The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, September 9, 2001

You name it, this book has it
Review by V. Eshwar Anand

Write View
Kashmir dispute: is a solution possible?
Review by Randeep Wadehra

The brigand is human, cunning and comes alive
Review by Padam Ahlawat

Pop history as popular fiction
Review by Shelley Walia

Ma’s astonishing spiritual progress
Review by Rekha Jhanji





You name it, this book has it
Review by V. Eshwar Anand

Indian Names
by M V Kamath and Kalindi
Randeri. Arkansh, Mumbai. Pages 1021. Rs. 695.

NAMING a new arrival in the family is always an arduous task for parents. In the South, it is not very difficult to name a baby as the family is more or less bound by tradition. In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, the baby is invariably named after his/her parents or grandparents unlike in Tamil Nadu where the first grandson in the family is named after the paternal grandfather and the second one after the maternal grandfather.

Similar practices prevail in other parts of the country, though apparently under the influence of the West and because of the tendency on the part of the parents to look modern, babies are named after filmstars, cricketers, etc.

In fact, there is no general rule as such for naming a child. In some cases, as in Punjab, children are named even after trees or ranks in the Indian Army such as general, (Jarnail), major, colonel (Karnail) and so on.

A new arrival is always a momentous occasion for the family to celebrate. In fact, elaborate rituals are performed for the health and long life of the child, much before its birth. The degree and extent of rituals would of course depend on the social standing and financial status of the parents. In some states the naming ceremony, especially of a son, is considered the most important event in the family. Most unfortunately, the desire for a son, instead of a daughter, continues to be deeply entrenched in the Indian psyche, notwithstanding the progressive and enlightened views on women and their brilliant achievements in several fields over the decades.

The Hindu scriptures eulogise the values of a son. It is said that a father would always aspire for a son as it is the latter who would light his funeral pyre. Encouragingly, there is a perceptible change in the mindset of many educated families today with the result that the birth of a daughter is considered equally propitious and celebrated with traditional enthusiasm and solemnity. Some do regard the birth of a daughter as the birth of goddess Laxmi or the goddess of wealth in the family.

"Indian Names" is a rich collection of names from classical to contemporary periods. The book, which contains as many as 30,000 names of Sanskrit origin, could well be described as a treatise on names. Of special mention is the chapter on the five samskaras or sacrements. This chapter examines the entire process of conception and child birth based on ancient Hindu precepts.

In this chapter, which speaks volumes for the author’s scholarship and erudition, M V Kamath examines all the five sacrements — garbhadaana (gift to the womb ceremony), pumsavana (performed in the second, third and fourth months of pregnancy), seemantonnayana (performed during the period between the fifth and eighth months of pregnancy), jatakarma (performed before the umbilical cord is cut) and naamakarana (performed on the 10th and 12th day after birth).

In this chapter, Kamath also discusses, briefly though, some of the rituals performed in the naamakarana ceremony in a typical Hindu Brahmin family. He says that as the breath of the child is equated with the ``awakening of its consciousness’’, the parents touch it and say in its ear thrice: ``Your name is ....’’ He writes ``Brahmins and elders are then requested to follow, calling the child by its given name and blessing it. In some societies, it is customary to place in the palm of the child a gold coin.’’

Quoting Asvalayana Grihya Sutra from Raimundo Pannikar’s book "The Vedic Experience", Kamath says the boy’s name should have an even number of syllables like Rama or Krishna and the girl’s an odd number of syllables to end in i, ee or aa like Radha, Maitreyee or Rukmini for fame, good health and prosperity. Undoubtedly, a lot of research has gone into the book. The blurb mentions that it is the product of ``six years of research’’.

Considering the sheer volume of the book (1021 pages excluding the 10 pages covering index and introduction) with 30,000 names, it is no small effort by the authors who are distinguished in their respective fields. Kamath is a veteran journalist and author. He had written over 40 books on politics, history and journalism. Equally noted is Kalindi Randeri, an educationist who is instrumental in introducing non-engineering, technical courses at the polytechnic level for both men and women in Mumbai.

Indian parents should heave a sigh of relief as they need not struggle anymore in quest of appropriate names for their babies. The book should make the parents’ task of naming their child easier. Moreover, "Indian Names" does not confine itself to names for people alone. It also covers names for places and products. For the convenience of the users, the names are written (in 10-point type for better readability) in both English and Devanagiri scripts with meanings in English.

It has two indices — Master list (containing the 30,000 names) and 25 sub-sections on certain human emotions and qualities. Names depicting joy, delight, happiness, pleasure, intelligence, knowledge, mind, wisdom, cleverness, skill, modesty, humility, benevolence, honesty and compassion are particularly interesting.

And as if this voluminous collection is not enough, the authors say that there is no ``last word’’ for listing of names and that they will be happy to receive additions from readers! Clearly, this is an open invitation to all to further enrich the quality and depth of the book and thus contribute to knowledge.



Write View
Kashmir dispute: is a solution possible?
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Kashmir: How far can Vajpayee and Musharraf go?
edited by Karan R. Sawhny. Peace Publications, New Delhi. Pages: 240. Rs 250.

KASHMIR has become a blood-spattered region, a way out of which has tested some of the best national and international brains. Some try to offer political solutions, while others consider it a socio-economic problem that requires sophisticated approach to its resolution. Still others look at it as a mere law and order question and feel that guns alone can bring peace to the state. Of course there is an overwhelming feeling that Pakistan is the source of all violence currently ravaging the valley.

Periodically the leaders of India and Pakistan meet to reach some sort of agreement on Kashmir. The latest round was at Agra where Vajpayee and Musharraf met amidst great optimism, only to disappoint all lovers of peace. There must have been constraints that prevented a solution in the spirit of give and take. What were these compulsions?

