Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Three and counting
Letters to the editor
Book review/ Distorted vision
Book review/Sisters don�t turn into strangers
Book review/Inside the idiot box
Book review/ Written in Catholic taste
Editor�s choice/Models with a touch of class


Dirge for reforms

Democracy is emphatically not about pleasing all the people all the time. There are some decisions that have to be taken because they are the correct ones even if they hurt some people. In India, democracy does not operate on these principles. It has been equated with populism. The worst victim of this confusion is the process of economic reforms. A recent example of this is the government�s backtracking on the telecommunications pricing recommendations. An attempt was made in these recommendations to reduce the system of cross subsidies which had distorted pricing in the field of telecommunications. This was in tune with the general thrust of economic reforms which seek to remove hurdles in the operation of market forces. The government, for the time being, has stalled the proposals, because of pressure not only from the opposition but also from its own allies. The hostility to the proposals follows no economic logic. It is based on the hackneyed rhetoric that the hike in tariff is anti-poor. Embedded in this rhetoric is the attitude which believes that it is far more important to score small political points off an opponent irrespective of principles and concern for development. The Bharatiya Janata Party, when it was not in power, opposed the opening up of the insurance sector to private capital because it was a proposal that emanated from its political rivals. But, in power, it ratified the proposal. Nothing could be more mindless than this. There are good reasons to suspect that if the BJP had not authored the rationalization of prices in telecommunications there would have been less disruptive noises.

Stricken by myopia, political parties, irrespective of colour and creed, have put a greater premium on clinging to power than on economic development. They are unable to recognize that speedy economic development alone can provide political stability which can give substance to the power that parties so crave for. The situation has come to such a pass that even a government with a majority is unwilling to push through measures which are a priori seen to be unpopular. This is at the heart of the call issued by the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, for a national consensus on the cutting of subsidies. One of the only ways government expenditure can be curtailed and the fiscal deficit controlled is by reducing subsidies. But no government, out of a fear that it will be attacked by parties who are not in power, is willing to take the crucial step of actually stopping subsidies. So the drain on the fisc continues. Mr Vajpayee�s solution is to arrive at a consensus through discussion. This sounds very noble but is thoroughly impractical. It is one way of putting off tough decisions. For this, the system and the mindset are to blame and not an individual. Democracy may be flourishing but development is floundering.    


Banana splits

With the United States and the European Union on the verge of a trade war, the World Trade Organization is facing its first major crisis. It seems bizarre this international body should be threatened by a dispute over bananas between two economies that do not even grow the fruit. Though India and other countries fret about the US decision to revive the super 301 trade weapon, the real issue is why this has happened. Or, for that matter, why the US has felt it necessary to impose unilateral punitive tariffs on European imports. The reason is a glaring weakness of the WTO�s dispute settlement mechanism. Namely, the WTO tribunal�s inability to ensure a country quickly and fully implements its judgments. The WTO has twice ruled against the EU�s restrictions on central American banana exports. However the EU has used procedural loopholes to avoid implementing the WTO�s rulings. It only tinkers with its banana import regime in ways that fall far short of what the WTO tribunal expected of it. However, the WTO cannot do anything. Instead Washington has to file another case and go through the entire rigmarole again. Each new case takes a year or more. When it seemed Brussels could use such delaying tactics ad infinitum, the US lost its patience and imposed sanctions. The EU can be faulted for using a lawyer�s game to avoid obeying the law. But the US, by doing a poor job of building international support for its case, was probably too hasty about turning to unilateralism. The EU nibbled at the multilateral, rules based trading system that the WTO represents. However, the US�s recourse to super 301 sent a wrecking ball through this system.

Larger, more parochial issues are at work here. The US and the EU have been sparring the past few years over what Washington believes to be overly restrictive, European trade barriers. The large US investments in Europe meant there were plenty of US companies lobbying against Washington�s retaliating. However, the balance recently tipped in favour of interest groups who want the US to take a battering ram to fortress Europe. This includes US farmers angry by EU bans on hormone treated beef and genetically altered foodgrain, aerospace and airline companies worried by environmental bans on flights and Airbus sales, and finally, US owners of central American banana plantations. In addition, there is a US presidential election around the corner. The EU has developed a habit of playing loose with the international trading system, prone to abusing every loophole for protectionist reasons. The EU�s dirty tricks with antidumping duties have badly affected Indian textile exporters. The banana war is a warning the WTO system still has imperfections that can only be solved by a new round of trade talks. Time for India to drop its mindless opposition to a millennium round.    

