The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, September 23, 2001

Destination Manimahesh: in search of the sublime
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Belling the CAT, the MBA style
Review by M.L. Sharma

Plus and minus points of Gandhi
Review by Rumina Sethi

In search of an ideal or an idol
Review by R.P.C.

North-East: from history to ‘progress’
Review by Harbans Singh





Destination Manimahesh: in search of the sublime
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Manimahesh Chamba Kailash by Bawa Kamal Prashad Sharma.
Indus Publishing , New Delhi. Pages: 160. Rs 400.

EVERY country has its mythology. So does India. In fact there is hardly any part of the land that does not have a mythical tale to tell. At one level mythology entertains the masses through staged, televised or broadcast shows of various episodes in the lives of mythical figures. At the other level they subtly make one aware of one’s cultural heritage. At the highest level mythology sustains spiritualism in its pristine form.

India is rich in mythology - Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, etc. There is hardly any Indian who is not aware of the Shiv parivar comprising Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh- the ebullient, lovable and all wise elephant headed god, and and Kartikeya. Of course, one must not forget Nandi - Shiva’s mount.

When we talk of spiritualism, it is impossible not to mention the Himalayas - popularly believed to be the abode of countless gods. But the most commonly associated lord with the region is Shiva - with his abode atop Mount Kailash. The Mansarovar is in Tibet, of course; according to folklore however there are mountain peaks with identical names — Baba Kailash, Sri Kailash, Kinnaur Kailash, Neel Kanth Kailash, and Manimahesh Kailash - the subject of this volume.

This book is not a scholarly treatise on religion and spiritualism, nor does it intend to hammer in any particular ideology. It is a labour of love for the author who is enchanted by the surroundings of the Manimahesh Kailash temple in Brahmsaur division of Chamba in Himachal Pradesh. Dr. Bhardwaj points out in the foreword, "With the 1200 years old massive and monumental Manimahesh-Siva temple as the presiding deity at Chaurasi, Brahmsaur, there are other temples dedicated to Sakti, Ganesha and Nandi….Popular belief is that all the 84 Siddhas visited Brahmsaur and were anointed and honoured with a shrine each by Chamba Rajas…" Hence the name chaurasi or 84.

Brahmsaur referred to as Brahmpura in ancient texts was the capital of Chamba state. Herman Goetze, a German Indologist, finds the place as charming as Switzerland. According to legend, the name Brahmpura was derived from Brahmini Devi - the presiding deity of Brahmsaur and the female energy of Lord Brahma. Her shrine is in a fir groove - adorning the settlement.

Temples of Brahmsaur were savaged and icons desecrated in the eighth century by Kiras - who were Tibetans, according to some experts. However other authoritative sources identify the Kiras as a non-Hindu, non-Aryan tribe - probably from Yarkand and settled in the northeastern part of Kashmir. The Tibetan theory is debunked on the ground that the literature of that period depicts Tibetans as showing great reverence to the Hindu way of life, and also because they held India as a sacred land.

Historians tell us that the Brahmpura kingdom was founded in thee sixth century AD by Maru or Marut. "Here in the past there were temples and palaces of pure deodar wood rising in their pristine glory and embellished with exquisite carvings. Temples of the present day are of later period but the icons enshrined are old, original and stunningly beautiful…. These icons are representations of Indian art revealing traits of latter Gupta, Gandhara and Kashmir art."

Says Sharma, "In the land of Gaddis (Brahmsaur), who are ardent devotees of Siva, stands a magnificent temple of Siva, popularly known as Manimahesh." People believe that the Shiv parivar resides atop the peak of Manimahesh mountain. Pilgrimage to this place in August-September is considered auspicious. In chapter six Sharma gives in detail the route to be taken to the shrine - with appropriate stops at Hadsar, Dhanchho, Bandarghati and Bhairoghati.

Around the shrine there are many places which are part of the local folklore. The Manimahesh Dal (lake) is one such. It is reputed to have cured a Rajput king of leprosy. The place is also called Yoni Tirtha because when Shiva carried the dead body of his wife Sati the last limb that fell off was her yoni. Siva immediately transformed himself into a mountain-like linga to uphold the yoni.

While reading such books one has to keep in mind that India is rich in mythological stories. You will find conflicting claims to the origin of a particular place or even legend. Perhaps, in those days stories were woven to create popular interest in such difficult-to-reach places of pilgrimage. Whatever the motive, today we have a vast treasure trove of history, culture and mythology thanks to those wizened old men who concocted allegories and fables.

Sharma’s book falls in this category. It arouses your interest in the place - if not as a believer then certainly as a curious tourist. To whet your appetite he has included beautiful photographs of the place. An excellent buy.

* * *

Harmandir the Abode of God by Sarup Singh Alag.
Alag Shabad Yug, Ludhiana. Pages: xxiv+346. Free distribution.

The very name of Harmandir Sahib evokes reverence in one’s heart. A sublime haven where the tormented soul goes to seek respite from life’s vicissitudes and seldom fails. The souls of the sinner and the sinned are cleansed in the purity of the shrine’s atmosphere. Equally revered by Hindus and Sikhs Harmandir Sahib is a monument to the presence of divinity in all things living and non-living.

According to the author, among the ten Guru Sahibs, eight were closely associated with the shrine. Guru Nanak came to the Amrit Sarovar in 1502 along with Bhai Mardana and declared it a very sacred place. When Bhai Tara heard the guru’s words he immediately fetched freshly made karah prasad from his home and offered it to the guru and Bhai Mardana who declared it as amrit — food. Guru Nanak said this amrit should be served at the site for all time to come.

Guru Amar Das too visited the site. He later sent Bhai Jetha (who became Guru Ram Das afterwards) to populate a new city. He constructed the Amrit Sarovar with his own hands. Guru Arjan Dev established Harmandir Sahib to make the city’s people ahile-mukam or "people having the divine place of pilgrimage". When the construction of Harmandir Sahib was completed in 1601 AD, Guru Arjan Dev started editing Sri Adi Granth Sahib.