Karan Sawhny, in the foreword, avers in anticipatory mode, "Given the irreconcilable positions of the Pakistan government on Jammu and Kashmir and the rejection by both New Delhi and Islamabad of the third option — independence — the difficulty of putting in place a peace process which would include the diverse forces which are active in Kashmir cannot be underestimated. The peace offensive of the Government of India began in the spring of 2000 when the separatist Kashmiri leaders were released and subsequent initiatives have proved how complex the task of peace building is and how vital is the capacity for r ‘staying the course’."

Let us not forget that this collection of essays predates the Agra summit. Whatever is mentioned in these essays rests on perspectives formed before the summit. Therefore, there are bound to be some red faces around. Whether one considers Agra a great fiasco, a resounding success or simply a precursor to happier tidings, one must remember that though the views expressed by different writers might conflict with each other, none of them can be taken lightly.

In this volume Suba Chandran avers that the lack of legitimacy of General Musharraf’s military government and its support for jihad in Kashmir, coupled with Pakistan’s inability to control the various militant groups which are becoming increasingly independent financially and ideologically, is bound to result in escalating the conflict. Amitabh Mattoo disagrees with the gloomy scenario and argues that in 2001, "more than in any period during the past 12 years of insurgency", there is a real chance of generating a process that could eventually create the climate for durable peace.

Yoginder Sikand points out that from 1990s onwards there has been a remarkable transformation in the nature of "Kashmir liberation struggle". Earlier, till 1947, the struggle was mainly against Dogra rule. Later on it assumed nationalist colours with the main emphasis on Kashmiriyat - a secular, democratic concept. Presently it has become an Islamist enterprise — a holy war against infidel rule. Observes Sikand, "Geelani sees the armed struggle being waged in Kashmir not as a war of national liberation but as a jihad between Islam, on the one hand, and the forces of kufr or disbelief, on the other."

Alexander Evans feels that we are nowhere near the peace process. He continues, "Some aspects of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy aren’t changing. Support for militancy, ever denied but rarely constrained, is not up for negotiation. Pakistan believes that militancy is its number one card in Kashmir; the main factor that causes great expense for India and keeps the issue visible internationally." Brian Cloughly dwells upon the steps required for confidence building in Kashmir. Cloughly, if at all he had cared to watch the live telecast of General Musharraf’s tete-a-tete with Indian editors during the Agra summit, could not have missed the disdain in the dictator’s expressed views on confidence building measures. Balraj Puri stresses on the need to rein in the hotheads on both sides of the communal divide so that the peace process could be salvaged.

Other contributors to this thought-provoking collection are Rajinder Sachar, Tahir Mohideen, Girija Dhar and Darshan Singh Maini. Providing the Pakistani perspective are Assef Ahmed Ali, Khaled Ahmed, Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, Ejaz Haider and Zaffar Abbas. Papers and proceedings from the November, 2000, symposium held by the International Centre for Peace Initiative at Gurgaon have been included in this collection.

If you are interested in the subcontinent’s history and politics, this book is an invaluable addition to your library.

* * *

Indo-Pak Relations: Challenges before New Millennium
by M.G. Chitkara. APH Publishing Corporation, N. Delhi. Pages: vviv+248. Rs. 400.

This book too hit the market on the Agra summit eve. Chitkara belongs to that school of thought which holds the 1947 partition as unnecessary and avoidable. He feels that the similarities between Hindus and non-Hindus in pre-partition Punjab were far more significant than the differences. He points out, "The Muslims of what used to be India are today three nations: Indian Muslims, Muslims in Pakistan and Muslims in Bangladesh. All of them, who happened to be Hindu converts, have the same tradition behind them and culturally, each is heir to the same heritage…"

He too, like many other writers, blames the British colonialists for sowing the seeds of communal hatred in the subcontinent. Even if one might not feel inclined to agree with this wholly, the avowed colonial policy of divide and rule lends credibility to this belief.

Be that as it may, several factors were responsible for the country’s partition. The most powerful one was individual leaders’ ambition. Both the Congress and the Muslim League had started thinking in terms of carving out their respective independent states. Describing partition as a fraud played on the Muslims by their leaders Chitkara wishes for the arrival of a statesman who would be able to undo the division.

After tracing the genesis of the present conflict Chitkara offers various methods which could be employed to bring about peace and amity in Indo-Pak relations. He gives an interesting analysis of the Muslim mindset.

There is much to be gained economically as well as geo-strategically from the settlement of all prickly issues. The region can then be safeguarded against the ill effects of big power politics, and the countries enabled to concentrate on uplifting the peoples’ standard of living — the much-neglected aspect of all political activity in the subcontinent..

* * *

Unleashing India on World Markets
by Raghu Nandan. Response Books, New Delhi. Pages 413. Rs 350.

Much has happened to the Indian economy in the past decade or so. Traditionally held dogmas have been shed in favour of more adventurous policies. Words like liberalisation, disinvestment, privatisation, etc. are being bandied about by those who are eager to jump onto the brand new free market economy bandwagon. Socialism has been dumped into the dustbin of history. So India, like our beauty queens, is all decked up to wow the dons of capitalism. Or, so one presumes.

The problem is that what we have to offer in terms of goods and services do not measure up to the quality standards of the international market. Even the expectations of domestic consumers are soaring high. They want nothing but the best at competitive prices. Can the Indian industry meet the challenge? Raghu Nandan is not very optimistic and he has good reasons to feel gloomy. Says he, "India is a prisoner of its overseas trade. But see, the door is locked from within." As an explanation he churns out a whole volume that dissects the Indian mindset, the follies committed and the myopic approach of the various segments of our polity which impact the economic performance.

