Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Southerly love
Who�s the most eligible of them all
Letters to the editor
Book review/Bard watching
Book review/For what it was worth
Book review/Minority rites and wrongs
Book review/Portrait of the critic as angry woman
Editor�s choice/May his tribe increase



Over two decades in power tends to breed diseases of surfeit. The Left Front in West Bengal is an example of this. It is not going through the best of times. Most of its bad times have to with the actions and pronouncements of its leading party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI(M) did not exactly cover itself with glory in the matter of the appointment of the pro-vice-chancellor (academic) of the University of Calcutta, neither did it better its position by openly claiming intervention in the education system of the state. The candour was possibly the result of the casualness that comes with two decades in power. On a minor key, the CPI(M) has since then been made to shuffle its feet in embarrassment over the state home (police) minister�s incautious remarks regarding the disappearance of the chairman of Exide Industries. But the latest episode is, perhaps, of graver import in the long run. The Calcutta high court has annulled the election of the Biplabi Bangla Congress candidate, Mr Makhanlal Bangal, at the Sabang assembly seat in Midnapore district. Mr Bangal�s election in 1996 has been declared null and void because the high court has found evidence of electoral malpractices during the polls. Apparently, certain policemen and election officers had cooperated in Mr Bangal�s devious effort. This is the first time in the 22 year long history of Left Front rule in the state that a legislator�s chair has been taken away because of corruption during his election.

The high court ruling should be welcomed because it is high time politicians in the state realized they are accountable to the law. Politicians in the Left Front have long stopped bothering about accountability to the people. After all, 22 years can be almost equated with the divine right to rule in the fast changing world of politics. The high court ruling has given the opposition in the state a handle it has been longing for. There have always been complaints against the CPI(M) for �rigging� elections. Unfortunately, the state Congress�s record in the matter is nothing to go by. However, a court ruling against a Left Front legislator for electoral malpractices is a serious indictment of the ruling coalition. It will certainly help Ms Mamata Banerjee, leader of the Trinamool Congress, to greater heights of vociferousness regarding the CPI(M)�s corruption. Moreover, this is one platform on which the CPI(M)�s criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party will fall flat. If it has not already done so because of its support for Ms Rabri Devi�s government. As the Left Front tries to wipe the egg off its face, it is important to look at the implications of the the healthy precedent the Calcutta high court has set. No party should feel it is free to misuse the electoral system in order to win seats. This is good news for the Election Commission too.    


Yankee Doodle

Mr Asim Dasgupta should not be annoyed if his invocation of the United States model to levy income tax at the state level provokes a few laughs. Those who are used to listening to Mr Dasgupta�s pronouncements will remember that capitalism, which drives the US economy, is not a complimentary word in Mr Dasgupta�s lexicon. Mr Dasgupta and his ilk have seen India�s salvation through the path of a planned economy. Mr Dasgupta learnt some of his economics in the US but his policy prescriptions and his rhetoric have always been anti-free market and pro-planning. Since Mr Manmohan Singh began the process of liberalization, Mr Dasgupta has been one of the champions of an alternative economic policy. The sudden quoting of a US practice is therefore something of a turn up for the books. Perhaps Mr Dasgupta is now in the process of jettisoning the lessons in vulgar Marxist economics that he learnt in the study circles of Alimuddin Street and becoming an eclectic economist, borrowing ideas from wherever possible to meet a crisis.

Another problem is that given Mr Dasgupta�s ideological antecedents, there is the danger that the issues behind the proposal he has mooted will not be addressed. Mr Dasgupta�s suggestion to the members of the 11th finance commission was that the states should be allowed to impose their own income tax over and above the income tax collected by the Central exchequer. To support his case he gave the example of the US where this practice has been followed. What Mr Dasgupta did not emphasize was the fact that for a long time in the US income tax was collected only by the states. The role of the federal government in this sphere was minimal. The impact of the Great Depression, of World War II and the Cold War increased the demands of the Central exchequer and this led to a rise in the incidence of income tax. Unlike in India where income tax has always been a Central subject, the US always had a situation where a kind of double taxation prevailed. Mr Dasgupta has gone to the extent of saying that the Indian Constitution should be amended to allow the states to raise more revenue through their own income tax. The drift of Mr Dasgupta�s proposals is towards greater decentralization and towards greater power to the states. He is bound to win a few supporters for this. But tied to his proposals is the idea of reforming and streamlining the taxation system in India. If Mr Dasgupta is sincere about reforms he should attack the edifice of the planning commission which to an extent is responsible for the imbalance that prevails between the Centre and the states. To attack planning is akin to attacking one of socialism�s holy cows. Till Mr Dasgupta has the courage to do this, his advocacy of the US model will smack of opportunism.    

The souring of ties between the two largest allies in a coalition government would make the headlines in the best of times. Coming as it does on the heels of the gala celebrations marking one year of the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime, the break only underlines what a precarious arrangement it has been all these 12 months.