The author avers in chapter eight, "The religious tradition of the whole Sikh world is the same everywhere and it is under the direction of Akal Takht. Although Harmandir is a pure and genuine part of this religious tradition, still it is in a uniquely autonomous position, because in addition to being a religious capital of the Sikh world, it is also a holy pilgrimage city for the whole humanity and a symbol of universal brotherhood. If Akal Takht is for Sikhs, Harmandir is for all."

* * *

Brian Hodgson at the Kathmandu Residency by K.L. Pradhan.
Spectrum Publications Guwahati & Delhi. Pages: xv+274. Rs 395.

As John Keay and other authorities on the region’s history would testify, not all princely states in the Indian sub-continent were easy meat for the British colonialists. Quite a few of them proved to be tough nuts to crack - some in fact could not be subjugated at all. Nepal proved to be one such state where the British had only partial success. That was the period when the British political officers had important roles to play in the relationship between the imperial authority and the Indian states. The position and functions of the residents therefore varied according to the extent of British dominance over a particular state.

In Nepal, the British Residency was set up at Kathmandu under the 1816 Treaty of Sagauli. This treaty clearly stated the functions of the Resident as an ambassador accredited to an independent state.

Says Pradhan, "The Anglo-Gorkha War (1814-16) left a lasting impression upon the East India Company. The hill campaign had been an arduous one and not since the Mysore wars was such resistance encountered in India." Observed Sir Charles Metcalfe, "None ever displayed so much bravery in action, so much system, skill and so much well-timed confidence."

Coming back to the main theme, this book gives a vivid account of the Nepali political system after the unification of Nepal and the historical background of the relations with British India during the period 1823-1843.

During his residency Hodgson did a lot of research on the Himalayan kingdom. He carefully studied Nepal’s topography and prepared detailed statistics. He published at least four papers on the kingdom’s birds and mammals. In 1832 he prepared two lengthy papers on the military roads and population of Nepal. He described the great military roads running from the Sikkim frontier in the east to Kumaon in the west. One such road ran roughly through the centre of the kingdom.

As elsewhere, the British tried to expand their influence in Nepal after getting a toehold there. Taking up minor issues Hodgson tried to "resolve" the question of British jurisdiction. In Pradhan’s words, "The problem had its origin in the case of a sweeper belonging to the Residency alleged to have had illicit relations with a Nepalese woman in September, 1832. This under the existing customs of the kingdom constituted a serious offence entailing a very severe punishment. The aggrieved husband had the right to revenge if the crime was proved…the event aroused a lot of indignation among the bharadars and those opposed to Bhim Sen Thapa sought to make capital out of it. The problem was ultimately resolved when the darbar agreed to the Resident’s right to try and punish his own subjects according to the Company’s laws."

Apparently, Pradhan has taken great pains to research his subject and come up with this very interesting volume on an important period of the subcontinent’s history. For the first time we get more than a mere glimpse of the evolution of Nepal into a unified sovereign nation. A great buy.



Belling the CAT, the MBA style
Review by M.L. Sharma

Taming The CAT
by Profee Valdaris. Unistar Books, Chandigarh. Pages 191. Rs 90.

"TAMING the CAT" by a journalist-turned educationist, Profee Valdaris, addresses the problems faced by many MBA aspirants and the ways to compete successfully. As the title of the book suggests, it deals with ways of taming the common admission test (CAT) as a passport to enter a good institute.

MBA as a career course is drawing more and more young people as it offers challenges at the work place, status in society and good emoluments and perks. For a career in management one has to clear a tough competitive examination in India or abroad, like the CAT and Xavier’s Labour Institute of Management. There are about 70,000 students who appear for different MBA tests every year for about 3000 seats in the top B-schools. In this scenario, it is essential that one has to rigorously prepare before appearing for the various selection rounds at top institutes.

The word management has glamour attached to it. There is so much attraction that every company takes pride in being labelled as professionally managed "even though sometimes it is in total disregard to its professional attainments". The concept of professional management has become synonymous with progressive, scientific and efficient system. According to the author, the private and public sectors have recruited management graduates at various levels and introduced modern concepts of management, and motivated their personnel to achieve higher levels of competence. The number of such organisations is going up everyday.

Managers in this sector, he says, can be favourably compared with their counterparts in the West in terms of application of modern management ideas, attitudes and developing new concepts. One expert on management has remarked, "There are a very few success stories that can be told since the achievement of independence. If one among these exceptions is the record of the farmer, another is the story of the manager."

"The most significant factor," says L.M. Prasad, an authority on the subject, "contributing to professionalisation of Indian management is the international impact. The subsidiaries and associates of multinationals operating in India first introduced modern management concepts. With the rise in size and complexity of business organisations of Indian origin, many of them have adopted sophisticated management techniques. The sheer necessities of managing large and complex businesses have resulted in the re-examination of the traditional ways of managing these businesses."

The public sector increased manifold during successive Plan periods. With the failure of the initial attempt to include non-professional managers in public sector enterprises, the government decided to induct trained managers with the responsibility of professionalisation of the entire managerial cadre and process.

Spread over nine chapters, the book covers many subjects. In the first chapter, Valdaris discusses why one should acquire a management degree. Chapter III deals with the credentials of the institute one should join. He counsels admission-seekers to stay clear of the institutes which are not recognised by the All India Council for Technical Education. Several foreign institutes have started advertising their courses in India. It is essential to check their credentials, as most of them are unknown even in their own countries.

Chapter V highlights the structure of the examination. The author states management examinations, especially CAT, have a track record of altering testing patterns over the years. A few years ago, it left conventional sections on quantitative ability, communication ability and reading comprehension — replacing them with a comprehensive two-hour test with problems on quantitative, verbal ability, comprehension and reasoning — all compressed into one. However, these sections were re-introduced later. CAT ’99, for instance, had three sections of 55 questions each on reading comprehension, quantitative ability and data interpretation. Chapter VI sheds light on the test areas.

