Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Easiest Thing about Golf Bags for the beginner

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You might be a golf beginner looking for your first set of golf clubs and equipment or a pro shopping for upgrades, but all will agree that golf bags are essential in the game. Next to golf clubs, a golf bag is one of the most important golfing equipment there is.

It is considered a necessity. A good golf bag will lessen your worries on the golf course, (i.e. all your clubs are in their proper place) and you can focus on your teeing.

If you're a beginner golfer, then golf bags are definitely a must. However, there are things that you should know before going to the nearest golf store and buying a golf bag on impulse. First, there are two types of golf bags? carry bags and cart bags.

Carry bags are golf bags that are used when you are planning to have a lot of walking on the golf course. Cart golf bags are those that you use when walking is not possible (as some golf courses prohibit walking), and riding a golf cart is your option. A beginner golfer will most definitely buy a walking bag at first, although if you are a serious beginner of the game, then you will eventually buy both types of golf bags.

If you are a newbie in the game, you might ask "What is a golf bag for? I only have four golf clubs." A golf bag is functional equipment rather than a fashion statement. It is not just for your golf clubs, but it can also hold your other golf equipment and accessories. Some advanced golf bags even have pocket coolers that can keep your drink ice-cold even for hours! You might want to consider that, especially when you will buy a carry golf bag.

When buying a golf bag, especially a carry golf bag, find a comfortable one. One should check the straps to see if it fits comfortably and whether it can be carried easily. Remember that your golf bag will be one of your trusted companions on the greens, and that you will spend hours with it. So choose wisely. Don't buy low quality bags, because you will end up purchasing another bag in the next few months if your old golf bag tears up. You should also buy your golf bag depending on the number of golf clubs that you have. Most golf bags can carry up to 15 golf clubs. A tournament however limits the number of golf clubs in your golf bag.

Another important thing to consider when purchasing a golf bag is its weight. This is one of the most important things to know. Golf bags should be light enough to be carried or carted easily, but sturdy enough to hold your clubs and protect them. Some golf bags are even water resistant, and are rain proofed for the protection of your clubs. Most of these golf bags have 8 or 9 dividers or pockets. Again, the number of dividers that you will need depend on the amount of clubs and accessories you will carry. If you have many golf clubs then choose a golf bag with many dividers. However, these types of golf bags have the tendency to be heavier. Some bags can weigh less than 5 pounds! These types of bags are made up of space-age materials such as graphite, however, they more expensive.

Remember that when buying golf bags, the lighter it is, the better and more comfortable it will be.

Take time to consider the points presented above. What you learn may help you overcome your hesitation to take action.

Rich in history and architecture

Sri Patteeswaraswamy temple near Coimbatore attracts devotees with its old world charm and exquisite sculptures.

Cool view: The temple tank with the gopuram in the background.

Six km. from the modern industrial city of Coimbatore is the ancient temple of Sri Patteeswara Swamy where the divine cow Kamadhenu and its calf Patti worshipped the Lord, as the legend goes.

FINE SAMPLE: Beautifully embellished ceiling and pillars.— PHOTOS: S. Siva Saravanan.

Perur is also known as Dhenupuram. Similar is the legend with the other two famous Siva temples — Sri Patteeswaraswamy temple at Dharasuram near Kumbakonam and Sri Dhenupureeswarar at Madambakkam near Chennai.

AUSPICIOUS: Nritha Ganapathi.

According to the sthalapuranam, the temple existed in Kruthayuga, Threthayuga and Dwaparayuga under different names, and was worshipped by Kamadhenu, Vyasa, Viswamitra and Lord Yama. Here, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu took the forms of the two sages Gomuni and Pattimuni and did penance for many years. They were blessed with the darshan of Lord Nataraja and His consort Sivakamasundari, and Perur came to be called Melai Chidambaram. Sri Patteeswarar and Sri Maragathambigai (Pachainayagi in Tamil) are believed to grant the highest boon of ending the cycle of birth and death (`Piravaneri'). `Piravapuli' (birth-less tamarind) and `Iravapanai' (deathless palm tree) make this temple special. The seed of the tamarind does not sprout when sowed. The palm tree is said to be more than a millennium old.

AWESOME: Urthuvaa Thandavar.

Records have it that Sundaramurthi Swamigal visited this temple (eighth century A.D.) and worshipped the Lord who directed him to a Chera king, Cheraman Perumal, to get funds to go to Mount Kailash.