Third time lucky? Although the times are tough, Yashwant Sinha has never been as lucky as this time while presenting the Union budget. Last year he had to formulate his budget in a great hurry and that too only for three quarters of the year. When he presented his first budget in 1991, the country was in the midst of a full blown balance of payments crisis. Compared to that year, the challenges of 1999 must have been dismissed as a cakewalk by the minister.

I do not think Sinha�s 1999-2000 budget can be called a tough budget in the manner of T.T. Krishnamachary�s 1957-58 budget. But neither is it a populist one, like the one presented by V.P. Singh in 1985-86 when widespread tax reliefs were given and subsidies on food and fertilizer hiked in substantial ways. In 1957-58, Krishnamachary in one fell swoop introduced wealth and expenditure taxes, reduced the minimum taxable income and increased existing taxes.

Sinha has not been able to muster the courage or perhaps mobilize the necessary political support to do all the things that could have qualified the budget as historic. But he has tried to contribute to fiscal consolidation, and hopefully has ended the culture of exemptions and selective changes in rates in the realm of indirect taxes. The budget does not mention any specific commodities like, for example, cold roiled coils or napthalene, whose rates have in the past been reduced or raised to reflect the relative lobbying powers of industrial groups. Let us hope all finance ministers of the future will follow Sinha�s tradition and encourage India�s industrialists to concentrate on their respective businesses rather than lobbying in the corridors of power.

The fiscal deficit of Rs 799.55 billion budgeted for 1999-2000, when compared to the revised estimate of Rs 1037.37 billion for 1998-99, appears too good to be true. It reflects a new system of transferring 75 per cent of the net small savings collections to states and Union territories from the public account. Nevertheless, on a comparable basis, the deficit budgeted for 1999-2000 is Rs 1049.55 billion, a figure higher than the revised estimate for the current year but only by Rs 12 billion. Sinha is clearly more cautious than last year when his budgeted deficit for 1998-99 was higher than the revised estimate of the previous year by as much as Rs 46.8 billion.

Sinha�s conservatism is also evident in the projected increase of a little less than 14 per cent in nominal gross domestic product in the next year compared to about 16 per cent growth that he had assumed for the current year less than nine months ago. For those who are wary of pump priming and the incipient inflationary pressures, the current edition of Sinha should be more welcome than the previous edition of 1998-99.

On fiscal consolidation, all finance ministers have been long on rhetoric and short on delivery. For several years the actual deficit has exceeded the budgeted target by as much as Rs 120 billion to Rs 210 billion. Let us hope Sinha will deliver his budgeted figures as outcomes. It will be a source of great joy if Sinha can bring the fiscal deficit down from the estimated 6.5 per cent of GDP in the current year to 5.8 per cent of GDP in the next.

Revenue deficits broadly indicate what the government borrows over and above what it earns in the form of taxes just to pay wages and salaries and meet its interest obligations. The growing trend in revenue deficits has been one of the most disturbing features of the country�s fiscal development. We shall be grateful to Sinha if he can bring down the revenue deficit in nominal terms from an estimated Rs 604.74 billion to Rs 541.47 billion in the next.

The ongoing debate on the new system of booking transfers of 75 per cent of net small savings collections to states and Union territories outside the budget is bound to continue. According to the finance minister�s budget speech, �The changeover, which is in the interest of transparency and viability of the small savings schemes, is being made in deference to a suggestion in the interstate council in December 1998 on delinking the small savings from Central government�s fiscal deficit concerns. A committee set up under the chairmanship of R.V. Gupta has gone into the issue. Based on the committee�s recommendations and with the concurrence of the comptroller and auditor general of India, the transactions will now be under a newly created national small savings fund in the public account, which will reflect the treasury banking nature of these operations.�� Manmohan Singh has already expressed his discomfiture with the new system.

When a government borrows Rs 100 and lends it to some unit outside the government, should the amount be incorporated as expenditure in the budget matched by a corresponding deficit? Or should the amount be kept outside the budget altogether?

Governments are not renowned for the soundness of their credit appraisal process or lending skills. Thus, accepted international practice as well as prudence dictate that all lending by the government should be booked as expenditure.