Chapter VII deals with the strategy for taking the test. Here he clarifies that since the management entrance examination is a test of knowledge as well as speed, it is imperative to adopt a test-taking strategy. Chapter VIII deals with personal interview. The panel comprises faculty from the institute and specialists from trade and industry as well as a psychologist. Being specialists drawn from different disciplines, they grill candidates on what they claim as their areas of specialisation and interest. little thought towards developing a strategy before taking the interview is sure to bolster confidence and improve performance. Work on the weak areas in advance to iron out any perceivable deficiencies," advises the author.

Chapter IX offers good material on group discussions. Here he underscores the point that the institutes give more importance to develop clear thinking and confidence in expressing opinions.

This well-printed book with an attractive title page and a wealth of information will prove useful to MBA aspirants. "Taming the CAT" will help them to tame the wild cat of one of the most tough examinations.



Plus and minus points of Gandhi
Review by Rumina Sethi

Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination
by Bhikhu Parekh.:Macmillan, Hampshire, England.. Pages 248. £ 15.99.

WESTERN political philosophy has exercised enormous influence over the non-western world. As the "enlightened" race, the scientific and intellectual advancements made from the 16th century onwards fostered monumental beliefs in natural law and universal order and created a new passion for argument, criticism and debate. It was inevitable that the colonial enterprise would create the conditions for the flow of western philosophy into the British empire.

This vast body of knowledge was either imported as it existed or modulated for indigenous consumption. The importation or even adoption of western philosophy remained parochial and limited in a vastly different set-up owing to the logic of universal principles of man and society which did not easily accommodate itself to native change and manipulation. Hence the oft-repeated charge of eurocentric and cultural bias is part of this adoption process.

Bhikhu Parekh takes up Gandhi as the agent who bridged this gap. He discusses

Gandhi as a pioneering political thinker of the non-western world: Gandhi’s unique contribution to Indian society by articulating an indigenous vocabulary, his critique of the modern industrial state and finding alternatives to it, the ways in which he used Indian tradition to draw out theories of nonviolence, and his almost complete indifference to dominant nationalist theories, all find a place in this critical examination Parekh attempts.

Since Gandhi’s idealised India was non-industrial, he gave a privileged place to village existence and celebrated the philosophy of gram raj or the centring in village authority. Coming under the strong influence of Tolstoy’s faith in the value of "bread labour", Gandhi conceptualised the image of free India in terms of his perception of a traditional Indian culture which tolerated no economic oppression or human degradation of any kind. He related his philosophical premises of ahimsa and truth to the life of the "simple" peasantry.

Gandhi’s concept of village societies finds many parallels with Russian populism, a radical movement widespread in the mid-19th century Russia. The populist goals concentrated on the "martyrs" of Russian society, namely the agricultural workers whose uncorrupted virtue alone could hold the promise of a future Russia. The populist leaders blamed capitalism for peasant dehumanisation, and instead idealised an organic society of the village commune. The difference between Gandhi’s vision and Russian populism, however, lies in the opposition between nonviolence and terrorism in the achievement of complete liberty.

Of a meeting with the peasants of Champaran, Gandhi wrote: "It is no exaggeration but the literal truth to say that in this meeting with the peasants I was face to face with God, ahimsa and truth." The post-independence social order was to be built on a more utopian than historical perspective, the vision of a revitalising and vigorous ancient Indian village community being a dominant constituent of his social philosophy of state, society and nation elucidated at length in "Hind Swaraj" in 1909. He would remain loyal to this stand in spite of severe criticism. From this position, village societies were to be independent and self-determined units, promoting only cottage industry for the production of essential commodities. Although he permitted the centralisation of important manufacturing industry in recognition of its significance for economic growth, such industry, in his scheme, was allowed to develop only in harmony with the growth of the rural community to prevent capitalists from making profits at the cost of mass unemployment.

Parekh demonstrates how Gandhi considered cities to be colonial inflictions in their function of eroding the very base of India’s organic social order. "We are inheritors of a rural civilisation," Gandhi said. For him, this historically "accurate" presumption was also a directive for the future: "if the village perishes, India will perish too". Moreover, for Gandhi, village existence represented truth and dignity which, he believed, had eluded western culture.

But what Gandhi could not account for was the link between scientific progress and modern civilisation; one could not be attained without the other. Neither could he delink industrialisation from imperialism, both of which he envisaged to be the same thing, "naively imagining that every country embarking on large-scale industrialisation was bound to become imperialist". Gandhi thus ended up rejecting far more than he needed to and thwarted the economic ambitions of many of his enthusiastic countrymen.

Part of Gandhi’s critique of civil society resulted in his repeated emphasis on the "spirituality" of the Indian (which gave Indians the advantage of not feeling guilty about borrowing from the Europeans who had created similar stereotypes). Within the historical context of the Indian freedom struggle, Gandhi ritualised politics to an amazing extent, dismissing even history to protect the power of the "soul force", or satyagraha. He believed that the strength of his satyagraha alone would result in freeing India and establish a system of pre-capitalist, agrarian village republics. His "romanticism" was unlike the dilemma of post-Enlightenment intellectuals, torn between reason and morality, between the rationality of industrial society and the anguish caused by the misuse of scientific temper.

Nor was it merely a means of appropriating the subaltern for whom populism would hold immense attraction. While Gandhi’s plea for a peasant society was, in many ways, analoguous to the elite nationalist ideology in the representation of uncorrupted peasant consciousness and had a major role to perform in the practicalities of a nationalist-bourgeois movement, he had few ideological affinities with the European brand of nationalists like Surendranath Banerjee and Bipin Chandra Pal.