He scrutinises the factors leading to the poor performance of Indian exports by primary, manufacturing and tertiary sectors. Dwelling on the various hurdles and bottlenecks, he contends that Indians have failed to present a solid front to the competition. He also discusses possible measures to enhance the performance of these sectors in the international arena. He avers that the country has a very poor capacity for producing the tools and moulds which are the lifeblood of most manufacturing units. This is despite the fact that "we have a fantastic pool of highly trained and skilled mould makers who earn more than their share of respect overseas". He gives the example of Singapore’s Tata Precision Industries, which is predominantly staffed with Indians and has earned a formidable reputation in the high tech mould and tool making world.

Further, the author feels that though the NRIs in the developing world are employed as professionals and traders and are reasonably well off, they are unable to provide captive markets for Indian goods due to the lack of their clout. Thus Indian exporters to these countries are unable to reach out to local population. Indian goods are bought by Indians only and fail to penetrate deep into the wider market. Further, the NRIs show no inclination to promote these goods in their countries of adoption.

This book discusses in a conversational style the need for product innovation, improvement in the commercial infrastructure, and creating an atmosphere conducive to information sharing. It gives relevant case studies and statistics to make the various concepts clear. An excellent book for professionals, traders, manufacturers and students of Indian economy.



The brigand is human, cunning and comes alive
Review by Padam Ahlawat

Veerappan: The Untold Story
by Sunaad Raghuram. Viking-Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 312. Rs 395.

"IF crimes and delinquencies increase in numbe, it is proof that misery is on the increase, and that society is ill-governed;" wrote Napoleon. And if such criminals are looked upon as Robin Hoods, it is evident that the people have little faith in the government. Veerappan is one such brigand who is looked upon as a robber of the rich and a friend of the poor.

He has been written about in the regional and national press, his name has cropped up in state legislatures and Parliament. And now here is a book on the life of India’s most wanted criminal who has lately shown political inclination. But then he realises that Phoolan Devi had made it from crime to politics. This is one of the ugly aspects of Indian politics today. Though one can appreciate the spirit to fight back the injustice meted out to her.

Despite a reward of Rs 40 lakh on his head, the brigand has killed about 120 people, has eluded the police force of two states for more than a decade. This is largely due to the thick forests from which he operates, but in a small measure also due to the support of the local population, whether it is out of fear of favour.

He has an uncanny ability and native cunning to take on the police force and ambush it, no doubt helped by a network of spies and food suppliers. He is at home in the forest creating a jungle lore to evade the police who have given away all elements of surprise. Animals provide the brigand with all knowledge of police advance.

Veerappan took to crime not to avenge any act of injustice or injury but because of poverty. He born in a poor family of cattle graziers at Gopinatham, a village in the M.M. Hills area, close to the Tamil Nadu border. Along with his brothers he began stealing forest produce, cutting bamboo and smuggling it out. He was caught in 1965. Poacher and smuggler Sevi Gounder saw promise in the young Veerappan and induced him to join him in the smuggling of ivory and sandalwood.

Veerappan came to lead his gang in 1975 when Sevi Gounder retired. He was not alone in poaching on the forest wealth. Several villagers joined in looting forest wealth in connivance with corrupt forest officials.

Realising the threat from other gang, Veerappan enticed five of the leaders with peace proposals and shot them. In an uncontrolled frenzy he hacked them to pieces and threw them into the Palar river. After this chilling murder in front of all villagers no one dared challenge him. From then on he embarked on eliminating anyone who stood in his way. An honest guard, who dared to seize a lorry of sandalwood being smuggled out, met the same fate.

From then on he robbed tourists who passed through the forest, kidnapped rich businessmen for ransom and in 1990 ambushed police officers who dared enter the forest.

A special task force was raised to nab Veerappan, while a BSF battalion was sent into the forest to catch Veerappan dead or alive. All their efforts were in vain. If anyone came close to capturing Veerappan, it was three small time local youths. If they failed in their effort, it was due to the short-sightedness of the police officers who displayed poor leadership qualities.

Nataraj worked as a cashier in a village wine shop at Ramapura. After his work done and the shop closed, he went to his friend Muthuram’s restaurant. When the last customer had left, the two would settle down to drinks and dinner. They would occasionally be joined by Nagaraj, a poor farm labourer.

Both friends soon noticed a change in Nagaraj’s life style. He seemed to have more money and was buying rations worth thousands of rupees every month. He had also got several khakhi shirts and trousers. Suddenly Nagaraj disappeared. Days passed without any trace of him.

Then one night, Nagaraj walked into the hotel, protecting himself from the pouring rain with a plastic sheet. Joined by Nataraj, the three friends got to drinking and talking. Both asked him where he had been and how he had got so much money. The name of Veerappan sobered down both of them. They realised he had become an informer of the dreaded criminal.

Muthuram warned him that this cosuld get him into deep trouble with the police. Nataraj, however, was planning to use Nagaraj to lay a trap for Veerappan. With the help of the police they would help nab Veerappan and so claim a share of the reward. Nataraj was able to persuade a reluctant Muthuram to join him in his plan. Nagaraj was partly cajoled and partly frightened with police action to join them in their amateurish plan that almost succeeded.

They met the superintendent of poice of the special task force (STF), Harikrishna, and sub-inspector Shakeel Ahmed and agreed on Muthuram’s simple plan of posing as ivory merchants and arms suppliers. After several visits to the forest and supplying bullets to Gurunathan, the right-hand man of Veerappan, they gained their confidence and were called to meet Veerappan. Shakeel Ahmed posed as the agent, and alongwith Nagaraj, Nataraj and Muthuram agreed to buy ivory and supply 32 sten guns.

