Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Walk, don�t run
Letters to the editor
This country and other aliens
Book review/Way of all flesh
Book review/Killed by a surfeit of kindness
Book review/Tilted at the axis
Book review/Sin, saints and cinema
Bookwise/Make space for distributive logic


Money trade

With the 71st country signing on the dotted line, the world agreement on trade in financial services came into effect, bringing 95 per cent of this trillion dollar business under the purview of the World Trade Organization. This is a major and welcome development. It brings the most complex, most intangible and most volatile component of the international economy under global rules and disciplines. By one estimate, the agreement will cover $18 billion in global securities, $38 billion in international bank lending and some $2.5 trillion in worldwide insurance premiums. Signatory countries agree to open their economies to each other�s financial service companies. More importantly, they agree to take any disputes to the WTO tribunal rather than turning to sanctions. The United States and the European Union have abolished almost all restrictions on foreign financial institutions. Third world countries will be allowed to maintain some barriers, but only for a fixed number of years. India, for example, sought to protect the public sector insurance monopolies.

India, like many developing countries, has been eager for foreign investment in manufacturing but baulks at the idea of allowing it in the service sector. This is a foolish distinction. In a globalized economy, manufacturing and services are inextricably intertwined. Shackling one sector stunts growth in the other. Any widget that is made today is built of components made in several countries. The transportation of these components across the globe involves dozens of financiers and insurers. Other service providers handle advertising, marketing and so on. Without world class financial services, it is nearly impossible for other parts of the economy to compete in the global economy. This was evident in India when it became clear that the public sector insurance companies and banks were incapable, in terms of both money and technical knowhow, to fund the country�s new power plants and infrastructure projects. Nationalized banks can barely provide services to the common man let alone to corporations spanning continents and involved in thousands of complex transactions. The east Asian currency crisis showed the need for financial institutions that are transparent and meet exacting accounting standards. When financial companies become used for political cronyism they are vulnerable to global shifts in currency values and capital outflows. India�s financial sector is poorly regulated and overly politicized. The consequence: mountains of bad loans and repeated scandals. The WTO financial services agreement will allow foreign companies to introduce their methods and standards into the country, forcing Indian companies to change their ways or lose customers.

There will be much hue and cry against the supposed infringement of national sovereignty that the agreement represents, especially from public sector unions and swadeshi ideologues. All these groups ignore the simple fact that India�s financial sector is a millstone around the nation, a morass of inefficiency and corruption. It weighs down the rest of the economy and wastes much of the $70 billion Indians diligently save every year. The political will to reform this sector is lacking. One has only to consider the hysterical opposition to the modest insurance bill the government is proposing. Indian industry and customers need an alternative and this is what the WTO accord will in time provide. The agreement is also one of opportunity. India�s aggressive private financial companies can be expected to soon offer their wares overseas. If the number of Indians running around Wall Street is anything to go by, they are almost guaranteed to succeed.    


Without civility

Even those who do not share the ideological views of Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, the Union minister for human resources development, will be inclined to believe he has scored a palpable hit in his verbal duel with Mr Jyoti Basu, the chief minister of West Bengal. The latter has now made it a habit of describing the Bharatiya Janata Party led government at the Centre as �uncivilized� and �barbaric�. The repeated use of these epithets might indicate a certain lacuna in Mr Basu�s vocabulary. More importantly, they suggest that Mr Basu has a very good idea of civilized and non-barbaric behaviour and is committed to supporting only those who uphold these high standards. Mr Joshi has very pertinently pointed out that Mr Basu and his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), openly champion the cause of those who have perpetrated some of the most barbaric acts of human history. Mr Joshi has pointed to the CPI(M)�s high regard for Josef Stalin; its support to the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and its refusal to condemn the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. Mr Basu has done nothing more than mock at these very substantial charges.

Mr Basu, if he reads any history at all, cannot be ignorant of the mindless killings carried out at Stalin�s bidding. The violence of Pol Pot�s regime and in Tiananmen Square are recent events which could not have escaped Mr Basu. The CPI(M) has officially endorsed these killings in the name of �revolutionary violence�. This does not wash and it never did in any kind of civilized society. Any society that justifies the use of violence against political opponents and organizes on a massive scale concentration and death camps is a barbaric one. It cannot be considered civilized whatever be its achievements in other spheres. Mr Basu in his passion to attack the BJP has forgotten the many misdeeds and acts of cruelty that are attached to the ideology to which he has shown lifelong commitment. Nobody can take away from Mr Basu his right to attack the BJP but he cannot do so by overlooking his own past. A little more self-consciousness will do Mr Basu no harm.    

There is a popular saying that the Indian cricket team bats better in the second innings. Although the recent performance of the cricket team has cast considerable doubts about the veracity of this statement, Yashwant Sinha has certainly performed better in his second innings as finance minister in the present government.