Gandhi did not unproblematically adopt the idea of a homogeneous nation-state, preferring instead "the vaguer but politically more relevant and . . . morally more acceptable concept of civilisation" which he articulated in a "non-nationalist and non-national language". That is how he could show, in Bhikhu Parekh’s words, "that not every movement for independence is national, not every national struggle is nationalist and that not every nationalist movement need articulate itself in the language of European rather than home-grown theories of nationalism".

In seeking to combine the ideological aspect of Tolstoy’s thought with the political movement of India’s struggle for independence, Gandhism was full of contradictions and ambiguities. But Gandhi’s singular achievement lay in the sheer flexibility with which he exercised his experiments with truth, and combined his apparently irreconcilable objectives. He was thus able to secure political investment in mishaps and calamities which he otherwise emphasised to have been the consequence of divine retribution for wrongdoing. When Jairamdas Daulatram, a Congressman from Sindh, was wounded during the civil disobedience movement, Gandhi wired the Congress office saying:

"Consider Jairamdas most fortunate. Bullet wound (in) thigh better than prison. Wound heart better still’. The injury to a satyagrahi, which was otherwise to be suffered unflinchingly and nonviolently, was, in fact, viewed as a political gain.

Parekh also dwells on Gandhi’s views on God, women, dalits and Muslims which he conceptualised in his personal language and personal perspective, all of which were varied and complex. Gandhi’s Hinduism was both worldly and secular, yet had significance only when inspired by the search for moksha. Unfortunately for him, such a conception isolated atheists and spiritualists alike. Gandhi’s "experiments" and "discoveries" regarding the state, law, freedom, morality, action, property, nation, religion and rights were stimulating because of the connections he made between aspects of different philosophical systems. He combined Hindu fasting (as penance) with the Christian idea of crucifixion on the plane of vicarious atonement to arrive at a profound notion of fasting as a means of bringing home to the sinner the dimension of his sin.

Although Gandhi’s moral theory was original and insightful, it lacked an epistemological basis. Gandhi believed that each one saw truth in his or her own way and must be respected. But such a view condoned murderers and killers whose evil acts would have to be tolerated until the day when they themselves self-critiqued their grave injustices to bring about a moral change from within. When transported into a nationalist scenario, the victims or the dominated would scarcely think it worth their while to agitate until the time the victimiser had a moral change.

Gandhi’s role for women also appears to be limited largely to the domestic sphere: believing men and women to be playing complementary but different roles, he insisted that service to the husband, his family, and the country (in that order) should be accepted as the "primary duties" of women. But he also argued against the traditional stereotype of the weak and inferior woman, asserting that women were not weak as they had been rendered by custom, because they possessed moral if not the physical strength of men. His severe condemnation of the victimisation of Indian women in the forms of purdah, child marriage, dowry and prostitution served to reinforce the virtues of sacrifice, devotion, and moral strength of Indian womanhood.

Yet Gandhi did not visualise a complete revolution or transformation of women’s roles; on the other hand, his writings appear to indicate their immobility within the system regardless of their inner strength. The moral strength that he imputes to women has almost an inborn, genetic complexion which bears little or no relation to generations of exploitation, humiliation, and hardship which is part of women’s history. Even as he sought social reform, his gaze remained fixed on the symbology of the mother so that women entered public life primarily to play maternal roles.

Gandhi’s attack on untouchability also had a similar limitation. As Bhikhu Parekh writes: "He saw it as a blot on the Hindu religion and made it the sole responsibility of the high-caste Hindus to fight against it. The untouchables themselves, reduced to passive and pathetic symbols of high-caste Hindu tyranny, were not involved in the struggle for their emancipation, a strange attitude in a man who everywhere else wanted the victims to fight for themselves."

Bhikhu Parekh relies on a rather rhetorical and poetic style that has an ebb and flow, a see-saw rhythm. He glorifies Gandhi (who "set sail with the heroic abandon of a lonely mariner"), then critiques him, pays rich tributes, then again censures, as if high praise has to prefix criticism always. His appreciation, verging on an adulation of the Mahatma, followed by his limitations has a tendency to exasperate, particularly in the "critical appreciation" section of the book. The book could also do with some editorial revision: it refers to Gandhi occasionally as "Ghandi" or even "Dr Gandhi". Prepositions are often missing giving an inaccurate reading of the text. Notwithstanding, Bhikhu Parekh’s work is a must read for all Gandhi researchers.



In search of an ideal or an idol
Review by R.P.C.

Lovelines — Poems of Longing and Despair
by Jagannath Prasad Das. Virgo Publications, New Delhi, Pages 78. Rs 160.

THE triumvarite from the state of Orissa — Jagannath Prasad Das (Oriya), Sitakant Mahapatra (Oriya) and Jayanta Mahapatra (English) has dominated the poetry scene in the past three decades. Das and Mahapatra are civil servants and Jayanta is an academic. All three have been honoured with Sahitya Akademi awards. Sitakant Mahapatra has also won the Jnanpith Award.

Das is a well-known name in Oriya poetry, fiction and drama. He has published four collections of poems in English. The 25 poems in this selection evoke the paradox of desire for the present-absent beloved, an object of longing and yet a cause for despair. Das is not at all Oriya region and culture specific, like Sitakant or Jayanta Mahapatra, at least in this collection. The poems have been competently translated by Paul St Pierre, Professor of Translation at the University of Montreal, Canada. The introduction is a pre-review of the poems and acts as a hinderance to their correct and dispassionate assessment. The poems are secret yearnings and confessed desires of the poet in love and longing.

The first poem "Invocation" takes us to the poet’s world of desire and longing:

"Come to the core/ of my consciousness/ as a forbidden dream... / Come as Shakti embodied/ in the auspicious moments/ of imminent happiness...