It is from here that the story gets curious. The police began insisting that the three of them should go to the forest next day to meet Gurunathan. Harikrishna and Shakeel would go along and arrest Gurunathan. Muthuram and Nataraj pleaded for patience so that they could nab Veerappan. When all their pleas failed, they took the police officers to the forest where Gurunathan met them. With Gurunathan being arrested their cover was blown and any hope of nabbing Veerappan was lost. Gurunathan was eliminated when he failed to lead the police to Veerappan.

Veerappan’s retribution was swift and sure. The police post at Ramapura was attacked, leaving several policemen dead. Veerappan then planned to kill Harikrishna, the police SP and sub-inspector Shakeel Ahmed. His plan was better thought out and executed with precision. The brigand sent his confidant, Kamala Naika, to the police, offering to lead them to Veerappan. Muthuram’s and Nagaraj’s warning not to trust Naika was brushed aside.

Veerappan selected the spot where the policemen were to be ambushed. Trenches were dug on the hillside overlooking the road. Naika was then instructed to lead the SP to the spot beyond Meenyam where Veerappan was supposed to be camping and was to meet a buyer for ivory.

On the August 14, 1992, the DIG in consultation with the SP, decided to raid Veerappan’s camp next day. The police party was led by Harikrishna, SP and Shakeel Ahmed SI, who alongwith Naika were in the car, while 22 constables followed in a lorry.

The police party started from Ramapura for Meenyam which was about 30 km away. Minutes before the policeman’s departure a man named Venkatachala was racing towards Meenyam on his Yezdi motorcycle to inform Veerappan about the expected police arrival. The road was blocked with boulders, at Boothikere Halla, 24 km from Ramapura.

As soon as the police convoy reached the road block, Naika got out of the car and ran into the forest and the policemen faced a fusillade of bullets. Harikrishna and Shakeel died instantly, while three constables were severely injured. The lorry with the police force reached the spot six minutes late and was attacked with bombs and rifle fire.

This was soon followed by as bus full of policemen being blown off by land mines. Nagaraj shifted to a town, while Muthuram too moved away. Nataraj continued to stay but the fear of retaliation took its toll. He began to drink heavily and lost his job.

The special task force was reorganised and on being tipped off about Veerappan hiding in Tamil territory, a joint operation was launched. The bandit, however, fled into the forest and the police was found wandering in the forest, hungry and dishevelled.

Muthulakshmi was born in 1973 to a poor farmer owning a small patch of land in Neruppur village near Hogenekal. With sandalwood in abundance in the surrounding forest, she had heard of Veerappan who frequented the area and settled disputes in villages. People would queue up to get their disputes settled. Muthulakshmi had began to like Veerappan, his moustache and the authority he exuded in his tone and gait.

Her friend Bhanumathi introduced her to Veerappan and that day Muthulakshmi was extremely pleased. Veerappan too had begun to like the dusky girl and began visiting her house. One day, while talking to her father, he proposed to marry his daughter. He promised to take good care of her. Surprised at the unexpected proposal, her father refused, as he had planned to marry her to a relative.

Muthulakshmi felt sad but a few months later when she was alone in her hut, Veerappan came and swore that he would marry no one else but her. His Muthu was thrilled and reciprocated the feeling. When all efforts to persuade her family failed she eloped with Veerappan and they got married in a forest temple.

She lived with the gang moving constantly in the forest. As her pregnancy reached an advanced stage, she was unable to cope with forest life and with Veerappan’s help returned to her village. Her parents took her in and fearing police action consulted a lawyer. The lawyer provided shelter and sent them to Chennai where she surrendered before the police. She was sent to a women’s hostel and soon she gave birth to a girl.

She was allowed to return to her village where a police vigil was kept day and night in the hope that Veerappan could come to meet her. Instead Veerappan sent a man disguised as a relative, who told her that Veerappan wanted her to leave the baby and come to the forest.

At first she did not want to desert her small girl who needed her all the time. After two months, she convinced herself that the baby would be more secure without her and could go to school. She managed to hoodwink the strong police posse and escaped to the forest. There she lived with Veerappan for three years, when she was arrested by the police during a raid.

The police tortured her, kicking her, stripping her naked and passing current through her nipples. All they wanted to learn was Veerappan’s hiding place. When he changed his camp every day, how could she tell the police his whereabouts? Chilli powder was thrown into her eyes and she was hung naked with electric shock given to her private parts. She could not bear the pain and one day attempted suicide by drinking phenyl kept in the toilet. She, however, vomited and was saved.

Veerappan learned of her torture and arranged for a lawyer to petition the Madras High Court. She was threatened with more torture and as she yearned to see her little baby, she agreed to tell the court that she had not been tortured.

The police promised to release her and allowed her to meet her daughter. Her sister one day brought her. It was an emotional reunion for the mother and daughter. In the author’s words, "She called out, ‘come, my dearest one. Don’t you remember me? I’m sure you do. I’m your mother, oh, how much I missed you. Only my soul knows the kind of pain. I hope just to be able to see you again. Come, my little one, don’t be scared. I’m your mother, my baby, come, come".

"After a while, my little daughter slowly began to walk towards me. I hugged her tightly, unaware that I was crying in joy. I kept kissing and hugging her. It was the ultimate moment of my life. My heart had yearned for this moment and only I knew the intensity of it."