It is true the government receives public account funds in its banker like role. But the funds have persistently been used to finance the fiscal deficits of Central as well as state governments. Neither the fiscal stress of the states and the risks of their not being able to pay back the public account funds nor the liability of the Centre to repay the funds entrusted in the public accounts has disappeared with the setting up of the new system under a national small savings fund.

Nothing has been done so far �in the interest of the viability of the small savings schemes.� The new practice of delinking the transfer of small savings to states from the fiscal deficit of the centre appears to be imprudent and only a convenient bandobast between states and the Centre.

The new budget of Sinha contains quite a few commendable features. First, there is the additional duty on high speed diesel to fund rural development, social sector expenditure and roads. Unlike the last budget, this time the increase is going to be passed on to the consumer and should be seen as a step towards not only correcting the serious distortions in the relative price of petrol versus diesel, but also making users� pay for the roads.

Second, there is the proposal to provide larger financial assistance to states that rationalize their water rates to cover at least operating and maintenance costs. This should encourage better management and maintenance of costly irrigation assets.

Third is the proposed implementation of the education guarantee scheme in the Madhya Pradesh model, with an elementary school in every habitation with local community participation. There is a need to focus attention on the scourge of illiteracy and on empowering the power.

Fourth is the setting up of an expenditure reforms commission to reduce the role and administrative structure of the government.

The minister has also talked about zero based budgeting. It was tried earlier and did not work. Sinha will be remembered for a long time if he indeed delivers on expenditure rationalization. If the reaction of the stockmarket is any indication, so far Sinha has been lucky this third time around. But he will be well advised to remember that luck favours the brave.

The author is director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi    


One eyed man is king

Sir � Is Jyoti Basu slipping? What else but senility can explain his conviction he is more than the head of a democratically elected state government � in fact, that he is the state himself? What makes him think that like an emperor he can reward favoured networkers with riches � read plum posts? Has he grown so contemptuous of his partymen that he feels no need for their counsel against his essentially political appointment of the pro-vice-chancellor (academic affairs) of the University of Calcutta? Or is he so confident of his hold on power that he gives two hoots about the resentment both within his own party and among Left Front allies so as to act upon his own whims? Worse, has he become so blind to himself that he can assume people too will not see the connection between Surabhi Banerjee�s paeans to him and the favours returned (unlikely to stop with the awarding of this post)? Finally, has Basu no responsibility toward the student community, the future of which the university and its pro-vice-chancellor are meant to shape?

Yours faithfully,
M. Nahata,

Tomorrow never comes

Sir � The Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly ready to celebrate the first anniversary of the government it leads at the Centre. But consider this coalition ministry�s record. People who voted for the BJP in the 1998 general elections hoped it would usher in an era of peace and development. But the party lost no time in taking decisions with disastrous consequences. First, the decision to conduct nuclear tests in May last year. The social consequences of the 1974 nuclear test are yet to be addressed. Apart from their bad economic fallout, the 1998 tests added to environmental damage, leading to serious vagaries of weather for which the government blamed nature or god.

The �national security� argument did not justify Pokhran II. India�s nuclear capability was no secret. Was there any need to announce it with a bang to trigger a nuclear arms race in the region? True, the nuclear powers could not condemn India without inviting the charge of hypo- crisy. But did the tests put us at any advantage vis a vis Pakistan, let alone China?

Then came the unprecedented rise in prices of basic commodities. The government was perceived as indifferent to the needs of ordinary people who earned their livelihood by honest means. Added to this was the phenomenal rise in crime in the capital � Delhi was then under BJP rule. The Central government�s priorities have always been anti-poor. In a nation where millions do not have access to education, safe drinking water or even two square meals a day, it has been busy making plans to dish out �world standard� luxury airports and superhighways taxpayers� can ill afford. No thought has been given to upgrading existing national highways and roads linking them to towns and villages.

If the revival of communal politics was not surprising, what people did not expect was the kind of highhanded action that led to the summary dismissal of the Indian navy chief. India cannot afford the demoralization of its defence forces. The supremacy of civil authority � which none disputes � cannot be asserted in a manner that gives rise to a dangerous standoff between the armed forces and the elected government. Also, the charge of dubious deals concerning military equipment courtesy corrupt elements in the government and the military is too serious to be pushed under the carpet. In view of the BJP�s non-performance, all those who have the good of the nation in their hearts must join hands to find a suitable alternative at the Centre.