Monolithic structures

"Periya Puranam" (Ayarkone Kalikamar), Perur Puranam and Mummani Kovai sing the glory of the temple.

THE GODDESS: Alankaattu Kaliamman.

The pillar adorned by the lion in seated and the lying postures and the mandapam opposite the Kanakasabai with monolithic structures carved out of single stones were built during sixth century A. D. by the Pallava ruler Narasinga Potharanya II, also called Rajasimha Varman. The fourteen pillars in this mandapam are richly carved with the images of the Lord, each six feet high. There is a shrine for Sri Varadaraja Perumal abutting the Ambal shrine inside the temple complex.

FULL FORM: Subramanyan.

According to the "Velvikkudi" inscription, a big temple had been built for Lord Vishnu in Perur by Nedunchadayan, Pandya king, between 740 and 770 A.D.

FEROCIOUS: Agora Veerabhadrar.

There are 24 epigraphical inscriptions dating back to Karikala Chola, Vikrama Chola, Rajaraja Chola II and Veera Pandya throwing light on the donations for pujas in the temple, grant of land and other assets. The Thevaram hymns on Sri Patteeswaram are not available, although references to this deity are made in many hymns. Sri Sundaramurthy Swamigal had darshan of the cosmic dance of Lord Nataraja before he proceeded to Thiruvanjaikalam (now in Kerala,) where another temple dedicated to Lord Siva was located. In and around the Perur temple, 32 tanks besides the Kanchi river and two lakes existed. What remains today is the river. This place, it is believed, was visited by the Pandavas during their exile in Viratanagaram.

Communal harmony

On the banks of the temple tank, a small temple dedicated to Lord Madheswara was built by Mannadiga kings and Hoysalas about which inscriptions are available on the walls of the tank.

RARE IMAGE: Yanaiyuri Portha Moorthy.

Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali Khan also patronised this temple, indicating religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Even today, a ritual called "Dheevatti Salaam" is conducted in the evenings and is believed to be the mode of obeisance of the Muslim rulers. People from all over the State throng the temple during Thiruvadirai, Panguni Uthiram. On the banks of the Noyyal (Kanchi), people, especially those from Kerala, perform obsequies for the dead.


A royal landmark

Thevally Kottaram was the residence of the monarchs of erstwhile Travancore when they used to visit Kollam.

ROYAL LEGACY: Thevally Kottaram was built nearly 200 years ago during the reign of Gauri Parvathi Bai.

Thevally Kottaram stands on a promontory in central Kollam, overlooking the scenic Ashtamudi Lake.

Built nearly 200 years ago, during the reign of Gauri Parvathi Bai, between 1811 and 1819, it was the residence of the Maharaja, whenever he visited Kollam for meetings with the Resident. At that time the Huzoor Cutcherry and public offices were in Kollam, apart from it being an important commercial centre.

The palace, though small, is one of the most proportionate and beautiful palaces of Kerala, says the noted architect Eugene N. Pandala. A single-storey structure, built with laterite and lime plaster, it is a blend of Dutch, Portuguese, and English architectural styles.

Romantic aura

The rounded left wing, which represents the exterior of the semi-circular recessed ends of the halls, top and below, with round fish-scale tiled roofs, is in contrast to the stately main edifice with gables and moulded arched windows, seemingly resting on embossed pillar-like designs. The enchanting four- storey tower on the right, adds another dimension, and bestows a romantic aura to the palace.

There is some similarity in the construction of both floors. The rooms are of similar size and identically placed on both floors. The palace has 10 rooms, besides the verandas in the front and rear. All rooms have high corniced ceilings.

The teak doors and windows are set in moulded concave arches, which are embossed with designs of keystones, conches, and floral forms.

The ground floor is tiled, while the top storey has wooden flooring. An engaging feature of the top floor, is a short passage in the rear of the top floor, which overlooks the staircase and the front entrance, as it passes from the Durbar Hall end on the left to rooms at the right end.

Panoramic view

The land in front is bordered by a stone fence. A stone stairway leads down to an ornamental wooden boat jetty, which is maintained by the Kerala (3) Naval Wing. A `nallu-kettu' house on the eastern side, which is a palace building, has a similar stairway with a boat jetty below, which is in a tottering condition. This boat jetty once had gardens on either side, with a panoramic view of the lake. The Maharaja and his family were wont to spend their evenings here.