Last year, Sinha had the unenviable task of having to formulate the central budget at very short notice, and at a time the Indian economy was under tremendous strain. Even after making all possible concessions to him, his best friends must have had to admit that he put in a pathetic performance. His proposals attracted so much flak that he had to retract many of them, thereby earning the title of �Rollback� Sinha. There was widespread apprehension that this time around, the finance minister would press the panic button since the fiscal crisis has only accentuated during the course of the year. Fortunately, Sinha�s batting this year reveals more maturity than was expected of him.

This year�s budget suggests that if Sinha is an ardent cricket fan, then Geoff Boycott rather than Sachin Tendulkar is his hero. The finance minster reveals a marked penchant for stodgy defence rather than flashy cover drives. Despite much recent talk by the finance minister about the need to widen the tax base and bring about a radical restructuring of the fiscal system, the budget reveals no initiatives in these directions.

The budget also contains very few specific measures to revive the industrial sector or enhance overall economic growth. Neither has there been any concrete attempt to initiate steps which have some hope of restoring the fiscal health of the government in the foreseeable future. But, Indians have very low expectations from their political masters.

Judging by the general reaction, most people are happy because they were expecting much worse. There are no new draconian taxes, and no attempt to drastically reverse the slow but perceptible movement towards a more competitive economy. Certainly, at the end of the day, the finance minister can claim with some justification that the current budget proposals will not aggravate the crisis.

Despite the absence of draconian measures, Sinha actually proposes to raise the rather large sum of over Rs 93 billion as additional resource mobilization. Almost half of this amount comes from a single measure: the imposition of additional duty of one rupee per litre on high speed diesel oil. Although any increase in the price of diesel is a politically sensitive issue, Sinha has cleverly sought to deflect criticism by earmarking the proceeds for expenditure on popular schemes. More specifically, half the amount will be spent on rural development and social sectors, while the other half will be transferred to the central road fund.

There is some merit in Sinha�s argument that the economy can absorb this modest increase in diesel prices since international and domestic prices are unusually low at this point of time. Sinha�s opponents may argue that there may be a sudden rise in international prices, which would then have to be passed on to domestic consumers. However, since one cannot plan for every contingency, this step is clearly justified. Another instrument of additional revenue mobilization is the imposition of a surcharge of 10 per cent on both corporate taxes and individual income taxes. While this does represent a reversal of the movement towards lower rates, the rate of increase is relatively modest.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the budget is the move to rationalize the indirect tax structure. Despite significant simplification over the last few years, the Indian indirect tax structure is perhaps one of the most complicated tax regimes in the world. The multiplicity of tax rates encourages tax avoidance and unnecessary litigation, and often results in misallocation of resources.

Sinha has sought to reduce the existing 11 major ad valorem excise tax rates to only three. However, the finance minister is actually guilty of claiming more credit than is due to him. He has not been able to resist the temptation of imposing two rates of additional surcharge on those items that currently attract high rates of duty. So, there will now be five effective rates of duty, instead of three as claimed by Sinha.

A distressing feature of this year�s budget proposal is the finance minister�s fondness for the use of surcharge on basic rates of duty. Since the proceeds from surcharge accrue entirely to the Centre, state governments have the legitimate grievance that they are being denied their rightful share of the economy�s tax resources. Since the current intrusion on the states� share comes at a time the latter are more severely constrained by depleted finances and burgeoning needs, it seems singularly inappropriate. It is also rather ironic that a device which was invented and practised by finance ministers of Congress governments has now been adopted by a government that depends on the support of several regional parties.

The budget offers some concessions to investors in order to revive the drooping capital market. All income from the Unit Trust of India and other mutual funds will now be fully exempt from income tax. The exemption from dividend tax for the US-64 scheme of UTI as well as other open ended equity oriented schemes will continue for another three years. The capital gains tax on equity shares has also been reduced to 10 per cent from its present level of 20 per cent. The initial reaction of the stock exchanges has been very positive, with the sensex moving up quite sharply.

There are very few major changes in so far as the pattern of expenditure is concerned. Instead of effecting large increases in government investment, the finance minister has relied mainly on tax incentives to the private sector to boost investment in priority sectors. This is not surprising because the government simply does not have any additional resources. Even at current rates of expenditure, the revenue deficit is estimated to be 2.7 per cent of gross domestic product, while the fiscal deficit will be four per cent of GDP.

Moreover, the actual deficit at the end of the year is almost always substantially larger than the estimates at the beginning of the year because finance ministers usually overestimate receipts and underestimate expenditures. There is no reason to believe that Sinha has been very different from his illustrious predecessors in this regard. Of course, this practice has become increasingly more dangerous because each passing year drives the government closer to bankruptcy.