In a translated work some very un-Indian images are bound to intrude and these images, likewise, do not integrate with the theme of the poem. A few samplers:

On the front lawn/ winter sleeps at noon/ as the spotless day/ dries in the sun/ like your cast-off sari.

(My Word)

What are these flowers/ of indolent dreams/ that adorn your sari?

In his super-heightened state of mind the poet is prepared to lay everything at the feet of his beloved, the ordained goddess:

The sum total/ of my entire life, the three measures of time/ and the four directions;/ the five elements, the six seasons/ and the seven heavens; the ten misfortunes/ and the fourteen worlds.

All this makes it the poetry of the hyperbole and it is too much of a digression. As all the poems are about longing and despair, so dreams play an important role, ably supplemented by the old modes of communication — telephone, letter, postman. The recurrent use of these images make the poems look dated. India has got an importance of its own in the information technology world — fax, e-mail and Internet are all too commonly used in India today, might not be in the state of Orissa. Anyway letters, notes and telephone calls are substitutes for the presence of the loved one, revealing distance and marking separation.

The poems "Sanctuary", "Album", "Photograph", and "Letter" in particular merit a second reading. "When we parted" appears to be a scene right out of a Hindi movie:

The map of my fate/ that you outlined with a wave of your hand/ as the train moved helped me find my way/ out of the station.

The poet suffers from sentimental theatrics about desire or pleasure. "Figure of speech" is a marvel of translation and it at once strikes your mind’s eye.

"You come riding alphabets/ decked out in euphemisms, alliteration on your brow/ metaphor in your hair, imagery in your eyes,/ simile on your lips, and body draped in blank verse.

The poet declares his willingness to give up poetry were his beloved to come to him. He is all the more willing to do so since language can only express those mundane things.

When you come to me/ bereft of all ornaments wordless,/ in flesh and blood,/ I’ll even stop writing poetry.

The poet has, somehow, not been able to straighten the "lovelines" through longing and despair. At best, the poems are outpourings of an embittered egocentric mind yearning for an impossible ideal or an erotic idol.



North-East: from history to ‘progress’
Review by Harbans Singh

 Dynamics of Identity and Inter-group Relations in North-East India
edited by Kailash Aggarwal. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Pages 261. Rs 350.

THE book contains papers presented at a seminar held by the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in 1996 to understand and, if possible, to suggest a solution to the vexed problems in the north-eastern region. The papers are by those who either belong to the region or are "outsiders" who have seen and known the region.

Many Indians, it must be conceded, are more ignorant of the North-East than they are of the tribals of Bastar and Jharkhand. Usually they are perceived to be closer to the Chinese, though a vast majority of them have migrated over the centuries from South-East Asia. The popular perception of the region is best illustrated by the fact that all over the country restaurants claiming to be serving Chinese dishes employ as cooks and waiters men from this region because they have mangloid features.

The papers are therefore educative since they not only bring out the history of the region in a geographical perspective (like those of B.S. Mipen and Debendra K. Nayak’s "A geographical background to North-East India"), but also deal with the challenges of modernity which have triggered institutional failures (Amar Yumnam’s "Ethinic and inter-group tensions in Manipur"), and that very sensitive "Fear of being killed, violated and displaced" by Monirul Hussain.

Another myth which stands exposed by these papers is the tendency to club all the states of the region as North-East. This would have been acceptable if the problem was of only economic development, but it also about identity crisis and a feeling of alienation. It is essential, as one of the panelist has demanded, that this concept of North-East is given up and each state and tribe be treated individually and with dignity. Tall order? Yes, but then the problem is not ordinary, and complex issues demand extraordinary solutions.

The book helps in understanding the region, its people, and how the various tribes and groups coming from all directions evolved some kind of understanding to live a life of comparative peace. Of course, tensions arose, and one tribe or the other tried to dominate the other, and often one tribe was used by the powerful ruler to contain the ambitions of another. By and large they lived in peace with nature and had much regard for it. There were few occasions for the people to be at loggerheads.

The trouble, as we know it, is the result of modernity and the desire of the leadership to implement developmental models which have been shaped in alien environments and have little relevance to the local needs. The most glaring examples are the attempts to industrialise areas which abound in natural resources, but which are inhabited since time immemorial by people who are most comfortable with what nature gives them rather than in an activity which displaces and alienates them from the land of their ancestors and, more importantly, the abode of their gods.

Aggravating the alienation is the take-over of their land which made them poorer and the outsiders richer. The contrast becomes stark all too soon, since the power to take decisions regarding their fate shifts to the new and outside power centres.

It is instructive to note that though migration to the region from Bengal started long ago, there was no tension in the region. However, when the new development projects started the tribals started resenting the presence and the perceived domination of Bengalis. In this not a little help was rendered by the refusal of Bengali Hindus to give up their Bengali identity, whereas the Bangladesh Muslims were quick to give up Bengali and adopt Assamese as their slanguage. The integration of Bengali Muslims reinforces what has been known since the times of the Burmese Ahoms who came to the region, ruled it, and identified themselves with the land of adoption. Assam is capable of absorbing divergent tribes and groups it they become part of the new land.

In the hills the problem has been aggravated by the process of development. As and when job opportunities arrive, the local people have to have the competence and education to avail of them. This does not happen, since the local leaders have been so corrupted by the economic packages which end up mostly in lining their pockets that the ordinary man is left to see the natural wealth of the region plundered by outsiders in connivance with their leaders. Such a situation obviously cannot last long and faced with the choice of being slowly reduced to nothingness, the tribes decided to fight to the finish.

A reader cannot be faulted if he assumes the airs of an expert on the history and problem of the region. But a few nagging doubts linger. There is no discussion on the role of leadership, especially intellectual leadership. All analyses in the volume deal with partial truth. The contributors have pinpointed various sore points and the reasons thereof. One would think that one of the roles of intellectuals is to come out with new and fresh ideas.