Yours faithfully,
Indra Deva,

Sir � Indians who had hoped for a better tomorrow under BJP rule in New Delhi must be feeling like fools. Ever since the party came to power, prices of essential items rose like never before. A government that could not �avoid� hiking rates of rationed rice, wheat and sugar thought nuclear bombs could feed India�s hungry millions. People died of dropsy due to adulterated oil sold by unscrupulous traders who constituted a saffron votebank. Floods damaged crops and properties worth billions � and leaders at the Centre could only make sympathetic noises. Rail accidents took place every now and then. In the name of religion, Chris-tians were brutally attacked, raped, murdered � not even children were spared. Even as the BJP completes one year in office, all these events should be recalled as the unforgettable highlights of its governance of India.

Yours faithfully,
Gangaprasad Subba,

Smells like mean spirit

Sir � An English tourist and a cricket buff, I closely watched Pakistan�s tour of India. I was witness to the proceedings at Eden Gardens. I must confess that I fully support the passionate behaviour of the crowd at the stadium. Calcuttans love cricket and it was devastating for them that Sachin Tendulkar was not given the benefit of the doubt. The Pakistanis demonstrated a mean spirit by not cancelling their appeal. Had Wasim Akram called back Tendulkar, he would have been respected by sports lovers the world over.

I also disliked the way the Pakistanis kissed the turf. Is religion mixed with sport or are the Pakistanis in love with Indian soil? These players should not forget they are the first in the firing line whenever allegations of ball tampering, match fixing and bribery come up. They do not even stop short of abusing and provoking spectators. The game can do without the likes of Akram, Salim Malik and Shoaib Akhtar.

Yours faithfully,
Charles Birdsall,
Yorkshire, UK

Sir � On the fourth day of the test at Eden Gardens, spectators were amazed to find Mohammed Azharuddin sitting in the club house, in fancy clothes and dark glasses. Why amazed? Because the Indian captain had just got himself out, playing an irresponsible shot. Given the way he was dressed so soon after returning to the pavilion, one would have imagined he was late for an appointment � probably to finalize an advertisement contract. A sense of decency at least ought to have made Azharuddin keep his player�s uniform on till the game ended, if not his sense of duty as team captain.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Mohanty,

Sir � Given India�s defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the recent test matches, all the hype about Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly has evaporated. Touting Ganguly as the saviour of India at the Eden Gardens and the constant inflation of his image by a section of the Calcutta media neither inspired him nor saved the day. Some of the city�s sports journalists ought to realize Ganguly is not India�s only hope. And if they were not biased, they would not take swipes at Vinod Kambli at the slightest opportunity.

Calcutta dailies are to be blamed for adding to the charged atmosphere following Tendulkar�s dismissal by their demonization of Wasim Akram. The result: the ugly scenes witnessed at Eden on the last day. We can do without coverage of sports events by partisan people masked as models of objectivity.

Yours faithfully,
S. Dutt,

Earnest appeal

Sir � I am a poor, 36 old year old married man earning a very low salary. I have two schoolgoing children aged eight and six years. Diagnosed to be suffering from rheumatic heart disease, severe mitral stenosis with aortic regurgitation, I have been advised to undergo a double valve replacement surgery. Since I cannot afford the exorbitant cost of open heart surgery, I contacted various institutions. Devi Shetty of the Manipal Heart Foundation at Bangalore offered me the most economical package: treatment at Rs 65, 000 for the surgery and Rs 92,000 for the two valves.

Doctors have asked me to undergo surgery this month. Due to financial difficulties, I have no option but to make an appeal to generous Indians to save my life. Cheques, demand drafts or cash donations can be sent to Kailash Chandra Lenka, c/o �Utkalika�, Orissa state emporium, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Calcutta 52.

Yours faithfully,
Kailash Chandra Lenka,

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations
By David Landes,
Little Brown, � 20

Some scholars of Europe and the United States continue to celebrate the European miracle even as most of the non-European world remains mired in poverty and illiteracy. David Landes narrates some parts of the non-European story with impressive scholarship. But his core is a morality tale with Europe as the protagonist. The tale is foreshortened in perspective and shallow in historical depth. For, measured in terms of the usual indices of human development � long life, a high rate of literacy, abundance of the usual amenities of life, and even absence of famines � the outdistancing of the rest of the world by the European population is not even 200 years old. This has to be set against the fact that homo sapiens decisively differentiated itself from other living beings � through the domestication of wild plants and animals, and the invention of agriculture � probably 13,000 years ago.