The finance minister can claim with some justification that recent attempts to introduce some semblance of rationality in the pattern of government spending were wrecked by irresponsible opposition from all political parties, including many allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is unimaginable that sensible politicians do not realize that the only way non-plan expenditure can be drastically pruned is by reducing various subsidies. This will in turn involve the imposition of appropriate user charges on a wide variety of public services as well as a reduction in the size of schemes such as the public distribution system.

In the short run, these are politically unpopular moves. There is very little doubt that a budget containing some of these harsh measures would have been defeated in the Lok Sabha. Perhaps, the government will be allowed to go in for radical surgery only when it is clear to all and sundry that the fiscal crisis is as severe as that of 1991.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    

Valley of the shadow of doubt

Sir � So Farooq Abdullah has decided to make the return of the valley�s natives less of a tug of war between them and the National Conference state government (�Farooq backtracks on Pandit return�, March 2). An enhanced relief of Rs 2,500 per family each month and the withdrawal of coercive measures will guarantee migrants stay out of the forsaken valley. This is probably what Abdullah had always intended. For despite appearances nothing much had been done to ensure the Pandits� homecoming. There might be government assistance for restructuring homes but there is no assurance migrants will regain their property, much of which has been taken over by squatters. No steps have been taken to make the Pandits feel comfortable at home. No channels of communication have been opened between the Hindu migrants and the Muslim residents in the villages and mohallas. No human rights bodies have been set up to take in complaints of violations of such rights. Does Abdullah really want the Pandits back?

Yours faithfully,
Ruchira Bhowmik, Calcutta

Time for reckoning

Sir � The budget analysis this year was better than usual, more so because we chose a convenient time according to Indian standard time instead of Greenwich mean time.It is laudable that we are overcoming the �mental block� with regard to the timing of the budget presentation in Parliament. The traditional time, followed earlier, was a legacy of the British raj. Some other steps should be taken to make the budget more memorable and pragmatic.

Why do we not present the budget, say, on April 14 every year (paila baisakh) or any other convenient date after the end of a fiscal year, mainly because the fiscal performance for the entire year, that is, till March 31, can then be discussed. This will help Indians get the complete picture, as the finance minister can at best account for details up to January end in a budget presented in February. Moreover this particular year, if the practice is instituted from next year, the government can get 14 months to show or improve performance. Incidentally, the �State of the Union Address� by the United States president is in January, that is, after the fiscal year end in December. I fail to understand how it helps India to present the budget in February every year.

Besides, special economic zones should be created as early as possible � as in China � to boost exports and domestic industrial growth. These areas can have special laws ,which thus can facilitate speedy and timely implementation of ideas and projects. Budget 1999 is a definite shift in paradigm � a shift towards simplification and better economic health for India.

Yours faithfully,
Gaurang Jalan, via e-mail

Sir � Criticism of this year�s budget from the opposition has been along expected lines. For instance, Jyoti Basu and his tribe would have described it as anti-poor even if Yashwant Sinha had announced every imaginable pro-poor scheme. What was not expected was the poohpoohing of the 1999-2000 budget by Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram. The impression these two former finance ministers sought to give was that they have all along had all the answers and could see far enough into the future to know that no good would come out of February 27. But had that been the case, the reforms process would not have stalled and government finances not been in jeopardy. Also, Chidambaram may remember that not much came of his dream budget. And of his maiden effort, the less said the better � The Telegraph had rightly headlined its editorial �Gowdaful��. As for Singh, he seems to have forgotten that he had offered to gift a billion rupees of the nation�s money to the Rajiv Gandhi foundation. At least Sinha hasn�t taken such liberties with public funds.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjay Ray, Burdwan

Sir �The Maruti Esteem advertisement on TV portrays the car as being so good that the father forgets to enquire into his son�s below par performance in mathematics.

This advertisement fosters a negative image of mathematics. I wonder what message it sends out to children.

Yours faithfully,
Arun Rangachari, Calcutta

Spot on

Sir � What happened at Eden Gardens recently should come as no surprise (�At Eden cricket hangs its head in shame�, Feb 21). In a city with no trace of discipline among the populace, where members of the public have taken for granted their right to act as they wish, where rowdyism and agitations are commonplace, incidents such as the one in Eden Gardens are predictable.

It would be appropriate for cricketing authorities to ban matches from being held at Calcutta. One should realize that it is the arrogance and lack of sense of responsibility of Calcuttans that has ruined industry and hence, the economy, of West Bengal. Now it is cricket�s turn to be driven away. If Calcutta is to redeem its old glory, the police in particular can no longer afford to remain indifferent to the widespread indiscipline among the people. It is time the police became ruthless in enforcing discipline among the masses.