"After a while, my little one began to realise that I was indeed her mother. She hugged me with her smallhands, ‘when will you come home? Won’t you send me to school? I want to be with you all the time,’ she said. ‘Oh my little one, I shall come out of here soon. And I shall certainly send you to school. Don’t you worry,’ I cried. Although I had decided to end my life on many previous occasions, now there was this great desire in me to live just for the sake of my daughter. I told my sister that I would return home soon after deposing before the court."

Soon after her release by the court, she was helped by the police to get a job in a weaving mill near Coimbatore. She worked for three years until her identity was revealed by a local newspaper. She lost her job and moved over to Mettur where a relative gave her shelter and helped Muthulakshmi to set a small cigarette outlet. There she runs a cigarette shop in front of her relative’s tea stall and her daughter goes to a convent school. Muthulakshmi emerges very human and sensitive.

R.R. Gopal came into contact with Veerappan due to the efforts of two intrepid reporters of his magazine, Nakkeeran. They managed to meet Veerappan who opened his heart to the reporters. They were able to videotape Veerappan for nine hours. Gopal ran a series on Veerappan in Nakkeeran and he came to be accepted as a negotiator by Veerappan.

He played a role in the release of Kannada actor Raj Kumar whose kidnapping is dealt with in detail. Raj Kumar’s story was so extensively covered by the press that the book has nothing new to add on it. The book is well written and holds the interest of the reader.



Pop history as popular fiction
Review by Shelley Walia

by Shashi Tharoor.Viking India, New Delhi. Pages 272. Rs 395.

SHASHI Tharoor defies the distinction between the historian and the novelist, stressing the contingency of all historical knowledge in his recent novel "Riot". He writes in the Afterword: "Memory and oblivion: how one leads to the other, and back again, has been the concern of much of my fiction. History, the old saying goes, is not a web woven with innocent hands".

Recovering the totality of the past is virtually impossible. Traditional practices of writing of history fail to question the conditions of their own making and therefore, retard any development of a democratising critical intelligence. Is history then an art or a science and is it really possible to say what happened in the past without a bias? Should history abandon the search for objective truth about the past? Is it not important that it is time that history came to terms with its own processes of production? These are some of the questions that come to mind when confronting Tharoor’s new experiment in novel writing. A writer in the situation of Tharoor is always positioned by and positions himself within the narrative consisting of a continuous play of history, culture and power. Myth, memory, fantasy all constitute the raw material on which he depends for a construction of fictionalised history or historical fiction.

Different perspectives create new histories in terms of one’s ideological dispositions and in accordance with race, gender and class. Permanent insatiability, and the politics of difference as well as recognition manoeuvre the form of the novel. Positioned between alternative homelands as well as ethnic communities, the perspective of different characters alter continuously and clash thereby contributing to the tension so much needed in a work of art as well as in the young Hegelian outlook on politics and religion.

The lingo is the same. The oft-repeated jokes are the same. Both the language and the humour reminded me of my undergraduate days. Does Tharoor write like an undergraduate? Is he good only with short pieces more of the journalistic kind and not with a full length novel? And is this not the reason he uses this new experiment in the novel, a structural fragmentation which allows the reader to open the book anywhere? Lakshman, the protagonist, exclaims, "Down with the omniscient narrator! It’s time for the omniscient reader. Let the reader construct her own novel each time she reads it." Is not Tharoor trying to do just this?

The mode of address, with its multiple positioning, avoids a strong interpellation. This is clear not just from the technique of using different voices to speak to us, but also from the very structure of the work. The device of a mystery which is never unveiled first involves us, and then moves us into Priscilla’s love affair and her personal drama of awakening. The result is a more open text; the reader is also left in a dialectic of ideological positioning, adopting a series of positions that conflict with each other. The various documents that make up the novel assume different audiences like the heterogeneity of voices. The manifold vectors of ideology, individuality, originality and intertextuality intertwine in so many ways enabling the novel to emerge from an ideological context, including the structures of class, gender and nationality.

The plot takes off from an account of a riot in Khargone, Madhaya Pradesh, sent to Tharoor by an IAS friend, Harish Mander, especially since it introduced him to the intricacies of controlling a riot. Another incident that lies at the origin of this novel is the death of an American girl in South Africa who is killed in racial disturbances. The two images, he says, "fused in (my) mind. A lot of what I am trying to explore involves collisions of various sorts."

The novel traces the fate, through various voices, of the 24-year old American student Priscilla Hart, killed in sectarian violence in 1989 to bring out the communal tensions and cultural divide facing the country. The gory, grim but always compelling panorama evokes the almost unimaginable horrors and atrocities of communal and cultural difference. A phantasmagoria of estranged man-woman relationships and the indisciplined apparatus of the state machinery, combining with the shadow terrors of this small "dirty" town and the disturbed life of its opposing communities, the novel turns out to be popular history in the best sense with its attention to human situations and its commanding prose. "Riot" is a well researched book with a compelling hard-driving narrative.

Love, cultural collision, xenophobia, man’s social and political independence are some of its concerns that endeavour to weave hPop history as popular fictionistory with the illusion of truth and romance, mingling the lives of different characters caught up in love and communal war and, most of all, in search of their identity. The individual’s beliefs and values are constructed through cultural and political pressures and sometimes even by oneself. The clash between the private and the public, between one’s individual beliefs and the beliefs of others is thus a confrontation that sometimes results in a riot and this is what the novel emphasises.

The central concern of "Riot" as well as the various characters are steeped in an inherent dilemma. The time is our time. The ravages of communalism and the consequences of a country divided against itself are the political circumstances, into which maelstrom steps a young woman from America. Tharoor has introduced in his novel a foreigner like Adela Quested from "A Passage to India" because, as he argues, "very often we define ourselves in relation to others and because a foreigner comes with a certain level of both innocence and a lack of understanding that helps illuminate for those who are trying to read a story like this". Priscilla is in India as a volunteer in a women’s health programme dealing with reproduction rights.