Landes made a name for himself by his panoramic survey of European industrialization, in the Cambridge Economic History of Europe, volume VI (1965). He has been unable to get out of a Eurocentric view of history. He has read widely in the literature of economic and social history, but much of his reading is derived from other Eurocentric scholars, or from writings of North American and European historians who unconsciously keep in tune with the beating of the European drum.

Landes makes his prejudices quite obvious in chapter three, where history begins with Greece and Rome, and after the collapse of the Roman empire, spends a long time hibernating, until �a modern Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees� appears on the scene. The Arab advances in science, technology and navigation, and the rediscovery by Europeans of much of the Graeco-Roman philosophy, mathematics and science through Arab sources are brushed aside. China figures briefly as a possible challenger to European eminence in science and technology. But despite references to Joseph Needham�s magisterial work on Chinese science and technology, Landes rests content with Mark Elvin�s hypothesis that China attained a high level equilibrium in the early centuries of the current millennium and stagnated and slid downward from then on. For Landes, all polities in Asia were oriental despotisms, and once characterized as such, there was no further possibility of their development according to the horoscope prepared by Landes.

It is possible to argue that from, say, the 12th century there was decisive decline of Arabic and Indian innovations in science and technology, and soon after that, Chinese advances in the material arts also peaked. In that conjuncture, with new expansion in trade in the Mediterranean basin and the Atlantic seaboard, and an increase in contacts overland between Europe and Asia, city states in Italy and some regions of Spain, northern France and the Low countries were able to build on the Asian advances in science, philosophy and technology. But that ability was itself the product of certain special features of European institutions, state systems, class relations and ideologies. These helped them in later centuries to transform their own societies and extend their political and economic dominion over the rest of the world.

Landes would have none of such feeble minded, conjunctural explanations. He traces European exceptionalism to �Judeo-Christian respect for manual labour�, �Judeo-Christian subordination of nature to man� and �Judeo-Christian sense of linear time�. He appends also the �market� and the freedom of enterprise in Europe. When and where did enterprise become free in Europe? Most of Europe had guild restrictions down to the 19th century. Until the British showed the way to the creation of a market for government loans, confiscation of the wealth of goldsmiths or bankers or simply reneging on the debts to creditors was a frequent practice with European monarchies. Landes does not seem to recognize that history has not only many cunning passages, but also many cunning speeds, and sometimes produces breaks where they are least expected.

Landes�s account is flawed by the intrusion of a master narrative into the explanatory chains he presents in fragments, and his fundamental lack of respect for the history of non-European peoples.

Landes is best when he analyzes the development of particular technologies in western Europe or the US. But his vision gets clouded when he shifts his focus to the development of more �unfortunate� countries. When he compares South America with North America, for example, he notices the contrast between the drive for development of industry in the US as against the craven dependence of the Latin American elite, dominated by landlords, on foreigners for their manufactures and most of their luxuries. But he fails to notice the public policies that led to the rise of a peasant controlled agriculture in the states of the US outside the southern plantation zone, or the spread of literacy on a universal basis. He also fails to mention that one explicit or implicit condition of British support for Latin American independence was that newly independent states should follow a free trade policy and allow unrestricted access to British capital.

In Landes�s account imperialism is almost entirely absent as a factor influencing the pattern of the distribution of �wealth and poverty� among different nations, and this greatly detracts from the explanatory power of his hypothesis or the credibility of his story. Imperialism was almost the inevitable outcome of competition between different nations in the arenas of trade, territorial spread, and preparedness for war. W.H. McNeill, Geoffrey Parker, John Brewer and many other historians have emphasized the role of continual warfare among the major European powers in honing their skills in military and economic organization, improving their technology and preparing them for unlimited aggression against peoples outside Europe. The conquest of the Americas provided the Europeans with the precious metals they sorely needed in their trade with Asian countries, for until the 19th century, Europe could provide few goods that the Asians wanted to consume. The enslavement of millions of Africans allowed the European powers to exploit and appropriate the primary commodities produced in the islands of the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico, and the southern states of the US. Genocide practised against the North American Indians cleared the territory for settlement by the whites from Europe. This process was repeated in Australia and New Zealand.