Yours faithfully,
Amal Vedajna, Calcutta

Sir � Despite being a fan of Sachin Tendulkar�s, I was extremely disappointed at the way the Eden Gardens crowd behaved following his dismissal after an accidental collision with Shoaib Akhtar. The spectators� crude overreaction � they hurled things at the Pakistani cricketers � disrupted the game. Luckily, the crowd could be brought under control by Tendulkar�s appeal.

In this context, L.P. Sahi�s statement that Wasim Akram could have offered Nawaz Sharif the heart of all of India on a platter that could have been won at Eden Gardens is not justifiable (�Akram loses India, may win test�, Feb 20). Akram�s job is not to win hearts but the game. Since at Eden Gardens nothing but cricket was at stake, why would he attempt to win hearts? What message of peace and harmony did the Calcutta crowd have to offer Atal Behari Vajpayee to convey to Pakistan? Calcutta�s reputation as a sports loving city has been tarnished. This, at a time the Chennai crowd has earned itself a reputation by showing its appreciation for Pakistan�s performance that led to its victory over India.

Yours faithfully,
Yusuf Rangoonwala, Calcutta

Sir � The Eden Gardens crowd should not be condemned for not upholding the spirit of cricket. Rather, Pakistani players like Wasim Akram deserve condemnation for their lack of sporting spirit. As for Mohammed Azharuddin�s opinion that fans should realize the players are only human, why do people refuse to acknowledge that spectators who were victims of the lathi charge are also human? Since an umpire�s decision is not foolproof, the third umpire should have discussed the issue with cricketing officials. Then Akram would not have been blamed for not calling back Tendulkar. It is not Eden�s crowd that is to blame but the way the game was conducted.

Yours faithfully,
Sasanka Sekhar Pati, Bhubaneswar

Sir � Dilip Vengsarkar has been quick to criticize Calcuttans for what happened at Eden Gardens. But was his attitude similar towards the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, when the latter�s men dug up the Ferozeshah Kotla pitch in Delhi? Either Vengsarkar was too scared to react similarly or he has one set of standards for Calcutta and a different one for Mumbai.

Incidents such as the one at Eden gardens are not rare during sporting events. But the Pakistani players were completely safe in Calcutta. Would they be so in Mumbai? Vengsarkar should think before he makes such comments.

Yours faithfully,
Manoj Kumar Goswami, Calcutta

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The illegal migration of Bangladeshis into India haunts the country as it gears up for the first census of the 21st century. Ironically, even as the influx continues, Dhaka refuses to acknowledge the fact. It asserts that there are no Bangladeshis staying illegally in India. The rapidly changing demographic pattern in Assam and West Bengal prove otherwise. Not that the problem of infiltration is confined to this region. It also affects places like Delhi and Mumbai.

For a long time minority vote bank politics had blinded Com-munist Party of India (Marxist) cadres in West Bengal. Thus, organized mobs could forcibly free Bangladeshis deported by Maharashtra at the Howrah and Kharagpur railway stations some months ago. Of late sense seems to have dawned on the party, with the state home minister expressing concern about infiltration. The Inter-Services Intelligence has long been suspected to have engineered a plot to push Bangladeshi Muslims into India with the aim of disturbing the demographic balance and eventually creating a new pro-Pakistan state.

The ISI�s designs seem to be succeeding, with the original inhabitants in some regions being reduced to a minority. Identification of infiltrators has been termed �harassment of minorities�. Not only have organizations been formed to fight for their rights, but a few Muslim dominated armed outfits have reportedly sprung up in the Northeast. There have been alleged cases of ISI agents with forged citizenship papers being recruited into the Indian armed forces.

Region d�etre

In fact, the well orchestrated process of migrating to the border districts of Assam from Muslim dominated East Bengal began before independence when the Muslim League was the ruling party in the state. The ultimate aim seems to have been to transform it into a Muslim majority region in order to facilitate its amalgamation into East Pakistan. These sinister moves were foiled by leaders from the Brahmaputra valley. What these builders of modern Assam could not prevent was the entry of uninvited hordes from across the border which continues till today.

The blame rests squarely with New Delhi because it is the Centre�s responsibility to safeguard international borders. The Centre�s ineptitude resulted in a 219 per cent growth in Assam�s Muslim population between 1951 and 1971. This became the main plank for the agitation launched by the All Assam Students� Union in the Eighties which severely disrupted normal life and alienated the Assamese from the national mainstream.

The United Liberation Front of Asom�s insurgency movement can be traced to this political unrest. The Illegal Migrants (Determ- ination by Tribunals) Act was passed in 1983 to overcome the problem, but it did not work as expected. And with the ISI increasingly meddling in the region�s affairs, danger signals loom large on the country�s security horizons: even the dangers of crossing the border does not seem to deter Bangladeshis from entering the Northeast.