We live in a different era and the models of progress today cannot and should not be judged by the standards of yesterday. For building a new future considerable sacrifice has to be made, and therein comes the role of the political and intellectual leaders. Good leaders lead and lift us to a higher plane where today is sacrificed for a better tomorrow; bad leadership is led by the people who cannot see beyond their nose and who would mortally wound tomorrow while satisfying their small ego today.

Nevertheless, the book is important, but one wishes that better care had been taken by proof readers.



The tallest Pathan and dearest to India
Review by Jaswant Kaur

Badshah Khan: A man to match his mountains
by Eknath Easwaran. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 274.
Rs 295.

THIS book takes the reader back to the time when the country was under British colonial rule and Pakistan was not a reality. The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) — the gateway of India from Afghanistan and Iran — was of great interest to the colonial rulers. Their attempts to capture the NWFP were mostly unsuccessful.

Their success in October, 1838, came as a lesson for them. Pathans who were known for their brutality. Stormed the British residency and forced the troops to vacate it in 1842. Badal, the strict code of revenge, under which every Pathan avenged even the slightest insult, and often set brother against brother, family against family and clan against clan.

Who could imagine that one of the world's voilent tribe would one day turn into the world's most nonviolent people?

The back "Badshah Khan: A man to match his mountains" is a biography of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who has the credit of raising the first nonvoilent army of hundred thousand men — the Pathans, the Khudai Khialmatgars.

Born in Utmanzai, Khan Saheb belongs to the Mohammedzias clan — sons of Prophet Mohammed. Like all Pathans, his father Behram Khan was very generous and kind. Being a devout Muslim, he did not believe in Badal (revenge) and had his own way of following Pushtunwali — the unwritten law of Pathans. His simple and peaceful way of living inspired the short-statured Khan who later came to be known as Badshah Khan — the king of Khans. His mother too was a pious woman.

Since their disastrous defeat in 1842, the British colonial rulers had kept themselves away from the Pathans. Interfering in their affairs, they thought, was to invite the wrath of the Pathans, which they did not want.

But the new Viceroy, Lord Lytton, thought differently and ordered 30,000 troops to capture Kabul. In 1893, Lieut Henry Durand was sent to Kabul to draw a border between Afghanistan and the British India, leaving one third of the Pathans in Afghanistan. This aroused their anger and an unending war against the British colonialists started.

Ghaffar Khan grew amongst the dark, drained faces of the villagers who came back fighting the colonial army. For a long time they did not follow their routine. They had forgotten to sing and participate in poetic meets. The only thing he heard was the cruelties of the British army.

The appointment of Lord Curcon in 1899 as the Viceroy was yet another blow for the Pathans. A series of restrictive laws was imposed on them which denied them their basic rights. the hill tribes were isolated from the plainsmen and the latter could not enter the tribal areas without permission. They were treated like intruders. A man could be picked up and put behind bars without trial.

Mooved by the plight of his people, 20-year-old Ghaffar Khan decided to do something for them. He knew that any attempt to improve their lot would be disapproved by all but still he went on. In 1910 he opened a school at Utmancal to educate the masses, which turned out to be a success. The mullahs were already against the West-oriented schools which were designed to prepare clinical staff. He started touring the hilly areas to spread education.

In 1914 Ghandhi returned from South Africa after fighting the cause of the Indians living there in an unusual way — non violently — which he had learnt in his childhood. He had often seen his mother refusing to eat when his father used to lose his temper, making him surrender and accept her terms. He used his mother's strategy to press his demands with the colonial rulers.

Weak Indians who lacked the courage to fight the British army accepted nonvoilence which made them feel strong. Above all, it rendered the British rulers helpless as they could not open fire at the peaceful satyagrahis.

Gandhi's ideology opened a new vista to Ghaffar Khan. Since his childhood he had seen people suffering and fatherless children crying for aloaf of bread because of badal. He understood that the voilent behaviour of Pathans, though out of sheer ignorance and superstition, was responsible for their condition.

He organised meetings to educate the people that they themselves were responsible for their plight and only they could rescue themselves. He brought out a new Pathan — a Pathan who had extraordinary courage and endurance. He made them give up their arms and gave them a new weapon, nonvoilence, which could help them realise their dreams.

The Pathans were electrified and felt the power of his words. Their faith in him led to the formation of Khudai Khidmatgars, "servants of God" — an army of nonvoilent soldiers,nonvoilent Pathans. Their ends was freedom and their means, service. They went from village to village to spread education, to awaken the women folk and to make people aware of the freedom struggle.

Soon the colonial rulers came to know about Ghaffar Khan (who was now called "Frontier Gandhi") and his "servants of God". He was arrested and his followers were tortured stripped and flogged. Everyone of them bore it all stoically nor did they raise their voice. Unlike the followers of Gandhi, who occasionally lost their temper, the Khudai Kidmatgars were firm on their stand. They were loyal to their leader as they were to badal before they embraced nonvoilence.

The colonialists tried to provoke them into voilence but in vain. They were more afraid of a nonvoilent Pathan than a voilent one.

The two Gandhis — the Mahatma Gandhi and the Frontier — joined hands. They organised rallies and meetings to reach their goal of freedom from the colonial rule. Their efforts bore fruit.

But they had to pay a high price for it. The divide-and-rule policy of the colonialists had destroyed Hindu-Muslim unity. Suddenly the two communities felt the need to live separately. Thus came the partition. The North-East Frontier Province went with Pakistan and so did our great leader, Badshah Khan.

After independence Khan saheb spent most of his life in jail. He had demanded a united province of Pathans, Pushtunistan, which was not acceptable to the government. He died on Jan 20, 1988. His dream of Pushtunistan with full autonomy over internal affairs remained unfulfilled.

"The present-day world can only survive the mass production of nuclear weapons through nonvoilence. The world needs Gandhi's message of love and peace more today than it ever did before, if it does not want to wipe out civilisation and humanity itself from the earth's surface," said Badshah Khan in his message to the author in 1983.