On the southern side, are two bathing tanks with rooms attached. The water in the tank is still very pure and clear.

The palace is at present the Kollam/Alleppey headquarters of the N.C.C. The Public Works Department also has its office here. From 1930 onwards the Palace was vacant. In the early years after Independence, it was for some time the Civil Station.

It is time the Archaeological Department declared it a protected monument.


Nestling in the Himalayas


The terrain is challenging but a trip to Badrinath is the dream of a pilgrim.

Photos: Rupa Gopal

In Indo-Tibetan style: The temple, a close-up

Badrinath! The first among 108 Vishnu temples, the first site of Lord Narayana, and according to the Azhwars, the first place where idol worship started. Over 10,000 feet above sea level, ensconced in the mighty Himalayas, near the Indo-China borde r, the Devbhoomi of Badrinath is said to have been established by Brahma, in Satya Yuga.

Comparatively modern times saw Adi Sankara retrieve the Saligrama idol of Maha Vishnu from the Narada kund, along the banks of the Alakananda , at Badrinath. He installed the idol above a Bhairavi charka, and set the rules for worship, followed till today.

The Nara and Narayana mountains shelter the temple, built in Indo-Tibetan style, rich in colour. The rishis Nara and Narayana, observed severe penance on the twin mountains, subsequently named after them. Alongside lies the ice-capped peak of Urvashi, which legend says was created by Narayana from His thighs.

Lord Krishna and Arjuna

Nara and Narayana are said to be Lord Krishna and Arjuna, in Dwapara Yuga. At Badrinath, Narayana is in a seated meditative posture, while Nara stands with bow and arrow in his hands, said to be in meditation for a 1,000 chatur yugas.

Besides these two idols, the small sanctum houses the saligrama idol of Badri Vishal, having four hands, the upper two holding the shanka and charka, and the lower two held in prayer. A round smiling face of Kubera, the Lord’s treasurer, Garuda, Narada and Uddhava the only surviving Yadava, companion of Lord Krishna, and disciple of Brihaspati, Lord of Justice, are all positioned alongside, in front of the main idol. Uddhava was commanded by Krishna to reside at Badrinath. Sri Sankara deployed a Namboodri priest from Kerala as the chief priest, a continuing tradition.

Badrinath is not an easy trip to make. Long distances and unfamiliar weather often make it a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. The road journey up from Haridwar and Rishikesh is interminably long, stunningly scenic, frequently dangerous, and prone to delays caused by rockfall, landslips and jams, roads that fall steeply away towards the constant accompaniment of the Ganga. The holy confluences of the Alakananda with Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Pindar, Nandakini and Dhauli Ganga thrill the viewer.

The bank of the Alakananda.

With a checkpoint system preventing travel on the mountains beyond a specific time at night, it becomes necessary to halt at night. Most pilgrims try to make it to Joshimutt, about two and half hours before Badrinath. Others rest at Pipalkoti, before Joshimutt. Till the early 60s, pilgrims used to have to go on foot, from here, and earlier still, the entire pilgrimage from Madras would take up to two and half months!

Badrinath touches the jaded human soul, uplifting tired spirits with its very simplicity. Devotees line up right from 3 a.m., in the roofed queues along the river, braving the chill. The temple shuts at night, only after the very last devotee has had his darshan of the Lord. Sahasranama archana, Veda recitation and abhishekam are performed daily, as paid ‘sevas,’ allowing the devotee to sit close, in front of the sanctum. Free darshan goes on uninterrupted, just beyond this small seating space.

Mahalakshmi and Hanuman have small shrines in the temple compound, with Lakshmi said to be in charge of the Lord’s food. Rama in Treta yuga sent Swayamprabha to Badrinath, to ever reside in the Lord’s presence, as reward for helping the vanara sena of Hanuman, in the war against Lanka.

The Alakananda flows below Badri Vishal’s feet in obeisance, going on to become the Ganga. The perennial sound of the river keeps pace with that of M.S. Subbulakshmi’s Vishnu Sahasranamam, relayed at 3.30 a.m., creating an ethereal effect. The constant purposeful flow of the river never ceases to amaze, reducing the mere human to insignificance.