Swallow a bitter PIL

Two recent events have highlighted the severity of the problem. One, the Assam governor�s report to New Delhi on infiltration. Two, a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court. The governor said though Bangladeshis had infiltrated several states in India and were most numerous in West Bengal, they posed the greatest threat to Assam.

Following this a PIL was filed seeking directions to the Centre and the West Bengal government to make arrangements to repatriate illegal Bangladeshi migrants, estimated to number over 10 million. According to the petition, they place a huge strain on an overpopulated country�s scarce resources and corner a sizeable chunk of both manual and white collar jobs, thus depriving bona fide Indian citizens of employment opportunities.

If the Centre and the affected states do not take action, national security may be jeopardized. Though schemes like border fencing and issuing identity cards and work permits are mooted from time to time, they are not implemented. The eastern border does not receive the attention the India-Pakistan border does. But the fact is demographic aggression can be as dangerous as war. It is time to erect fencing along the Bangladesh border and to augment security posts. The coming census is an opportunity to identify foreign nationals. It must not be missed at any cost.    

By Mario Vargas Llosa,
Faber, � 10

Let there be no economizing in recording the richly deserved accolade. Ever since Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter saw the light of day, the magnificence of Mario Vargas Llosa as a trapeze artist with words has been beyond dispute. His forte lies in the extraordinary juxtaposition of fictional reality with illusion. One cannot even pinpoint at what stage reality withdraws itself and is supplanted by phantoms, or when fantasy reverts to the landscape of the basic narration. Switching back and forth, back and forth, this instant the matter at hand is perhaps an inert manuscript, at the next it assumes a life of its own, creating chaos and mayhem. The tour de force not just impresses, it captivates.

Little wonder then that Llosa has emerged as a major phenomenon in the Latin American literary firmament; and attempt is even on to project him as an ideological saviour, who could, now that Jorge Luis Borges is departed, offer combat to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the outrageous radical.

And not to be lost in the medley of appreciation of the ceaseless magic in intertwining reality with fantasy is the scale of Llosa�s erudition. His scholarship competes with his gift for weaving the tapestry of illusion; it tiptoes with sure confidence into and out of the corridors and trapdoors of art, literature, sculpture, architecture, music and the remoter crafts of archaeology and archery, too. This wading through the classical antecedents of whatever captures his character�s fancy at a particular moment is a remarkably easy perambulation: he shuffles from the base of his fictional narration to the detours of imagination; which are either interrupted or embellished by digressions, digressions that unravel for the reader the inner significance of a symphony or a painting or a statue.

Llosa can take off from a stray line from Homer or John Keats or T.S. Eliot, or the happenstance of a reference to Honore de Balzac or Fyodor Dostoyevksy, or to a short piece dedicated to an Olympian goddess of a model by an obscure 18th century Latin poet.

Alas, peril always lurks at the corner, if a tour de force is deployed in great frequency, it degenerates into mannerism. The Notebooks of Don Rigoborto, translated by Edith Grossman, is an instance of such a habit carried to excess. The volume is in a sense a sequel to Llosa�s earlier fiction, In praise of the Stepmother. There is a thin storyline, of a stepmother seducing her stepson � or is it the reverse: at the end of the narration, the husband punishes the wife with forced separation. The Notebooks, at is denouement, hints at a reconciliation between husband and wife thanks to the machinations of the young brat.

But even this summing up of the storyline is suspect. Llosa, for all one can guess, is conceivably more interested in putting across the proposition that there is nothing distinguishable between zero and non-zero, the products of illusion are as tangible as conventional reality is assumed to be.

This could be either a frivolity or a firmly held philosophical position, and grant every author the prerogative of the choice he or she wants to be ensconced in. The problem lies elsewhere. The Notebooks is a hodgepodge of bits and pieces from the husband�s diaries, interspersed with descriptions of fantasies that fly off in all directions � travelling from the pages of the diaries, or from the uncontrolled imagination of either Rigoborto or, the wife, Lucracia, and sometimes of even the son, Fonchita, supplemented by annals from the life, time and works of a fictional Vienna artist for whom Fonchita has taken a feverish liking.

It is here, in the opinion of the present reviewer, that disaster strikes. For the fantasies indulged in by Llosa�s characters concentrate, more or less exclusively, on sheaves and sheaves of erotica, which often lapse into pure pornography � and even scatology. This is not only tiresome, but also raises serious questions concerning the purpose of literature and the avocation of writing.