J.Jayalalitha had all along given ample indications of being less than satisfied with her place in the alliance. But over the past few weeks, pressures on her mounted. While speculation on the future of the present Union government continues, it now looks more likely than before that the 12th Lok Sabha will come to a close before the year is out. Coalitions are an accepted feature of the landscape in several states, but the norms that can bind them together continue to be difficult to enunciate or enforce in New Delhi. What is new and notable is the continuing significance of regional parties in national politics.

In the process, state level political formations are developing interests well beyond the older agenda of trimming the Centre�s share of the cake or of creating effective restraints against the use of Article 356. When in New Delhi, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazha-gam leader made it a point to speak on foreign policy concerns and issues of regional security. The demands made on the Vajpayee government, the famous three points, include the reinstatement of the former chief of naval staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. The attack on the Union home minister includes references to his failure to halt crossborder terrorism.

Time was when it was national parties that gave out certificates of good conduct on such questions to regional political groupings. L.K. Advani claimed that the latter, via association with the party of the mandir, were developing a pan-Indian perspective. The boot is now on the other foot. His own party is charged with endangering security by politicizing the armed forces. Irrespec-tive of how the present situation develops, this is a major turning point for the nature of political debate.

On the face of it, the present Lok Sabha had less scope for regional formations to gain the kind of direct clout they had the last time round. In the United Front government, the convenor of the steering committee and the finance, industry and commerce ministers were all from regional formations. In 1998, the Telugu Desam Party lost ground, but managed to hold the key to power in New Delhi. Vajpayee had to stand on N. Chandrababu Naidu�s shoulders to reach for the high office of prime minister. Despite having been bitter adversaries during the campaign, they became partners, if not friends.

No regional force could get a lion�s share of the ministries. Many local level parties lacked either the clout or cohesion to matter very much. The National Conference as well as the smaller state parties of the Northeast had no option but to be on the right side of whoever was in power in the nation�s capital. The Akali Dal was and is too preoccupied with internal squabbles to play a meaningful role in the Centre-state debate. Neither Mamata Banerjee nor Naveen Patnaik lead stable formations with a clear road map of their future course of action. That left the field open for Jayalalitha.

Given the war of words between her and the Bharatiya Janata Party, it is easy to forget how much they once meant to each other. Her party knit together an alliance in Tamil Nadu that netted them a total of 30 out of 39 seats. As the leader of a major Dravidian party, she was a fine foil to her ally�s tag of being a party of and for Hindi and Hindus alone. Further, the Union government was more than obliging in its handling of various matters pertaining to the cases she is embroiled in. The transfer of the chief justice of the Chennai high court and the appointment of the new director of the Central Bureau of Investigation are cases in point. Even the locus standi of special courts to try corruption cases has been challenged. The �party with a difference� went out of its way to help her.

The falling out was due to a fight over the spoils and turf battles. With 18 odd members in the house, the Tamil party expected better representation in the ministry. Instead, George Fernandes, no newcomer to the sangh combine as an ally and fellow traveller, became the convenor of the coordination committee. The prime minister is a member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh, the convenor from Bihar.

For an alliance built on the explicit premise of bridging the gap between regions, this one act served only to widen such chasms. Politicians from northern India are often oblivious to such subtle points. But with as many as 112 of its 182 members in the Lok Sabha from the Hindi belt, the BJP is especially impervious to regional sentiments.

Its Damascene conversion in the Nineties is less a change of heart and more a need of the times. Not so long ago, M.S. Golwalkar called regional parties �poisonous weeds� that endanger the nation.In fact, the major political development of the last decade tips the scales in favour of the South. Since 1991, there has been no regime in power in New Delhi that has not won in the four southern states. The sole exception was the 13 day long Vajpayee ministry of 1996.

The source of the turf war lay within the Tamil country. Eager to reach out to the other backward classes and sections of the Dravidian movement long inimical to its message, the Hindutva party forged links with parties other than Jaya-lalitha�s.

Having long been a force only among the minuscule Brahmin community in the state, it now has allies and members from a range of castes. P.R. Kumaramangalam is a Gounder and M. Gopalsamy is a Naidu. The Pattali Makkal Katchi, a co-sharer in power in New Delhi, has built up a base among the lower Mandal classes in northern Tamil Nadu since the late Eighties. The recent Tiruchi conference of the BJP even held up the goal of coming to power in the next state assembly polls in Tamil Nadu in 2001.

As in the past, parties enter into coalitions in order to gain power and expand their own respective support bases. Doing so often involves stepping on a partner�s toes. But in the case of a national party moving into a regional group�s home terrain, there is no way the latter can take it lying down. In its own long term interest, it will have to act.