In her scrapbook dated December 25, 1989, she writes: "Here I have come to do good. It’s true:/ So simple a task in so complex a land./ I wheel my bicycle into their habits,/ Tell them what’s right, what can be done/ And how to do it. They listen to me,/ So ignorant, so knowing, and when they have heard,/ They go back to their huts, / Roll out the chapaties for dinner./ Pour the children drinks of sewer water,/ Serve their men first, eat what’s left,/ If they’re lucky, and then submit unprotected/ To the heaving thrusts of their protectors,/Abusers, masters. One more baby comes,/ To wallow in misery with the rest."

This indicates the sincerity of her involvement, but she is an intruder representing cultural penetration so obvious in the political controversy generated by the Coca-Cola affair and the reaction of the "hysterical left" or George Fernandes who demanded to know, "What kind of a country is India, where you can get Coke in the cities but not clean water in the villages." Was Coca-Cola here to loot the country or ruin the health of the nation? Such questions are thrown up in the context of Priscilla’s father who was in charge of Coca-Cola India before it was evicted from the country in 1977, and symbolically represents the economic penetration of India as well.

Pricscilla falls in love with the district magistrate, Lakshman and they begin to meet in a haunted house called Kotli. They meet here clandestinely every Tuesday and Saturday, but after an intense courtship, Lakshman decides that he cannot possibly desert his daughter whom he also loves. They plan to meet for the last time on a Saturday. That is when the riots begin:

Lakshman cannot make it and Pricilla is killed in their secret meeting place. No one in the town can explain why anyone would want to kill Priscilla. There are no clues, no confessions. "In riots all sorts of things happen," says Gurinder Singh, the police officer, "people strike first and ask questions later."

Emphasis on multiple perspective and the construction of meaning is arguably the best way that history ought to proceed if it is to be modernised. The work has to be read as a text and these readings are infinite. Tharoor tries to show just this. He uses journalistic reporting, diary writing and interviews to depict from a multiple point of view the concerns of his novel. This approach to history has provoked the historical novelist like Tharoor or Rushdie to deny the purity and the reality of the past and thus of any objective truth about this past.

Tharoor’s novel, through its methodology, liberates the reader from the coercive ideas of "reality"and "truth". Truth can be found only in such a free approach which allows the operation of pluralism, a kind of fictionalised free history . Such a literary text thus becomes more than just an exercise in reflecting its poetics or its rhetoric; its very aesthetics are born out of a political concern to assert fictional aesthetics, as well as to counterpose indigenous institutions and oral traditions to the unfair hegemonic impact of an alien culture.

The tension in the novel offsets any totalising tendencies by probing into conflicts, engagements, and estrangement between varying cultures. We can thus situate this novel within the area of intersubjectivity and archaeology of knowledge, a kind of "intertextual weaving" that allows a work of literature not to be submerged by any dominant discourse.



Ma’s astonishing spiritual progress
Review by Rekha Jhanji

Yuga Avatar Sri Sri Ma Anandamayee and Universal Religion
by Advaita P. Ganguly. Vedantic Research Centre Publication, Dehra Dun. Rs 85.

THIS book is a pamphlet commemorating the birth centenary of Ma Anandamayee. The Ma was one of the great Indian saints of last century, Swami Sivananda is said to have described her as a perfect flower of the Indian soil. To my mind Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Anandamayee Ma and Sri Ramana Maharishi touched the highest point of the Vedantic weltanschauung. From their lives one can have a glimpse of the true significance of the Upanisadic vision.

This book comprises two papers read on the occasion of the birth centenary celebrations of the Ma. One centres on the problem of caste, politics and religion from an Indian historical perspective and the other on Anandamayee Ma and her propagation of universal religion based on the Vedantic view of life.

The author directs our attention to the crisis in Indian civilisation due to the challenges posed by an upsurge of western materialism through the mass media. He thinks that the exemplary life of the Ma can help us overcome this civilisational crisis. I would wholeheartedly agree with him that reading about the lives of saints can provide a direction to our lives; but transforming one’s life is a tedious process which is not be possible without ruthless self-criticism and continuous hard work of imbibing one’s avowed value system in one’s life.

The first essay is a sketchy review of religion as it was seen by Indian sages and writers like E.M. Forster, Alduous Huxley and T.S. Eliot, on the one hand, and historians like Jadunath Sarkar and Aziz Ahmed, on the other.

The author concludes his review of Indian history and religion by asserting that Vedantic philosophy should inspire all Indians because that is the philosophy which can engender global peace and prosperity. He sees the message of Vedanta epitomised in the dictum of vasudhaiva kutumbakam. He views ancient Hindu culture essentially in terms of a unifying force that sees the whole earth as a single family.

While one may agree with the unifying dimension of the authentic Vedantic teaching, one ought to also see the divisive character of the Hindu caste system. Caste may have originally been seen as a division in terms of peoples’ nature and their potentialities; it soon degenerated into a dehumanising structure. It is in this context that one needs to see the unforgettable contribution of Buddhism. There can be no discussion of the classical Indian tradition without referring to the positive contribution of Buddhism in reaching out to humanity in general.

The author has not mentioned anything about the role of Buddhist thought in unifying human kind. Anandamayee Ma herself talks of the mahasunya in her own experiences. She says: "Whether you say it exists or does not exist, or that it is beyond both existence and non-existence, or even beyond that — as you please."