The world has lost Badshah Khan but the message remains. Voilence and destruction or nonvoilence and peace — choice is ours.



When Rushdie thought of fury in New York City
Review by Manju Jaidka

Fury: A Novel
by Salman Rushdie. Jonathan Cape, London. Pages 259. Rs 395.

THERE seems to be something ominous about Salman Rushdie’s books: their release is invariably followed by a violent aftermath. The jinx may be traced back to "Midnight’s Children" where, in a semi-facetious mode the author narrates how a nonsense doggerel chanted by a child ("Soo ché? Saru ché. Danda le ke maru ché.") starts off a large-scale communal riot. That Rushdie himself, the enfante terrible, thumbing his nose and singing his "Satanic Verses", was to spark off a similar violence is history we are familiar with.

About a decade later, his "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" was all about earthquakes. It is uncanny but immediately after its release there were seismic upheavals in the Indian subcontinent, earthquakes, landslides and destruction on a massive scale. Sure, it could be coincidence again.

Now it happens again with his latest book. "Fury: A Novel" is released in the first week of September. It speaks of a metaphoric fury raging through the city of New York, engulfing all its inhabitants – a fury of lust, greed and viciousness. Again, eerily, within days of its release, literature is transformed into grim reality and a literal – not figurative – diabolic fury descends on New York City from the skies, smashing its tallest buildings, leaving indelible scars on the mindscape of its people!

Set in New York City, "Fury" is a gigantic collage of the Big Apple at its chaotic best, depicting all the vices that comes with big money: the power and the glory, the meanness and graft, the rat-race for novelty, the insatiable hunger for more and still more. The city is in the grip of an uncontrollable, seething force, suffering a loss of sanity symptomatic of all that is evil in today’s world. Salman Rushdie presents in graphic detail the hum of life in the Big Apple that was before the twin towers in South Manhattan were attacked from the skies, before the city was brutally assaulted, its imposing skyline ravaged for all times to come.

The main protagonist of the novel is India-born Malik Solanka in his mid-fifties, a former professor at King’s College, Cambridge, a man with a creative mind who gives up his academic life to pursue an unusual but far more lucrative career in doll-making.

His toy creation, called Little Brain, grows from dream to reality, develops a life of her own and becomes the most popular icon of the times while her maker helplessly watches her Frankenstein-like growth to unbelievable proportions. Sure, she brings him money and fame but costs him his peace of mind.

Also nagging him is a dormant, inexplicable rage within that surfaces occasionally and threatens his mental equipoise. Solanka is convinced that vengeful furies will overcome him one day. This, added to his deep disappointment with Little Brain, compels him to abandon his family and flee to America. In the self-imposed exile he hopes to regain his self-control and defeat the demons that pursue him. But, as he soon realises, the vice-infested New York is far from a safe haven.

Solanka, like Rip Van Winkle, enacts every man’s fantasy of leaving behind all mundane responsibilities to freak out footloose and fancy free. This escape is related to the idea of sanyas, pointing to the fact that, try as he may, Rushdie can never shake off his "Indiannness". His sensibility is far too deeply rooted in the country of his birth to pull out completely, notwithstanding his emotional goodbye to India in "The Ground Beneath Her Feet".

Solanka’s escape, related to the traditional vanaprastha idea is, however, adapted to the contemporary scene where it is no longer possible to retreat into wooded mountains. Instead, the fugitive retreats into the anonymity of New York which is actually a microcosm of the big bad world.

Help comes to Malik Solanka in the form of two women – one, a social worker of sorts who tries to heal his wounded soul, and the other, an ethereal creature of traffic-stopping beauty, with whom the ravaged unheroic hero of the novel falls immediately and irrevocably in love. She is the one destined to lift him out of the nadir of despair so that once again the creative juices flow. Solanka will write again and the demons will finally be defeated. Yes, the story echoes the author’s earlier work, the "Peter Pan / Hook" re-work called "Haroun and the Sea of Stories".

"Fury" carries the Rushdie signature on every page: the parallel worlds pulsating with life and vitality, the turmoil within the individual mirrored in the tumult outside, simultaneously told stories of different characters, some real, some imaginary. Love and violence co-exist in this melange. At the centre of it is the ageing professor trying to run away from himself. The real world of Solanka merges with the surrealistic one of his imagination, peopled by his stories, the imaginary dolls, their separate lives and destinies.

There are reverberations from "Lolita", shades of the "Pygmalion" complex, of E.L. Doctorow and his "Ragtime", of Harry Potter, Barbie, the Beanie babies, O.J. Simpson, Monica Lewinski, et. al. They all have a place in the popular culture of America/NYC which, ironically, may seem as esoteric and hocus-pocus as voodoo to the uninitiated outsider.

Underlying the madness, the apparent digressions, the mayhem and confusion, there is a method of sorts. Just as Solanka carves, whittles and shapes his dolls, so does Rushdie, like a puppeteer deftly manipulating many strings, hones his craft to such a point that the unsuspecting reader is buffeted on a torrent of words – stories that flow unstoppably from page to page.

If the novel is about Solanka’s escape, it simultaneously underscores the impossibility of running away from demons – real or imaginary – that haunt us. They are with us, so the cure lies within. If one is blesséd, solutions may appear through the redeeming power of love, like the guiding light of Beatrice lighting up Dante’s tedious way through the circles of Inferno. Not surprisingly, Solanka’s Beatrice is of Indian origin, reiterating Rushdie’s return to his roots.

Thus, "Fury", paradoxically, turns out to be about the redeeming power of love. Comparable to Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl", it is a howl to the skies, a lament on the crass materialism of contemporary life. At the same time, it is a Romantic’s plea for love and compassion in a world gone berserk with power and pelf. In the wake of the World Trade Center collapse it is tempting to read it as both, a dirge and also a hope for renewal, a prayer for a new world without any fiendish furies, a world based on positive values where there is still promise, still some hope for the wounded soul of man.