This is all the more so given the multiple points of tension between any Dravidian party and the saffron platform. The former, for all its limitations, is committed to religious pluralism and federalism, the latter, for all its nuances, believes in a strong, pro-Hindu centre as a guarantor of stability. This gulf was papered over during last year�s polls by simply rallying behind an able candidate for prime minister. But this was to fudge the issue.

Regional configurations did matter in the past as well, but the region in the spotlight has changed. In the past, coalitions had come apart due to discord within the Hindi belt. The battle for power of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the socialists put an end to the Morarji Desai government in 1979.

A decade later, the same contradictions, now each more explicit, undermined V.P. Singh. But in 1997, I.K. Gujral had to go because he refused to dump a regional ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. And in the current crisis, it is no coincidence that it is again a Tamil Nadu party, this time the AIADMK, that is at the centre of the storm. As the North remains fractured along caste and communal lines, the South has become more assertive in national politics.

How it exercises its power and what it does with its influence are what will count. For now, no all India formation can avoid doing business with regional parties. The sobering point is that it is increasingly the latter who will have their way. This is the significance of the political earthquake triggered by the lady from Chennai.

The author is fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and a political analyst on television    

Since 1973, the University Grants Commission has been recommending that only candidates with good academic records be considered for the post of lecturer in colleges and universities. It was decided later that candidates must qualify in the national eligibility test or the state level eligibility test or hold a Ph.D degree. Barring exceptions, those who do not secure 50 per cent marks at the postgraduation level are not allowed to teach in colleges and universities.

Around 30 years ago, a first class at the graduation or post-graduation level, especially in literature or the social sciences, was rare. Even in science subjects, not many students acquired first class marks at the graduation level. Securing a first class in practicals was very difficult. Older universities, in particular those in West Bengal, were very strict. Until the mid-Sixties, the issue was not given any serious thought because the marks or class awarded made no difference in the field of employment or research.

Around 1965, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research decided to offer scholarships to all students with first class M.Sc degrees. Soon, most universities began awarding marks liberally. The number of students with first classes at all levels and in all disciplines multiplied. In the early Seventies, the CSIR felt it could not offer scholarships to all candidates. It was forced � UGC followed suit � to introduce selection tests for research fellowships.

Thesis and antithesis

The results of these soon revealed the hollowness of the evaluation system. During 1983-86, of the 27,467 candidates who appeared for the CSIR-UGC junior research fellowship examinations, only 174 candidates secured 60 per cent marks, though 21,150 had first classes at the postgraduation level. Only 10 per cent were successful though qualifying marks were only 35 to 40 per cent. The performance in NET and SLET is no better, where the success rate remains only 10-15 per cent.

The UGC specifies that to be a reader, a senior lecturer or an assistant professor must have a Ph.D degree. �Publish or perish� was a slogan among academicians in the West, till the concept was discredited. In India, however, the pay revision committee recommends some published work or a Ph.D for promotions. Besides, one must attend at least two refreshers� courses to reach the next scale of pay.

In 1952, one in 20 M.Scs obtained Ph.Ds, whereas in 1982, it was one in eight. This trend can be seen in other faculties too. Most theses are unsound, analytically, conceptually and methodologically. Yet hardly 10 per cent is rejected. One cannot blame research scholars. Library facilities, particularly in state universities, are poor. Scholars also complain of the abysmal standard of equipment available and the state of their maintenance.

Character map

Many teachers consider it more important to engage in research even at a time they are supposed to be in the classroom. Besides, the illconceived refresher courses are hardly educative. Most promotions from readers to professors and from lecturers to readers take place within the same university. Posts are advertised so candidates from the entire country can compete. In reality each university selects its own candidates. Sometimes, the desired qualifications are tailored subtly to select a particular candidate.

The inputs that influence standards in education are quality, competence and the teacher�s character. The Kothari commission recommended �adequate remuneration, promotional opportunities, retirement benefits, opportunities for professional advancement and satisfactory conditions of work and service.� It said the remuneration of university teachers should be broadly comparable to senior government servants. College and university teachers are today paid handsomely. But it is not enough to attract the best talent.

Stringent eligibility criteria will not ensure quality if there is a faulty evaluation system. Boards, universities and institutions must be categorized and centres of excellence identified without bias. Students from good institutions may fail to get the required marks. They need a chance to prove their mettle. Serious researchers should be given direct incentives and job opportunities. So too sincere teachers who do not a have Ph.Ds or published work. Competence and character are more important than a good academic record on paper.    


Slip between world cup and lip

Sir� Nothing succeeds like success � and no one appreciates that more than Wasim Akram and his team, on a winning streak after beating India in India, both in test and one day international matches (�Akram rushes back to join selection meeting�, April 6). For Malik Muhammad Qayyum, the Pakistani judge probing the charges of matchfixing against several senior players, has said he might lay low his guns till after the World Cup. What is left unsaid is that he does not want to disturb in any way a winning combination: if Akram and party manage to duplicate their feat in England, all will be forgiven and forgotten. This rosy picture needs to be punctured with a tinge of caution. The Pakistanis must realize that, unlike India, not every team is laid low by a psychological handicap even before they start playing. In the event the Pakistanis will have to work very hard for victory, instead of it being handed to them on a platter as is the case when they play India. Once the Pakistanis start losing, can infighting and Qayyum be far behind?

