Manimahesh: in search of the sublime
Review by Randeep Wadehra
Chamba Kailash by Bawa Kamal Prashad Sharma.
Indus Publishing , New Delhi. Pages: 160. Rs 400.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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
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
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.
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.
* * *
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
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.
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
* * *
at the Kathmandu Residency by K.L. Pradhan.
Spectrum Publications Guwahati & Delhi. Pages: xv+274. Rs
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
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.
"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.
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.
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
the CAT, the MBA style
Review by M.L. Sharma
by Profee Valdaris. Unistar Books, Chandigarh. Pages 191. Rs 90.
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
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
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."
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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.
and minus points of Gandhi
Review by Rumina Sethi
Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination
by Bhikhu Parekh.:Macmillan, Hampshire, England.. Pages 248. £
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.
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.
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"
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
search of an ideal or an idol
Review by R.P.C.
— Poems of Longing and Despair
by Jagannath Prasad Das. Virgo Publications, New Delhi, Pages
78. Rs 160.
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.
poem "Invocation" takes us to the poet’s world of
desire and longing:
the core/ of my consciousness/ as a forbidden dream... / Come
as Shakti embodied/ in the auspicious moments/ of imminent
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.
these flowers/ of indolent dreams/ that adorn your sari?
super-heightened state of mind the poet is prepared to lay
everything at the feet of his beloved, the ordained goddess:
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.
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
"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.
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.
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.
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.
from history to ‘progress’
Review by Harbans Singh
of Identity and Inter-group Relations in North-East India
edited by Kailash Aggarwal. Indian Institute of Advanced
Study, Shimla. Pages 261. Rs 350.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
Nevertheless, the book is
important, but one wishes that better care had been taken by
tallest Pathan and dearest to India
Review by Jaswant Kaur
A man to match his mountains
by Eknath Easwaran. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 274. Rs
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Rushdie thought of fury in New York City
Review by Manju Jaidka
by Salman Rushdie. Jonathan Cape, London. Pages 259. Rs 395.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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".
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.
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
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
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.
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.
and decline and death of Rajan Pillai
Review by Sunil Sharma
Death — The Rise and Fall of Rajan Pillai
by Rajmohan Pillai and K. Govindan Kutty. Penguin Books, New
Delhi. Pages 224. Rs 250.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.