for divine justice. Grace can be seen as manifestation of previous karma. Of course, the course of life can also be changed by self effort. Again by karma, in the form of spiritual practice. That is why we do require self effort for spiritual progress and bliss. For such progress, God makes us to work. In words of Sri Aurobindo, "One cannot demand grace as a matter of right." Divine grace can never be termed as Divine capricious. It has its own law of action. Even it goes beyond the key of cosmic law.

In order to simplify further, it is said, "Grace is like sun light." So it depends whether one wants to close the door and windows and likes to remain content in darkness. Therefore never forget "openness and sincerity". In Christian theology "grace is ethical and charged with hysterical satisfying power". In fact it is free love of God for sinners. Vedanta philosophy emphasises the need for grace even when one turns to God and strives for liberation. So one must shed egotism. However doubts will not disappear without grace.

Truly speaking, God can see us but we do not easily get a glimpse of him. For that we have to pray and surrender. Fish, monkey, cat and hen are said to be the four types of surrender but after analysing, one understands that the hen strategy is the best, simple and easy. The hen, by her training, efforts and guidance, imparts "team spirit, cooperation and friendliness." That ultimately leads to a total vision. Moreover the so-called qualities if imbibed in the right spirit, one qualifies for divine grace.

One must understand that whatever God does, it is always for our salvation. Even if he inflicts punishment, it should be accepted because his grace need not always be kind. Who knows a calamity or catastrophe may be proved as a "gift of grace" from the divine by the subsequent events.

In words of Sri Satya Sai Baba, the most desirable form of wealth is the "grace of God" and the grace will "overwhelm all obstacles". Saint-poet Surdas explains the need for guru for attaining such grace. The intellect is said to be illuminated and delusion removed with the help and guidance of guru. That is why our culture and scriptures have placed great emphasis on the status of guru. So first surrender to the guru. He will lift darkness, ignorance and misunderstanding. He helps to establish contact with the divine light of wisdom and knowledge. Ignorance is removed, false pride is dissolved and ego banishes.

These are the forces which prevent us from realising the existence of God.

Grace changes our life style. Egotistim and selfrighteousness take the back seat. The seeker starts feeling unconditional grace coming in various ways and helping at every step.

Anyhow grace involves a twofold movement which means the ascent of man and descent of God.

Fenelon rightly asks: "Can we be unsafe where he has placed us?" He has the answer too and explains, "no more restless uncertainties; no more anxious desires and no more impatience at the place" exist when we are in the arms of God. So we most practise advice of the Bible, "Commit your way to the Lord and he will crown your efforts with success." His grace "prevails behind everything, organises everything and conducts everything."