Yours faithfully,
Raghav Banerjee,,

Mission oppositional

Sir � In Vir Sanghvi�s view, Sonia Gandhi recognizes it will not be easy to run an effective government within this Lok Sabha (�Hand that rocks the nation�, March 28). The reason? She will have to depend on Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav and the capricious J.Jayalalitha to win majority support. Perhaps the Congress president is right. Atal Behari Vajpayee who heads the government � which, given the arithmetic of the present Lok Sabha, seems constantly in danger � is rendering a yeoman�s service to the nation. It is unfair of Sonia Gandhi to condemn the government for having failed on all fronts and at the same time to be reluctant to run the show.

Heading the nation�s oldest political party, she should instruct Congressmen to offer constructive opposition. The opposition�s current stand is unfortunate, particularly in the light of the Vajpayee government�s achievements: Pokhran II which has brought a sense of security India lacked earlier, the Cauvery accord, stability of the Indian economy in the face of economic instability in east Asia, stabilizing the exchange rate of the rupee, better India-Pakistan relations after the Lahore declaration and a widely accepted budget.

Sonia Gandhi must realize the Congress�s victory in the last assembly elections were due to an anti-incumbency factor rather than a widespread popular desire to reinstate the party at the Centre. In over 40 years of exercizing power, the Congress had precious little to show for itself but scandals and corruption. Not forming a government but opposing the present one on every issue may prove counterproductive. It will not be taken kindly by the electorate, since Vajpayee is a visionary and a popular leader who is untainted by corruption and disinterested in self-aggrandizement.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta,

Sir � Vir Sanghvi says the �topple them now� section of the Congress feels Indian �foreign policy negotiations are being conducted clandestinely�. According to him, Natwar Singh warned Strobe Talbott not to be too optimistic about getting India to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty since he was �dealing secretly with a government that is living on daily wages.�

I have two points to make. One, there is nothing unusual about any government negotiating with foreign powers in secret. The Congress too did not publicize its many infamous surrenders such as those at Tashkent and Shimla. Two, the Bharatiya Janata Party led coalition is the legitimate, democratically elected government of India. Only a few weeks ago it proved its majority in the Lok Sabha, metaphorically speaking, when it got the lower house to ratify the imposition of president�s rule in Bihar. If the Congress disagrees with its policies, it is free to raise its voice in Parliament, call for a debate and bring censure or a no confidence motion. But trying to run a parallel foreign policy without the popular mandate to do so is nothing short of treason.

I wonder why the media is silent on the activities of Congressmen who take trips to South Africa, China and Pakistan in order to spite the BJP government. Even the BJP has not raised its voice against this. Foreign policy is too grave a matter to be left to cynical politicians like Natwar Singh who can be used by foreign powers as instruments against the national interest.

Yours faithfully,
Gopi Krishna Maliwal,
Hong Kong

Sir � �Pawar brings plenty to parched land� (March 29) is an inspiring account of what constructive politics can achieve. Sharad Pawar, the Maratha strongman, has all the traits found in the leaders of the golden age of Maratha history. True, he does not have a very clean image. But his achievements for his constituency and state are proof of his capabilities. One is reminded of Pratap Singh Khairon, said to be the architect of modern prosperous Punjab, who also did not have the reputation of being a very honest politician.

Politics today is more oriented around issues than personalities. People may ignore the personal follies of a politician if they find he can deliver. But delivering does not mean arranging rallies, disrupting civic life and causing inconvenience to the people. Rather, it involves public service of the kind related to Baramati, a drought prone area that has been transformed thanks to modern agriculture and education. No such instance of an outstanding initiative on the part of a politician can be found in West Bengal. Indian democracy can only work when members of legislatures concentrate on the uplift of their constituencies instead of squabbling. The latter is especially true of West Bengal where politicians have managed to destroy established industries or brought them to the brink of closure.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Kumar Guha Roy,

No channel vision

Sir � Doordarshan introduced a sports channel with much fanfare shortly before the Bharatiya Janata Party government�s completion of one year at the Centre. The channel�s inauguration was marked by a cacophony of swadeshi songs followed by a limited overs day and night match of frontline Indian cricketers. Predictably, Pramod Mahajan was in command of the entire show. Surely Mandi House officials are aware this is the age of high technology satellite communication. Doordarshan is pitted against private telecasters who have grabbed the competitive market with attractive programmes in sports, politics and cinema. It has been overshadowed by the satellite invasion. Viewers prefer cable television for entertainment and news.