Rise and decline and death of Rajan Pillai
Review by Sunil Sharma

A Wasted Death — The Rise and Fall of Rajan Pillai
by Rajmohan Pillai and K. Govindan Kutty. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 224. Rs 250.

ONE name that hogged the headlines in 1995 was that of business baron Rajan Pillai, popularly known as the "biscuit king". It faded both from the media and public memory soon after Rajan’s death. This biographical account is a tribute to him by J. Rajmohan Pillai, his younger brother. The book has been co-authored by K. Govindan Kutty, a journalist friend.

Rajannan Pillai or Rajan Pillai, the eldest among seven brothers and sisters, was the blue-eyed boy of his parents, preferred over his siblings for his magnanimity, forbearance and wisdom. These qualities invited both admiration and jealousy from his younger brother (the author). He often wondered what made Rajan much taller in stature than him in spite of the latter being four inches shorter than him.

The father of Rajan and a flourishing cashew grower in Kollam, Kerala, greatly influenced Rajan’s life till his end. An introvert and aloof by nature in early years, nobody thought that this shy child would one day become flamboyant and would come to be known as the "biscuit king" in India.

Shedding off his childhood inhibitions, Rajan left an impact on V.K. Krishna Menon, a powerful political bigwig of the times, when he had a chance to interact with him at a function in Kollam. The mutual trust grew with time and Menon made him his aide in New Delhi. Not content with what he got in life, Rajan was always on the lookout for more. His aspirations led him to start various business projects, which unfortunately resulted in a loss of a few crores, invested by his father to fulfil his eldest sonbusiness dreams.

After some unsuccessful ventures, luck smiled on him through Twentieth Century Foods that he founded in Singapore. The company that produced snacks was one of the biggest importer of cashew kernels and supplier of raw nuts to Indian industrialists. He hired high-profile executives from leading Indian industries like Amul and Hindustan Lever at handsome salaries to make his company a big success.

Then things started to go haywire. Twentieth Century Foods faced stiff competition from an international company, Standard Brands, that led to a fierce price war. Profits at Twentieth Century dwindled and Rajan, being not too good at managing finances, once again turned towards his father. However, the latter did not like the idea of investing in a losing business venture at Singapore.

Strategist as he was, Rajan then made a deal and Twentieth Century Foods was bought by Standard Brands, with Rajan at the helm of affairs. Hardly had Rajan recovered from the previous shock, disaster struck in another form. A cashew import deal from Tanzania resulted in a huge loss of 40 crore and his father and his father suffered a massive heart attack.

A kind of divine intervention followed. A chance emergence of a pinch of ash from Rajan’s purse one day perturbed both Rajan and his mother. devotees of Sai Baba. They believed that their bad period would soon be over. To strengthen their belief Rajan actually got a call from Nabisco Brands, New York, shortly afterwards where he was appointed the area vice-president. Rajan helped Nabisco Brands in acquiring Britannia, a Kolkata-based biscuit manufacturing company, as part of the company’s expansion strategy.

Soon he married his lady-love, Nina nee Gopikecchi, a model and airhostess, who apart from helping him in his business, remained with him through thick and thin till his end.

His father had advised him to go slow and "go slow" he did. He waited for full two years and finally became the chairman of the Britannia Industries Limited in 1985.

After that, there was no looking back. Rajan went on full-steam ahead. He steered Britannia Foods till it became the "largest biscuit manufacturing group in the Asia-Pacific region". Media called him the "biscuit king". Rajan became notorious for his flamboyance and profligacy. He would throw lavish parties and give expensive gifts to his guests

Where was all this money coming from? Rajan’s salary could not meet such expenditure. He was questioned by his board of directors and the board resolved that certain expenses, in flagrant violation of the basic norms of executive spending, should be recovered from the chairman’s salary.

Then came the mortal blow. Coca Cola, which had been trying to regain its entry into India in collaboration with Britco Foods, backed off at the last moment. Rajan’s efforts to persuade Coke’s executives proved futile. They didn’t yield, despite the fact that Rajan had already spent a huge amount on the project.

Everything was going wrong for Rajan on financial as well as health fronts. He suffered from bad liver and the BSN Groupe slapped cases on him questioning his huge expenses. He had to sell his shares in BSN Groupe. Misfortune didn’t stop dogging Rajan.

He had not anticipated that the investigation held by Singapore’s Commercial Affairs Department against him for minor infringement of some company law provisions, could actually land him in jail for 14 years. He was charged on 29 counts of fraud, two technical offences of purchasing company’s share with its own money, 22 cases of allegation of selling cashew nut trading business, and one case of selling a trademark to the joint venture which it already owned. His tram of lawyers could do nothing to bail him out. When the doom looked near certain, Rajan fled Singapore for India, a day before the expected judgement was to be pronounced. As he left Singapore after a frustrating spell of litigation, that country’s government confiscated everything he had there.

He was confronted with a hostile media in India, which wanted him to be sent back to Singapore. When the CBI was on a look out for Rajan, he went underground. He was projected as a drunkard and a "cheap crook" on the run, both by media and the CBI. His health too started deteriorating.

When he was about to surrender before the court, he was shown as arrested from a hotel room by the CBI and lodged in Tihar jail. He was treated as an ordinary criminal there against the orders that he be given B class facility. His genuine plea for an immediate medical treatment was not taken seriously.

By the time the jail authorities took notice of his fast deteriorating health, it was too late. He was rushed to Deen Dayal Upadhayaya Hospital and was literally dumped there in an unconscious state just an hour before his death.

The book is about a rich, powerful, influential and energetic man who did not deserve the end he actually met with. Despite the fact that his own brother authored the book facts have not been exaggerated. The book has been divided into 17 short chapters to save the reader from monotony and has been composed very carefully.