The paper on Anandamayee Ma refers in brief to the main events (in chronological order) of her life along with a reference to her spiritual development in terms of her sadhana. It is extremely difficult to write about an overarching personality like the Ma in a brief essay of 10 pages. Ma lived from 1896 to 1982, she was born in a Brahmin family and her early life was spent in Dhaka. She was married at an early age and during the initial years of her married life she performed the household chores and looked after her husband like any ordinary housewife.

However, even in the middle of household activity, she would go into samadhi. Ma was never given diksha by any guru On the fullmoon night of August 3, 1922, Ma’s self initiation took place, she experienced herself as both the guru and the disciple, after this she was in samadhi for several days. Referring to this period, she says this was "one prolonged period of indescribable bliss ... she had no sense of bodily pain.

During this period her husband looked after her like a father looks after a small child. The Ma’s life is fascinating. I was disappointed to see that while writing about the Ma’s life, the author has not focused his attention on her sadhana and her actual realisation of the Vedantic ideals for harmony and peace but he has mostly focused on the yajnas she performed for communal harmony and the crowds that thronged for her last rites.

There are several biographies of the Ma written by both Indian and European devotees. What comes out in these as the most prominent feature is the perpetual joyfulness in which she lived because of being established in the transcendental self. Gopinath Kaviraj has described the Ma’s personality very succinctly. He writes. "The mother’s body is no body and her mind is no mind in the ordinary connotation of the terms. They are only apparent and exist for the ignorants who are under maya and unable to see behind the veil".

The Ma looked upon the world as a manifestation of bhava, divine love. All created objects can be seen as its embodiments provided you raise yourself to that divine love. Suffering is caused by isolating yourself from this divine source. The Ma herself says that "for a self realised being neither the world with its pairs of opposites exists, nor does the body. If there is no world, there can obviously be no body either. After self-realisation there is no body, no world and no action — not even the faintest possibility of these — nor is there such an idea as s ‘there is not’. To use words is exactly the same as not to speak; to keep silent or not is identical — all is that alone".

These are no empty words, in the past 150 years, at least three Indian saints have left enough evidence of having realised this state and the Ma was one of them. She lived an exemplary life to leave enough testimony of her being a jivanamukta. She had no attachment to either worldly goods or name and fame. Whatever she was offered by her devotees, she would immediately pass on to others. For her the barriers of religion, caste and nationality were totally unreal — she could reach out not only to humanity at large but also to all living beings in general. The Ma’s compassion and love towards dogs, snakes and plants and trees is evidence of this state of non-duality in which she perpetually lived.

In this sense the publication of this little book would help disseminate some information (however sketchy and incomplete) about this great woman saint who was an embodiment of sastric knowledge without having any formal education and who truly symbolised the empowerment of women through spirituality. For the kind of freedom she had no feminist can even dream of realising. I wish the author had brought out these dimensions in his note.



Amartya Sen on poverty and development
Review by G.V. Gupta

Development as Freedom
by Amartya Sen. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages xiv+366. Rs 250.

THIS book, based on six lectures delivered by Prof Sen at the World Bank and written in elegant prose devoid of jargan and free of mathematical formulae, provides the basic framework of his economic philosophy. Sen is still very active as a creative thinker and writer. However, this work is in line with his philosophic thinking of last three decades and is its mature statement. It is thus a must read for those experts as also lay readers interested in modern welfare economics, public policy and political philosophy.

What are the basic issues of social choice; their parameters and instrumentality? It involves evaluation as also effectiveness. It is assumed that it is possible to arrive at a social contract.

For Smith, given the primacy of self interest, the working of the "hidden hand" in free market automatically ensured the maximisation of growth and welfare. A minimal state had only to ensure the working of a free market. Of course, he was aware of some supplementary action for poverty alleviation. However, the Utilitarians dominated the field for more than a century. This created the welfare state. Marginal declining utility of money justified the transfer of money from the rich whose marginal utility was lower than the poor whose was higher, thus increasing the aggregate welfare taken as equal to the purchasing power.

This concept, in its pure form, could not solve the problem of intra-personal and inter-personal measurements. The issue was sought to be tackled by a resort to indifference curves and schedules of revealed preferences. Sophisticated conceptual tools of maximisation of consumer surplus were developed.

Pareto optimality in general equilibrium theory placed the optimum at a point where the welfare of any one could not be enhanced without adversely affecting the well-being of at least one other person.

Its severe criticism came from Lionel Robbins who put "resources efficiency" as the central issue of economic theory placing technique at the top. Arrow’s "impossibility theorem" ruled out the solution by a democratic choice. The Libertines think that "liberty", as a procedure is enough for maximisation of wealth and welfare. For them it is not necessary to choose an objective.

Differing with the Libertines’ emphasis on liberty only, Rawls proposed his theory of "justice" as "fairness". In common with the Libertines he proposed five primary goods — liberty, equality of opportunity, income, wealth and self-respect. He is bound by Pareto optimality. He regards liberty and equality as non-excludable and mutually enforcing but gives primacy to liberty. For him equality of endowment of some knowledge or ignorance and physical capacity is necessary at the starting point of procedural justice. He agrees with Arrow on the validity of Pareto optimality subject to the satisfaction of some essential conditions for the freedom of the market, particularly the availability of knowledge.

Sen takes note of all this. He is one with Smith about freedom of the market. It is part of his "freedoms", particularly of labour to be free and to have a choice. This is an essential but not sufficient condition of freedom and has to be supplemented. He rejects utilitarian measurements but agrees with them about the need for the state to have an objective of maximisation, which for Sen is of "freedoms", a wider concept. Here he disagrees with the Libertines and Rawls for whom liberty is a procedural requirement. He critiques Arrow’s impossibility as based on limited knowledge and options.