Incredibly, Doordarshan�s new sports channel will devote its daily four hour service to swadeshi sports like kabaddi and kho kho. The policymakers have failed to gauge the mood of viewers accustomed to Star Sports and ESPN. Moreover, a government shackled Doordarshan cannot provide 24 hour service or cover far flung places or adventurous sporting events the way foreign channels do.

Renowned for the lack of wit in its programmes, Doordarshan is already unpopular for not telecasting important cricket and football matches at home and abroad. It has decided to telecast only a few matches of the forthcoming World Cup in England. The excuse provided by Door-darshan mandarins is that they cannot procure sufficient commercial advertisements to purchase telecasting rights at a huge cost from World Tel. No matter how grand a picture Mahajan paints of the new channel, viewers can guess the fate it is likely to meet.

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Ray Chaudhuri,

Sir �Doordarshan�s introduction of a sports channel is bad news for the majority of TV viewers. For people who cannot afford cable connections, the sports channel � available to only those with the connection � will be a killjoy. Even the games they get to watch on DD1 or DD2 will be shifted to the new sports channel on the plea TV serials have to be accommodated. Mandi House should reconsider and let the sports channel function the way DD1 and DD2 do. Doordarshan has no right to deprive people of programmes on sporting events by introducing a sports channel they will not get to watch.

Yours faithfully,
Santanu Chattopadhyay,

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By Robert Nye
Chatto and Windus, � 16.99

�How old would you be if you didn�t know your age?�� In Robert Nye�s novel, that is the deep question you are asked to ponder by Robert Pickleherring, an actor who played female leads in William Shakespeare�s company. At the age of 82 or 83, when the monarchy is back and female parts are played by women in the reopened playhouses, Pickleherring is writing Shakespeare�s biography in an attic above a brothel.

How old would the writer be if he did not know his age? If, for instance, he were allowed to write like a Restoration clown and antiquary who could borrow a trick from Laurence Sterne here and Ludwig Wittgenstein there, or lift passages from John Keats, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges? How old would he be if he were allowed to forget that he is a mask forged to entertain readers who no longer expect writers to tell a story like Boccaccio or Rabelais? Or if he knew, as Pickleherring knows, that his name would soon come to mean a buffoon in German?

Nye has been asking this question for some time now. After Falstaff and Mrs Shakespeare, he now writes a full biography of the bard, and the answer, as we might have guessed, remains the same. You find out you are just as old as your age once you stop bothering about it. You cannot escape the time you write in, just as you cannot escape your body. To discover that, you need to assume other people�s bodies and speak other people�s lines. That is what Shakespeare the actor-author did, and that is what Pickleherring, then actor now author, used to do. Now that the masks and the paint are off, Pickleherring does not bother to look at his shrivelled neck and sickly visage and wormlike genitals in the mirror.

Yet, the biographer is meant to tell us what the actor-author did when he got out of his mask and motley. He is your author who will tell you all about the author when he was not an author. Or about the telltale traces in his work, stains of spilled life, which are in excess of the facts as they appear in the text.

Pickleherring thus has a peephole in the floorboards which he covers with a volume of Ovid. Once in a while, he moves his Ovid to spy on the child whore downstairs. He likes it best when the girl is dressing or acting out an erotic encounter in front of the mirror. You catch your subject in the act when she is not in it. Like the time Shakespeare quickly stuck his tongue out to taste the rain.

There aren�t many moments like that with Shakespeare, and Pickleherring has to count on his numbered boxes of memorabilia to reconstruct the bard�s life as also his lost plays and sonnets. But then, he does not care for his age and can freely use the material put together by people who published after him � Nicholas Rowe, Edmund Malone, Edmund Chambers and Samuel Schoenbaum.

And there is nothing new if you can use the future. That Shakespeare was everybody and nobody, and that he lived a life of allegory, that earlier Shakespeares include an abbess and a hanged thief like the two hands of the clock pointing to heaven and hell at the moment he was born are all observations made by later writers whom Pickleherring feels free to plunder.

What Pickleherring fashions out of all this is �country history��. Town history claims that facts tell the truth about a man, whereas country history diligently reconstructs the evidence in the service of fiction. Shakespeare was a country person well versed in what in Hamlet he had called �country matters��. So we learn of the birds who miraculously saved Mary Arden from being killed by her jealous husband, of John Shakespeare� sexual encounter with the queen during her progress through the country, of Shakespeare�s metamorphosis into creatures and objects to escape his sorceress mother � a secular annunciation, an un-immaculate conception, and a series of Ovidian transfigurations. Pickleherring had obviously learnt from his master the art of putting the Bible and Ovid to his own uses.