Imperialism played its part in raising the incomes of the first-starting European countries and their overseas settlements through the latter�s exploitation of markets, raw materials, and unilateral transfer of investible resources. It allowed these countries to develop their technologies and science through learning by doing, extension of scales of operations, and providing both the resources and the incentives for research and development. While all these undoubtedly redounded to the benefit of a section of the common people, decisive advances in various sectors of human development such as health, longevity, education and democracy had to wait for the second half of the 19th century. Europe�s imperial position helped in this area as well. As migrants poured out of Scandinavia, Britain and Germany, and sailed to the US, Canada, Australia or South Africa, real wages in Europe rose, and the incentives to upgrade the skills of labour and improve the urban environment were strengthened. The massive transfers of capital to the US and other overseas white settlements were made possible through the extraction of the imperial tribute from India, Indonesia and other non-white colonies and dependencies controlled by the European governments and their elites. The inability to weave together the stories of domestic thrusting forward of inventors and businessmen, social engineers and politicians with the not so humane stories of tightening of the bonds of unequal interdependence combined with the failure to accord the peoples of all nations an equal degree of sympathy in their respective predicaments has badly flawed what could otherwise have been an authoritative narrative of the �wealth and poverty of nations�.    

Sister of My Heart
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Doubleday, � 6.99

How would Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni react if she were told her latest work of art would make a better television soap than a novel?

Tomtommed in pre-release reviews as �a magical mystery tour of female bonding�, Sister of My Heart, however, springs a curious dilemma before the mind�s eye. The reader is left wondering if the novel would have fared better as a prime time teleserial and whether the writer has erred in her choice of genre.

Substancewise, the novel is a lot of things. It has a bestselling story line, is fast-paced and racy, has numerous juicy episodes, typical Mills & Boon type of romancing, heartbreak, deception, miscarriage, stirrings of a love triangle, unrealistic sacrifices, exotic adventures to swamps, coincidences, suspense and more. It is also written in lucid prose and is easy to read, and, on occasion, comes perilously close to making the eyes smart. What, then, could be the problem with it?

The problem is it does not engage the mind of the reader. It comes across as an untaxing tale that charts the familiar mindscape of earlier Divakaruni creations, providing little intellectual stimulation and failing to plumb the depths of the human soul. It is little more than comfort food to the mind, the kind one seeks after an exhausting day in office, requiring little thought or emotion and which one enjoys with a steaming cup of tea and one�s feet put up on the table.

The novel is split into two books �- �The Princess in the Palace of Snakes� and �The Queen of Swords� �- and tells the story of the lives and loves of two typical Bengali middle-class girls, Sudha and Anju. The first book traces the awakening of love in the hearts of the cousins, one at first sight in a movie hall and the other in a bookshop, in a manner reminiscent of run of the mill romance plots in B-grade Hindi films. The writer also weaves in the much hyped �bond� between the girls, sorely put to the test as the novel unfolds.

The twist in the tale comes in the second book �- which deals with the married lives of the girls �- with Anju�s non-resident Indian husband, Sunil, shamelessly coveting her cousin. The cookie begins to crumble on the day of the twin weddings itself when Anju spots the animal like leer in Sunil�s eyes as he stares at Sudha. And fully in filmi fashion, he pockets the handkerchief Sudha drops while washing up after dinner, with his just wedded wife looking on.

Then follows what is, perhaps, the most poignant passage in the novel. A shattered Anju recounts: �A long time ago, in school, I had watched a film of a California redwood tree that had been struck by lightning. It hadn�t burnt up, as one would have expected, or been charred black. From the outside it looked almost like the other trees. But one day a man leaned against it, and the tree crashed to the ground. When they looked inside, they saw that its entire core was hollow and filled with ash.

I feel as if I am that tree.�

Thus is created the ghost between the inseparable cousins, both of whom grit their teeth and try variously to exorcize it. Finally, Anju overworks herself into miscarriage so that she can get Sudha �- who, too, has been unlucky in marriage � airlifted to her United States home in spite of her husband�s propensities. Certainly some evidence of �female bonding�, albeit foolish, but not firm enough to convince that it will survive human chemistry.

It is not Divakaruni�s purpose to read between the lines or look beyond the obvious. She is limited by her fascination for �female bonding� and desire to hold up a mirror to the battering middle class Bengali women suffer in marriage. This is hardly different from what she attempted in Arranged Marriage, her collection of short stories.

The author once said: �I have... a passionate desire to tell an honest, moving story. If it�s good literature, the reader and writer will connect. It�s inevitable.� With Sister of My Heart, however, her connection lines appear to have got crossed.    