All homage to the dexterity of Llosa�s portraitures and the breathlessness evoked by his imagination; the town cynic can nonetheless come back with the repartee: what for? The rich texture of Llosa�s back to back fantasies, his scholarship, the vigour as much as the poetry of his prose, the structural innovations in the narrative form he has opted for: the entire compendium would seem to be intended as sacrifice at the altar of amatory ennui. Has Llosa no other message to convey than what can be prised out of his callisthenics with the nooks and corners of the human body? Is not there a frightening parallel here between the ideology of free market capitalism and the self-centredness of much of contemporary Western fiction of which Llosa�s works are the archetype? The message could not be more explicit: the pleasure principle transcends other considerations, the rest of the universe is dispensable, it is only myself that matters.

Some quarters have ventured to attach the halo of greatness of Llosa. Should not one exercise the right to demur? Just take into account the sweep of Garcia Marquez�s A Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. In both tracts, the author comprehends the datum of the time, the excruciating milieu that is both a prison and an escape hatch, as well as the tragedy and grandeur of the human condition, within one fold. In contrast, his protestations on page 194 notwithstanding, Llosa is absorbed in sterile pornography. For courtesy�s sake, call it, if you will, erotica: the reality does not change its colour.    

By Dominique Lapierre,
Full Circle, Rs 295

Buried under this tome lies a man whose catalogue of sympathies is so exhaustive that he ends up sounding phoney and unconvincing. Dominique Lapierre�s tendency to invest almost every act of his with a philanthropic halo queers the ideological pitch of his autobiography.

Of uncertain genealogy, the book is a cross between a bestseller, an autobiography, a proto-history and a �child relief and you� greetings card. One can almost anticipate the appeal to contribute liberally to Lapierre�s pet causes that is inserted at the end.

Starting with the hijacking of the cruise ship Santa Maria by Henrique Galvao, a disenchanted associate of the Portuguese dictator, Antonio Salazar, in 1960, Lapierre recounts some of the most crucial assignments of his career as a journalist. These include accounts of his meeting with Caryl Chessman, a California criminal on death row, who managed to stall his execution for 12 years and died protesting his innocence, and El Cordobes, the legendary Spanish matador.

Wedged in between these accounts of encounters with larger than life characters are anecdotes and incidents from Lapierre�s personal life. He recollects his purchase of a house in Saint-Tropez, surrounded by vineyards that produced �Cotes de Provence wines in bottles curved like a woman�s hips� and the days in Paris during the German occupation. A section is also devoted to the expertise of two French surgeons who managed to remove Lapierre�s malignant prostrate glands without castrating him.

The pattern of an ever elusive romantic quest can be traced in some of the incidents that Lapierre reconstructs. The blow by blow account of Chessman�s final hours, while documenting a man�s desperate attempts to prove himself innocent, becomes a passionate plea for the abolition of capital punishment. Similarly, when El Cordobes� success in the ring is attributed to the �instinctive communion between man and beast,� fighting bulls no longer remains a ghastly spectacle but is transformed into a ritualistic metaphor for life instead.

However, Lapierre abandons his stated purpose of telling �epic stories that inspire people to dream� and sets out on a Quixotic mission. He takes up arms against a sea of third world troubles, and hopes, by lending succour, he will end them. He repeatedly seeks validation of his own outdated political convictions in the wide world outside the pale of a Western, democratic, post-capitalist country.

Lapierre�s shortcomings are obvious in the last three sections of the book, which are based on his experiences in India. Even 24 years after penning Freedom at Midnight, an odious piece of pseudo-history on Indian independence together with Larry Collins, Lapierre remains incorrigibly in love with the language of Rudyard Kipling and its attendant metaphors of exotic otherness.

The adjectives Lapierre uses while describing his first meeting with Indira Gandhi would suit an empress rather than a democratically elected head of state. He watches �with astonishment (the) very fair-skinned woman...meeting some very dark-skinned peasants� and talks of �Congress party militants� (italics mine). In spite of his professed love for India and his concern for its problems, Lapierre is unable to cast off the unbearable burden of being white.

Several sections of this book are padded up with verbatim reproductions from earlier books written or co-written by Lapierre. Compare the section on Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala here with a similar passage in Freedom at Midnight.

Some of the factual errors in the book are glaring. For instance, Nathuram Godse is called the �leader� of the Hindu Mahasabha and a few lines that Lapierre quotes from a report supposedly on the �front page of the Hindustan Standard� actually appear on page four of that paper.

Lapierre only confirms Logan Pearsall Smith�s definition of a bestseller as �the gilded tomb of a mediocre talent�. May this book rest in peace.    

By Heinz Magenheimer,
Cassell, � 20

The defeat of the Axis block was inevitable from the very beginning of World War II � is the dominant historical opinion in the English speaking world. A typical representative of such historical writing � the lineal descendant of positivist, empiricist assumptions � is Lloyd E. Lee�s The War Years. The present book, translated by Helmut Bogler, challenges such historical methodology whose origins can be traced back to the Enlightenment.