It is the sort of history which does not worry about the co-existence of rival narratives. So during the so called lost years Shakespeare was sailing round the world with Francis Drake. He was at the same time a lawyer�s clerk and a soldier in the Low Countries. The fair friend of the sonnets was the Earl of Southampton. But he was also Pickleherring, the transvestite actor, the unlikely master-mistress of Shakespeare�s businesslike passion for making sure that the boy actor playing Ophelia and Viola did not go on stage with his male pride in visible revolt. The rival poet was Christopher Marlowe, and also George Chapman. The dark lady, however, could brook no rival. She was Lucy Negro, the mulatto whore who had in her brothel seven apartments in seven shrill colours ministering to the seven deadly sins.

In that great allegory of Borges our Pickelherring foreknows, god tells Shakespeare he is nobody, just a dream dreamed by his maker. Pickleherring calls himself a dream, dreamed by his godlike author. What about the author himself? Pickleherring calls Shakespeare an auctor, an author and an actor in one. Shakespeare, unlike Philip Sidney, could not look into his �heart�� and write. His author�s heart had to remain wrapped forever in the player�s hide. And that is what allowed him �to act�� in a cultural field where the player was otherwise a walking shadow. A player, �a man speaking words that are never his own��, is your only author who will �weave you a taut web of words whatever he is talking about, a web of authenticity, of truth, plain dealing��.

Such a man was Shakespeare, and such a man is Pickleherring. That is why his life of Shakespeare is also his autobiography. Such reflections on authorial agency hold together, if not transfigure, his meandering tale. Pickleherring, almost the same age as Rene Descartes, also foreknew the philosopher. �I act,�� he says, �therefore I am.��    

Edited by Hew Strachan,
Oxford, Rs 995

The decline of Europe in general and Britain in particular was the byproduct of the two world wars. Though economic bankruptcy and decolonization were most marked in the aftermath of World War II, World War I had greater psychological impact on the English speaking world.

The nature of this conflict is still debated within academia. G.D. Sheffield, in �Blitzkrieg and attrition��, tries to establish a continuity between the two world wars. He says it is erroneous to view World War I as static trench war and Adolf Hitler�s war as one of mobile campaigns. The Great War, asserts Sheffield, witnessed the emergence of new weapons like tanks and aircraft, which revolutionized military operations in the 20th century. Credit is due to the volume under review for challenging Sheffield�s distorted, revisionist view.

From the strategic perspective, World War I was not innovative, as Sheffield implies, but rather a backward looking conflict. Hew Strachan shows that Germany�s Schlieffen plan � an attempt to encircle the Franco-British forces in northern France by moving through Belgium and Vosges � was merely repetitive of Hannibal�s technique of double envelopment of the Roman army at Cannae. So the principal strategic manoeuvre of the Great War put the clock of history back. Once the Schlieffen plan bogged down in the mud of the Flanders, positional warfare set in. All these were a far cry from the battles of 1939-45.

The Allied response to the German domination of the low countries from 1915 onwards was the battle of materials. These campaigns caused millions of casualties in Britain, which gave rise to the debate between the continental and maritime schools.

Winston Churchill claimed it was foolish on Britain�s part to raise a mass army and fight in France � amphibious assaults along Europe�s periphery would have reaped better results. This reasoning is continued by B.H. Liddell Hart, who tries to prove that Britain could have used its seapower to starve Germany. This would have averted the heavy manpower losses.

However, historians like Correlli Barnett are skeptical of the maritime school. Continental commitment, writes Barnett in Britain and her Army (1970), was a necessity. The only way to defeat Germany�s attempt to construct Mitteleuropa was to annihilate its army. It could be eliminated only through land warfare in France, where it was concentrated. Tim Travers, one of the essayists of the book under review, supplements this position by persuasively arguing that the German military was annihilated in a series of setpiece engagements by the French and British armies between 1916-18 in the Western front.

If forward presence in the continent was a necessity, then did the British generals act prudently by conducting bloody battles like Somme and Ypres? Was no other plan feasible? The dominant approach, as represented by A.J.P. Taylor, is very critical of Allied generalship. Taylor, in First World War (1963), writes that being �donkeys��, the brasshats repeatedly sent the British boys against the German barbed wires to be mowed down by the �Huns��� machine guns.

A far more sympathetic view of the British military elites is provided by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, the two Australian contributors to the volume under review. They show that due to the technological limitations of the available weapons system, the only way to crush the Germans was through manpower intensive slogging matches. Holger H. Herwig, another essayist, points out that the entente won due to its superior manpower and economic resources.

The Allied superiority in Materialschlacht was due to its access to Afro-Asia, a fact generally overlooked in the Eurocentric histories of World War I. Much praise is due to David Killingray for focussing on the importance of the African coolies for the smooth functioning of the French war machine. But sadly, there is no essay dealing with India�s role in sustaining the British war effort.

Was the Allied victory worth what it cost? Zara Steiner says there was no option. So all said and done, World War I failed to eliminate the imbalance in the international state system. Hence came World War II. After 1947, the nuclear umbrella prevented the Cold War from heating up. So the Great War�s significance lay in maintaining global conventional deterrence for 20 years.    