Switching Channels: Ideologies of Television in India
BY Nilanjana Gupta
Oxford, Rs 395

Though television as a medium took longer to develop than radio, its development took place in leaps and bounds. For example, in the United States only 26 television stations were in operation till 1940 and commercial telecasting began in earnest in 1941. A phenomenal growth is evident in the fact that in the US TV sets worth $ 23.3 billion were sold from 1946 to 1967 and advertising revenue rose from eight million dollars to $ 1,835 million.

In India it was not till September 15, 1959 that the first telecast was made. Telecasting became meaningful to a section of the population only in 1976 when Doordarshan was created. The long time lag between the official telecast and the creation of Doordarshan has been attributed by Nilanjana Gupta to �the confusions regarding the ideological moorings of the state�. After debates, the consensus was �telecasting could be developed in India if the thrust of programming was educational and socially useful, and the public service slogan of information-broadcasting-entertainment was accepted.�

Since the book under review is an analysis, certain facts not generally known come to light. The first telecast was made possible by equipment provided by Phillips, United Nations educational scientific and cultural organization grants of $ 20,000 and 180 free sets, technical help from the Federal Republic of Germany and a 10 year financial support from the Ford Foundation. Today India has successfully launched communication satellites.

Initial attempts at telecasting, however, did not gain ground for a variety of reasons. Among these are lack of funds, the high cost of imported sets and unimaginative programming � the ghost of which has not yet been exorcized from Doordarshan studios. After the first serious attempt to take telecasting to the rural areas it was found that though the programme Krishnadarshan effected some increase in awareness, most viewers did not feel involved.Viewers were not comfortable with the lecture format even when these pertained to entertainment. The author has observed, �Doordarshan has made no serious headway in the attempt to address the basic problems of literacy, health and hygiene, let alone the more complex social issues like caste, religious intolerance etc�. Problems faced by other countries have also been cited.

For the serious reader, the writer�s detailed reports on various committees and commissions are sure to be useful, as will the broad outline of the Prasar Bharati bill. The author points out that with recent developments, the bill has become outdated. She manages to blend seriousness with patches of humour in the nature of anecdotes.

Particularly interesting is the chapter, �The Borderline Skies�, which chronicles the growth of satellite and cable TV and the inroads made by foreign TV channels into Indian homes. The success story of Subhas Chandra�s Zee TV is delineated. Whether one likes it or not, the invasion of satellite and cable TV has drastically changed the conception of the role of TV in the national polity. But DD, which has also gone on to produce some daring serials, is hailed by some for its overwhelmingly indigenous programmes. The Indian viewing public it seems is maturing.

The author has made a serious attempt to understand the appeal of early megaserials like Mahabharat, Ramayana and Hum Log. Closer home, Janani and its success has been discussed in depth. But there could have been a greater balance if the early successes like Tero Parbon and Sonar Sansar had also been discussed.

The work is empirical with 11 tables and three sets of figures that provide the reader insight into televiewing in and around Calcutta. As both Bengalis and non-Bengalis have been surveyed one gets to know the statistical details regarding their favourite programmes and channels. The writer is clear about her methodology. Interestingly, it has been found that precious electricity has often been diverted to provide power to the TV set and not for light and water.

Television in India is young. There have not been many studies on the medium in India. So Switching Channels is a valuable addition to a very small number of books on the subject.    

Why I am Here. A Missionary Speaks
By R.H. Lesser
Gujarat Sahitya, Rs 100

Roger Lesser�s books are perhaps the best known Catholic writings in India � after Mother Teresa�s � as far as the non-Christian population is concerned. They are sold in thousands in streetcorner shops and railway station stalls visited by English speaking Indians. In the book under review, Lesser addresses Hindu and Muslim, Jain and Parsi readership, telling them why a missionary from England like himself chooses to be in India. He presents his life story as an �apology� tailored to meet the suspicion and criticism often levelled at foreign missionaries.

This book also provides fascinating reading for Catholics in England. Lesser is candid about his early life as a settler in colonial India, his personal search and struggles on the way to priesthood, the reasons that led him to request incardination in the diocese of Udaipur and the trauma of working as a young priest in post-independence India. In later years, Lesser�s main apostolic arena moved to the Bhils, a distinctive ethnic group in the so called �tribal belt� that grids India from Calcutta, through Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh right into Rajasthan. Though influenced by Hinduism, the tribals have retained their own religious and cultural identity. Many embrace Christianity which often provokes the anger of fundamentalist Hindus who seek to tighten control on them.