Enlightenment philosophy demanded that history be scientific, that it obey certain laws. Since it was Napoleon who brought the Enlightenment to Germany, the Aufklarers � the German intelligentsia � evolved an alternative body of ideas in reaction. This reactionary philosophy, which emphasized the role of chance as a causative factor in history, can be termed counter-Enlightenment.

The rise of quantum mechanics, which challenged the universal validity of Newtonian laws, has given a boost to a concept of history which does not accept linear determinism. In this context, E.H. Carr�s caricature in What is History? of the role of the unintended in the historical process appears irrelevant.

Armed with such methodology, the author, Heinz Magenheimer, poses the question: was the collapse of the Axis predetermined? The principal allied powers � the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain � combined their economic and military potential to defeat the Nazis. The Asia-Pacific theatre was secondary. Hence, the approach of Martin Gilbert (Second World War), giving equal attention to both the European and non-European theatres, is untenable when analyzing the turning point of the war. Since 74 per cent of the Wehrmahct was deployed in the eastern front, Magenheimer rightly focuses on the Russo-German war.

Was Operation Barbarossa doomed to failure as John Strawson asserts in his monograph, Hitler as a Military Commander? No, certainly not, claims Magenheimer. Having analyzed documents in German and Austrian archives, as well as files that became available after glasnost and perestroika, Magenheimer concludes Josef Stalin was preparing to attack Adolf Hitler, but the latter preempted him by a few weeks.

After the fall of France, G.K. Zhukov started deploying 9,000 aircraft, 23,000 tanks and five million men in eastern Poland. The attack was set for August, 1941. Stavka calculated Berlin could be occupied by mid-1942. Hitler became aware of these intentions in March, 1941, and initiated deployments against the Soviet Union. Thanks to a superior communications network and more efficient staff, the Germans could complete deployment by mid-June, 1941. Since the German economy could not sustain an exhaustive, attritional warfare, a quick victory over the Soviets was the only option.

The German attack of June 22, 1941, caught the Red Army in the midst of operational deployment. If the Red Army had been organized for strategic defence, continues Magenheimer, its military formations should have been deployed far away from the Russo-German border, in the depths of the country. But the Soviet plan was to launch a massive offensive in east Europe. So, red units were arrayed along the frontier. Hence, German pincer movements could easily annihilate the bulk of the Red Army by August 1941.

Could Hitler be accused of faulty strategy when he ordered Operation Typhoon to take over Moscow? In September 1941, Soviet units in south Russia were annihilated in a cauldron battle. The Russian records which became available after 1992 show that in desperation Stalin wanted to make a peace settlement with Germany.

A confident Hitler rejected such attempts and ordered Von Bock to take Moscow. Bock started Operation Typhoon on October 2, 1941. By October 15, the last of the Russian field armies were wiped out and the road to Moscow lay open: the panzers were only a 100 kilometres from Moscow. Considering the rate at which the panzers were advancing, Bock needed another 48 hours to end the campaign. But at that critical juncture, the weather intervened. Heavy rainfall made the ground muddy and this bogged the panzers down. The rainfall, which normally started in October, came on early. The extremely cold winter, with temperatures dipping to minus 30 degrees centigrade, only made matters worse.

Magenheimer�s account bears out the truism that great events often follow from small causes and that World War II was a very close contest. Though it goes against the grain of structuralist-functionalist concepts which dominate Anglo-Saxon historiography, Magenheimer reminds us that the world in which we live is largely shaped by the unforeseen.    

By Gautam Kaul,
Sterling, Rs 600

Mohandas Karamchand Gan- dhi considered cinema �sinful technology�. Asked to fill in a questionnaire sent to him by the Indian cinematograph committee, he rejected the request saying, �Even if I was so minded, I should be unfit to answer your questionnaire as I have never been to a cinema. But even to an outsider the evil that it has done and is doing is patent. The good if it has done at all, remains to be proved.�

Gandhi�s aversion to cinema is confirmed by his statement in Harijan (May 3, 1942): �If I began to organise picketing in respect of them [the evil of cinema] I should lose my caste, my mahatmaship.� Ironically, the Mahatma was documented on celluloid during his lifetime and later by Richard Attenborough, who gave the spartanly clad father of the nation a new coat of iconic paint in his record breaking, Oscar winning film, Gandhi.

Although Gandhi was allowed to see Vijay Bhatt�s Ram Rajya for just 20 minutes by his physician, Sushila Nayyar, he was interested enough to sit through the entire film, whose publicity, in those days, had cost as much as Rs 200,000. But apparently even this made no difference to his dislike of cinema, for he was impervious to its importance in this land of tamashas and raths.