By Gurpreet Mahajan,
Oxford, Rs 395

This book focusses on the relationship between religion and politics. In the process Gurpreet Mahajan brings out the uniqueness of the Indian experience. She begins by confessing the limitations of �liberalism�� in dealing with cultural differences. �The liberal democratic state is not entirely value free or morally neutral��. Though liberalism is most sensitive to religious differences, it believes that religious beliefs and commitments are a matter of personal belief��.

At the same time, liberalism is not a monolithic concept; it has undergone many changes and by the middle of this century, Western liberal democratic states had begun granting religious groups facilities enjoyed by other associations. To put it bluntly, autonomy was granted only when religion ceased to be a contestant for sovereignty and an independent source of law.

The Indian situation is different. Even after 50 years of independence, religion is an alternative source of authority, �challenging the sovereignty of the Indian state.�� In short, religious practice and use of religion in politics supplement each other.

By endorsing contemporary liberal sentiments, the Constitution has put women in a disadvantaged position and neglected the issue of intra-group equality. According to Mahajan, to facilitate the process of democratization, inter-group equality must be linked to intra-group equality and the latter should supplement, if not precede, minority rights.

Associated with this is the problem of interpreting minority rights. In the past five decades, India has become a �society of minorities, with the majority itself being fragmented into smaller groups��. Incidentally, India was one of the first countries to grant constitutional recognition to the rights of minority communities. This predicament has been dealt with in a separate chapter. After tracing the process Mahajan concludes: liberalism cannot provide a �ready�� solution for the paradox.

The various theoretical approaches towards Indian democracy also find a place in this book. Mahajan categorizes the theorists into two camps: secularists lament the absence of liberal norms; those taking the communitarian approach find no use for them. Secularists associate liberalism with tolerance and in the process forget �the policy of religious intolerance and persecution that was followed by nation-states in post-Renaissance Europe.��

The votaries of the communitarian approach question the basic tenets of liberalism � individualism, secularism and distinction between private and public. In the Indian context, according to them, individualism is undesirable and secularism inapplicable. They believe �tolerance�� is intrinsic to Indian (particularly, Hindu) culture.

Apart from tracing the Indian experiments with democratization and secularization, Mahajan enquires into what went wrong and suggests a way out. According to her, as part of the attempt to curb freedom of opinion, the individual has been pushed backstage, with nation-state and community coming to the fore. This ignores a basic tenet of democracy: individuals as points of reference. By way of suggesting remedies, Mahajan touches upon the debate of non-discrimination versus development.

The book, which displays the author�s grasp over the subject, is divided into six sections. In spite of continuity among chapters, individual sections can be referred to as essays for quick reference.    

By Shoma A. Chatterji,
Parumita, Rs 395

Without a doubt, a feminist �reading� of cinema makes for a wonderful subject. But almost always the object becomes a search like that of American capitalists: for a red under every bed. �This use, misuse and abuse of myth to create, exaggerate and distort a female character has been done by and within a film industry where the four economic functions of production, financing, distribution and exchange are dominated by men,� says Shoma A. Chatterji. �Most of the raw material in the form of stories, script, dialogue, lyrics and music are also supplied by men. The camera angles, soft focusing, diffusing...are all done in keeping with the predominantly patriarchal motif by which the woman is beautiful, but her inner strength, if she has any, mainly derives from a man, dead or alive.�

Chatterji then says that V. Shantaram (a man) directed Duniya Na Mane as far back as 1937 and �gave Indian cinema its first ever rebellious wife.� However, all the departments mentioned above were handled by men. Similarly sweeping in her bias, she believes that no film offers the ideal portrayal of a woman, period. �This is a global truth which can never be contradicted because of the very nature of cinema�s fluidity and artistic scope.�

�No Indian film has celebrated the total freedom of woman with the abandon of Ketan Mehta�s Maya Memsaab.� Describing Shyam Benegal�s Sooraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, she talks about a particular delineation; through that and �the two other young women in the film, Benegal makes a strong statement about the inner strength of women, suppressed and oppressed through ages by men�.

Chatterji insists that �male films about female rape victims become opportunities to depict the act of rape for the titillation of the male audience� and then lavishes praise, just two pages later, on Govind Nihalani�s Droh-Kaal, even saying that he �slowly and carefully builds up the mood of suspense to reach an electric moment, and then lets it fall suddenly�. By the same count, the wrong in B.R. Chopra�s played out rape scenes in Insaf Ka Tarazu gets considerably diluted.

Very perceptive about the camera raping Phoolan all over again in Shekhar Kapur�s Bandit Queen, the author wonders if Kapur found the opportunity �to exploit the rape-script as much as he could, keeping in mind, the receptivity of an international (read first world) audience looking at a Third World film�.