Lesser describes in some detail the violent attacks he and his Christian parishioners faced on more than one occasion. He outlines his outreach through preaching and writing. He explains why Indians should be free to embrace Christianity if they wish to do so. His account is enlivened by scores of anecdotes and incidents.

Though Lesser remained active in the parish ministry all his life, his main attention turned towards writing. Most priests are intellectuals, producing if they write at all academic, complicated and moralistic sermons.They cannot write as journalists do: in brief, down to earth, easily understandable prose. Lesser can, and the success of the book proves it.

In Sages and Saints of India he introduced Hindu, Muslim and Christian saints. The book instantly became a bestseller. Things Worth Having described 52 ordinary realities, such as patience, prayer, self-discipline and how to live with difficult people. So You Want to Get Married? tackled problems of young couples. Personality Development was a course on religion and ethics widely used in many pluralistic high schools.

One masterpiece, for me, was Words with God. Here Lesser translated the psalms in a way that makes them totally accessible to modern readers. Jargon is avoided. Old Testament imagery is replaced by present day idiom. What the psalmists felt and expressed is presented in readable and passionate language.

In Why I Am Here Lesser writes with pride and conviction about his life and work. With good reason.    

Class in Britain
By David Cannadine,
Yale, � 19.95

George Orwell once wrote that Britain was �the most class-ridden society under the sun��. At the end of the 20th century there is no cause to alter Orwell�s verdict. Class is alive and doing well in Britain just as caste refuses to go away from Indian society.

Britons are obsessed with class. It is there in speech, in dress, in the schools and universities and in innumerable intangible and ineffable ways. David Cannadine after his study of the fall of British aristocracy addresses the question of class in Britain over the last 300 years with his characteristic verve and erudition. This study is timely because there is a growing trend in British history writing to treat class as completely irrelevant. This trend grows out of an awareness of the inadequacies of the Marxist concept of class. From this there is a jump to the complete denial of the importance of class in society. Cannadine provides one of the most lucid expositions of the Marxist concept of class and is not willing to throw it away altogether. But this is explicitly not a Marxist study.

Cannadine is concerned with trying to �recover the ways in which Britons saw and understood the manifestly unequal society in which they lived��. The very broad answer he arrives at is that when Britons have tried to make sense of the unequal social worlds they have inhabited they have usually come up with variants of three basic and enduring models. First, the model of society as a hierarchy that is divinely ordained: society as a seamless web. Second, the model that sees society divided between the upper, middle and lower collective groups. And third, the model of society in which two adversarial groups are pitted against each other: capitalists versus proletariats, rich versus the poor, us versus them, u versus non-u and so on. These are conventional models, the convenient short hand for expressing the divisions inherent in society. They do not by any means represent a rigorous interpretation of society. Cannadine explores this conventional wisdom.

The 18th century began with the hierarchic model as the dominant one. But this century was the period of momentous changes: the beginning of the Industrial Revolution which not only changed the ways in which people lived and worked but also in the ways people saw themselves; and the American Revolution which inaugurated the project of building a society which would be free from hierarchy and would be based on merit. These changes coincided with the emergence of class in discourse. This was not the work of a German revolutionary but of Adam Smith, a Scotsman.

It is easy to see the 19th century as a period marked by the conflict between two versions of society: one based on hierarchy and the other based on class. Recent researches on 19th century Britain, as Cannadine emphasizes, see such an analysis as too simplistic. He writes, �the years from the 1780s to the 1870s, British society was envisaged...in essentially the same ways that it had been the century before. All three models remained in being, with hierarchy still the prevalent version.�� Despite this the language of class became increasingly prevalent and visions of society also came to be more consciously politicized after the 1840s.

It is Cannadine�s contention that even the arrival of mass democracy in Britain in the 20th century has not seen the disappearance of hierarchy. Social and political conflicts did not always reflect social and political identities. Britons moved � and continue to move � across the three models. This is not to suggest that Cannadine upholds an unchanging view of British society. He shows how perceptions changed and he does this by bridging the universal and the particular. He is at his best when he lights up a general point by a particular quotation. Cannadine in a way champions this way of writing history undisturbed by any theoretical cannonade.    


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