Gautam Kaul�s pioneering work takes a wide angle look at cinema in the subcontinent since it first came to India with the monsoon of 1896. At least a couple of works in the regional language may have preceded Kaul�s, but he is the first to negotiate the wider expanses of this medium of mass entertainment and come up with a chestfull of nuggets, linking the new entertainment with decades of political movements.

The book does not, however, set out to be an infallible encyclopaedia though it does include a very useful filmography of �freedom films�, arranged both alphabetically, along with the credits, and in order of decades, from 1921 to 1996. The book also contains political lyrics and a whole lot of fascinating and rare photographs, stills, posters and advertisements. The chapter on regional cinema is split into short overviews, allowing for quick reference in an otherwise �heavy� book.

Kaul has kept the language rather linear, and though it lacks stylistic fireworks and often smacks of officialese, it makes for compelling reading. This, despite the fact the book has quite a few factual and proofing errors. But considering the vastness of the vision, these and the rather tacky cover design, can be viewed with indulgence.

In perhaps the most interesting chapter, Kaul makes a detailed reference to the leadership of the freedom struggle and how it viewed cinema. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the first to be caught up by the �sinful technology�, was keen to make commercial use of cinema and had proposed to Dadasaheb Phalke in 1918 that he start the Hindustan cinema film company which could tie up with American producers to make films for export as well as the domestic market. Phalke spurned the proposal because he wanted to make films only on swadeshi themes. Tilak also wrote actively on Indian films in his paper, Kesari.

The first Indian litterateur to have the flicker of the projector catch his eye was none other than Rabindranath Tagore. The earliest short story of Tagore to be filmed was Manbhanjan (1923), directed by Naresh Mitra. His Bicharak (1929) was banned on charges of obscenity. Tagore tried directing himself with Natir Puja (1932) but gave it up because of technical complexities though he did play the role of an old monk in the film. Tagore also tried writing the scenario of his own play, Tapati, to be directed by Dhiren Ganguly, but that project was stillborn.

As early as 1900, Tagore also cut a gramophone disc with a rendition of Vande Mataram, which was manufactured by H. Bose�s Records. Interestingly, a copy of this disc could only be found 61 years later.    

If Indian publishers have too many copies left in their warehouses at the end of every financial year, it is because they have neglected two vital aspects in their book development programmes: editorial assessment of the quality and relevance to the needs of the reader and an understanding of the limitations of distribution channels. Sadly, the simple truth that a book is dead until read, and read only when it is bought, has escaped them down the years. Far too many concentrate on production in the belief that if a book is published it will sell on its own � which they realise too late is not the case.

Editorial assessment means the evaluation of language, style and subject matter of a work and how well it fills gaps in the market. Increasingly because of pressures of work and the belief that quantity means larger turnovers and profits, qualitative aspects have been pushed into the background. But the supply of books no matter how plentiful will not fulfil a need unless marketing mechanisms and sufficient distribution channels have been provided and rewarding use of books is assured in the end.

Given the cultural and social background of the buyer which depends upon local economic systems, cultural biases and educational standards, there will always be a gap in any subject in schools, colleges and beyond. Again, given publishing today is a sub-division of the entertainment industry, there will be gaps for novels, up-market or down-market.

Though the demand for books may exist on a large scale, the nature of local trading patterns is not conducive to large scale distribution. Many booksellers in the Hindi belt, for instance, operate on a barter system where books can be exchanged with other books or even with commodities like fruits and vegetables.

Prima facie, there are three factors that attract the retailer: discount, credit terms and whether or not unsold stocks could be returned after a period of time. Contrary to popular misconception price is not as important because the bookseller is more interested in gross margins of profit than a quick turnaround of stocks.

For instance, a book that costs Rs 500 with a discount of 33 per cent, 90 days credit and full guarantees of returns would be more attractive to a retailer than a book that costs Rs 100 with similar facilities because there are higher margins at the end of day. The wholesaler/retailer knows better than the publisher that there is no elasticity of demand as far as books are concerned: there are a fixed number of customers, plus or minus five per cent.

On the ground, there are two seemingly intractable hurdles. First, the size of the country which has implications for transportation, and postal services that can be slow and expensive, especially if the freight is to be paid by the retailer. With a limited network of booksellers even in large cities and towns, poorly stocked libraries and low purchasing power, it is extremely difficult to get books across to large parts of the country. State capitals and large cities become �feeders� to neighbouring towns but many booksellers in urban centres concentrate on selling imported books because the middle class clientele is conscious of quality and prepared to pay the price for it. Second, the distribution system is not geared to meet special requests outside the normal pattern of textbooks and educational materials.

What is to be done to save publishers from what seems to be a terminal illness? Publishers have to recognise that a huge intellectual elite willing to spend money on books does not exist and cut down on numbers and concentrate on quality, relevance and ready availability in areas where people are willing to pay. There is no other way out of the impasse.    


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