Equally incisive are her analyses of Sooraj Barjatya�s Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! and Mehboob�s Mother India, though one again finds her looking for reds under the beds as far as Mother Indiaand its technical excellence is concerned. On the other hand, Ek Pal is criticised for tilting towards the hero and because �[Kalpana] Lajmi used the camera quite voyeuristically for the love scenes� � should we forget that Lajmi is a woman, and the story is based on Maitreyee Devi�s novel?

Chatterji finds that the intimate scenes in Aparna Sen�s Parama were �shot quite explicitly without embarrassment� as were the �sexual scenes between husband and wife� in Yugant (she omits reference to Sen�s other films, all of which have this sexual openness). But she fails to rap the knuckles of market savvy, serious filmmakers like Deepa Mehta. Aren�t their films as �well crafted� and �prettified and glamorised� as the ones directed by men?

The fact that one can argue on many other analyses goes in the book�s favour. What doesn�t is the shabby product (for that price!), terrible proofing and the carelessness and inconsistency in spellings of far too many titles. Benegal�s Bhoomika is said to be based on the life of a Maharashtrian actress, Shanta Apte (in fact, it was Hansa Wadkar); Filmfare is described as a �literary fortnightly�.

While harping on her �emotional outbursts rather than clinical analysis�, too much of Chatterji�s writing is an undulating PR exercise and reads like an extended Oscar acceptance speech that would give Gwyneth Paltrow an inferiority complex.    

By Ramachandra Guha,
Oxford, Rs 595

The sociologist, M.N. Srinivas, in a passage quoted approvingly by Ramachandra Guha, noted that an anthropologist is thrice born. First, during his maiden visit to the field; second, when he learns to see things from the point of the community within which he is living; and finally when he moves back from the field to his desk and situates his observations within a theory. The three stages could apply to a good biography of the kind that Guha has written to break the voodoo that Indians can never achieve the level of detachment about their heroes that goes into good biographies.

It is clear Guha was rather taken in by Verrier Elwin�s life and personality when he first heard of him many years ago. He decided to follow Elwin�s life and work. In a sense, he chose to live with Elwin: reading his books and articles, trying to understand things from Elwin�s viewpoint and following him through India�s sprawling adivasi country. After that came the stage of putting a distance between the subject and the biographer, of testing Elwin�s version of events with other available sources, of locating slips and glosses in Elwin�s account of things and, more importantly, of placing Elwin in the context of his time and place to arrive at an assessment of his life and personality. The third stage is the difficult test which catches most biographers wanting.

Guha writes with great sympathy for his subject, but he has the rare gift of criticizing without sounding harsh, of making an assessment without being judgmental. He is gentle but never disingenuous. These qualities make for an excellent biography. It could have been very easy to cross an invisible line in the case of Elwin, especially as his life was indeed marked by many paradoxes.

Elwin gave up a promising academic career in Oxford to become a priest. As a Christian missionary, he chose the difficult path of coming out to India. In India, he was horrified by the brutality of British rule and became a supporter of M.K. Gandhi and the Congress. He gave up the cloth to work among the tribals. The sheer spontaneity and joy of their lives, especially their attitude to sex, made him break with the puritanical ethic of Gandhi.

His life among the Indian tribals made him an ethnographer par excellence who portrayed the lifestyles of the tribals and brought their problems into the drawing rooms of a smug elite. He was an Englishman in India who stayed on to become an Indian, if unconventional, bureaucrat. His was a restless soul, as Guha puts it aptly, perpetually �an outsider within��. Guha captures these many facets of the man.

Elwin�s personal life was colourful. From the tribals he learnt to celebrate sex and his own sexuality. He married a tribal girl, Kosi, divorced her and married another, Lila. There were other encounters too, and not all of them tribal. He loved being with tribal women. But there is evidence, diligently tracked down by Guha, that late in life he longed for the love of educated, sophisticated and white women. Witness his love, completely unrequited, for Jean, a Fulbright scholar who he met in Calcutta and the deeper involvement with Margot, the wife of a tea planter in Assam. He maintained a strange silence about his divorce with Kosi.

There were other contradictions. As an ethnographer, Elwin was a strong champion of the autonomy of tribes and the need to preserve this from the onslaughts of civilization. As a bureaucrat, he was a cautious advocate of bringing tribes into the mainstream of national life. Guha suggests that his understanding changed; there was also the fear of being dubbed a separatist. But he was always the defender of the aboriginal.

There is a glimpse � through the banal poetry written by some Englishmen in India, contemporaries of Elwin � of the empty lives some of the expatriates lived. In contrast, Elwin�s life was full and rich. His life, as Guha emphasizes, is proof that there can be dialogue across cultures, that it is possible to walk across from one culture to a completely alien one. It requires the courage to question one�s identity and then to remake it, as Elwin indeed did.    


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