He argues that given a number of schedules with preferences arranged in order, it is possible to arrive at a rational social choice though its practice may be doubtful. His strongest argument for democratic state intervention comes from his study of famines where he finds that democracies have not allowed starvation deaths. Here he contrasts China with India. (His study of the Bengal famine of 1943 is, however, seriously contested by Brahmananda in his treatise on "Noble Economics" though it does not invalidate the argument in favour of democratic state.)

He criticises Pareto for his assumption of inviolability of the conditions at the start but agrees that it may allow achievement of freedoms if conditions mentioned in Arrow-Debreu model are satisfied. He criticises Rawls for giving primacy to liberty as a procedure and not expanding it to freedoms both as an objective and as an instrument. He also regards income and wealth as insufficient primaries. There is a variation between income and wellbeing because of (1) personal heterogeneities such as illness, age or gender; (2) environmental diversities; (3) variation in social climate such as the absence of crime; (4) difference in relational perspectives — rich among poor, maybe poor among rich — and, (5) distribution within the family. He is one with Rawls, however, regarding a minimum equality at the start to make equality of opportunity meaningful.

This critique sets the stage for an alternative framework provided by Sen. Here development is seen as a process of expansion of real freedoms that people enjoy. This requires removal of major sources of unfreedom — poverty as well as tyranny; poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation; neglect of public facilities as well as the intolerance of repressive states. This is an evaluative aspect. The procedural or institutional aspect includes (1) political freedom; (2) economic facilities; (3) social opportunities; (4) transparency guarantees; and, (5) protective security.

Expansion of these creates capabilities to remove unfreedoms — to achieve development which is an expansion of freedoms people enjoy.

Five procedural freedoms have to reinforce one another and have to be sought simultaneously. "Individual freedom is quintessentially a social product, and there is a two-way relation between (1) social arrangements to expand freedoms and (2) the use of individual freedoms not only to improve the respective lives but also to make the social arrangements more appropriate and effective." Development, therefore, is a matter of socio-political philosophy and action. He is aware of the problem of prioritisation of the procedural freedoms but argues that it is not important for the purposes of this book.

A major part of the book deals with the data in support of this thesis. This is based on massive research and is lucidly presented. Notes run into 53 pages. The first two chapters give the outline of the framework and Chapter V deals with the market, state and social opportunity.

It will be observed that Sen has retained welfare, defined as freedom, as the objective of social choice in line with Utilitarians. He has retained the freedom of the market at the core of economic opportunities both for efficiency enhancement and, more importantly for Sen, as an essential part of freedom. Even if it were possible to achieve the same level of efficiency under a dictator, something would be lost in the absence of a choice of jobs and consumption of goods and services. Freedom of choice also includes freedom to choose the type of government and to be sure of the methods by which such choice can be exercised.

Contrasting the case of Kerala with China, Sen argues that the better preformance of Kerala in terms of female literacy and longevity of life, both male and female, is attributable to its democratic governance. Kerala’s poor economic performance is, however, attributed to its failure to take advantage of economic opportunities. Sen does not elaborate on this but a hint of a systemic failure is obvious. Kerala now promises to shift away from state centred path of growth and has already started doing well in the matter of tourism. Ironically, it recognises its inability to sustain its welfare programme with its current policies.

Efficiency of the market leads to faster income generation. But income itself is not enough. Higher income of the blacks in America does not give them better life expectancy or higher literacy, compared to a much lower income of a Keralite. Therefore, Rawls’ two primary goods have to be supplemented with a minimum of level playing field in terms of education and health. Sen is aware of the dichotomy between efficiency and equity but seeks an equilibrium when capability enhancement of one cannot be done without capability reduction of at least one other. Here he re-embraces Pareto and marginality. Therefore, Sen’s capabilities become axiomatic. Elementary education and basic public and private health are regarded crucial. Knowledge is also an absolute requirement for efficiency of the market.

Sen takes the example of China contrasted with India to build his argument of social investment in education and health, leading to faster development once freedom of the market is introduced. However, China’s achievement is also attracting much larger foreign investment. Sen is silent on this unless one is to assume that his basic point about the freedom of the market includes the conditions of global free movement of capital. This, however, remains problematic.

Sen also does not deal with the mess that Russia has created in switching over to the market economy compared to the success achieved by China. Is it the absence of a significant trading class or of the tradition of classic bureaucracy? Sen’s comments would have been valuable.

Sen is severely critical of state protection patronage and direction of the Indian economy and in particular its industry, and describes this socialism as pre-capitalist feudalism. He approvingly quotes Kalecki, the renowned Polish economist, on the success of communism in Poland, "Yes, we have successfully abolished capitalism; all we have to do now is to abolish feudalism." Similar is Kancha Ilaiah’s views on Nehruvian socialism. Sen is emphatically against programmes targeted at identified beneficiaries.

Marx finds no place here. The theory of surplus value stands condemned. However, business cycle is a fact of life. Massive global movement of capital has added to uncertainty. For autonomous national economies Keynes was able to create a synthesis and institutional framework. Peter Drucker has lamented the absence of another Keynes for a way out for global economy. Sen, the great synthesiser, will probably say something on this in future.

One also remains uncomfortable with minimum state action. How minimum is the minimum?

The line between discriminatory patronage and benign encouragement is thin. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. One has always to ask the question, is it the barest minimum? Could it be reduced further? Is there a non-state-centred alternative? That will be the guarantee of freedom and its expansion — a freedom all can enjoy. For this emphasis on enjoyment and freedom, Sen is, as Brahmananda says, part of classic tradition in economics. Sen acknowledges his debt to Smith, a great propagator of axioms.