Completely snowed in winters, the temple is open only for six months in a year, from May to November. The idol of Uddhava is then taken downhill, to Pandukeshwar, to continue daily worship till next May, when it goes back to Badrinath. The winter months have Narada performing daily worship at the snow bound shrine, in the absence of humans. Truly, at Badrinath, one feels at home, with the gods.

An opportunity to do seva

Sri Rawal, the chief priest at Badrinath

His patience is immense, dealing pleasantly with visiting devotees, seeking his blessings, and advice. Sri Rawal, a namboodri from Kerala, is the chief priest at Badrinath. Excerpts from a conversation:

What are your duties, on an average day?

It is not duty at all, but an opportunity to do ‘seva.’ I enjoy doing it. I’m at the temple before 4 a.m., for the abhishekam. At noon is the ‘bhog’ [naivedyam], then I come back to the temple for the evening prayers. I do all the ‘alankaram’ I follow the same routine for six months.

Are you acclimatised to this Himalayan weather, and food?

Yes. I eat South Indian food, and also chappati, only the naivedyam. I can’t cross the river till Vamana Dwadasi. Once I come here in May, I only leave in November. The Brahmachari system is followed. I’m privileged to be here. I cannot sleep without the sound of the Ganga, it’s like a lori [lullaby], to me.

What was your education like?

In Kerala I was first a happy schoolboy. Then I studied B.A. (economics), but that was just like ‘timepass.’ It was the study of Sanskrit and the Vedas that I was drawn to, and concentrated on.’

Your impressions on this temple, and deity?

Badrinath is the only temple, for all castes, creeds, and colour. It is the place of moksha, of salvation. There is no concept like here in the whole world, where humans do puja for six months, and devatas the next six. Medicated ghee and oils keep the lamp burning throughout the six winter months when the temple is shut. Small vents in the walls provide the needed oxygen. Himalayan flowers like ‘ban moti’ do not fade. When we return and open the temple, the flowers are still fresh—the whole scene is indescribable.’

How do you communicate with the devotees?

Hindi, English, Malayalam, Garhwali, Tamil, Kannada, no Telugu [I use Hindi instead]. With foreigners who don’t know English, I speak even in Malayalam. I make them understand! Through mounam also we can communicate.

The year 1835 saw Queen Victoria’s messenger donate a bell to the temple, in true Garhwali tradition. The Garhwal regiment has donated a huge mirror. It was intended to help them have a closer look at the deity, by way of reflection.

The word Rawal itself is Urdu in origin. His attire is universal — the cap from Garhwal, the cotton quilted robe from Rajasthan to keep off the cold, theveshti from Kerala, and the sequined woollen shawl from a popular textile chain in Chennai. “Please tell the owner that I’m wearing something from his store. He has not yet visited Badrinath,” twinkles Rawal.


The clay play

Delhi Blue Pottery Trust is ready with another unique show.

India’s first studio potter Sardar Gurcharan Singh started The Delhi Blue Pottery in 1952 in Delhi. It took him over 40 years of struggle to make Delhi a place where both traditional and studio potters could co-exist and expose their talent to the world. But in 1986 the Government acquired the land surrounding the pottery, and the kilns had to be shut down. His struggle for land began, and finally in 1991 he founded The Delhi Blue Pottery Trust (DBPT) on New Delhi’s Ring Road. Singh died four years later but his son Manasiram Singh and seven trustees not only live by his dreams but also help social causes today. But as one of the trustees Anuradha Ravindran puts it, “The struggle is still not over. We still have no easy funds to promote pottery.”

Yet, the trust holds interesting exhibitions, seminars, discussions, debates, classes and workshops of pottery almost every year. “DBPT’s biggest achievement came in 2002 when we invited 101 studio potters from across the world and held ‘Water’, an exhibition at India Habitat Centre,” recalls Ravi Batra, one of the founders of the trust.

Now, for the first time, it is sponsoring a painter and studio potter Adil Writer from Auroville, Puducherry. Adil will hold an exhibition of over 275 works including pots and ceramic paintings measuring eight inches to 80 feet. It is titled “The White Rabbit” (taken from Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”). Mundane to spiritual

Adil, whose pottery is known for its international designs, says about his show of paintings, wheels, shards, urns, covered bowls, pottery pillows and treasure boxes, “My works are from mundane to spiritual. In my paintings, I have used the same clay and sand that I use in my pots. I wanted it to be tactile. Visitors can touch my paintings to connect.”

Designwise, Adil’s works are ‘abstract’. He insists he maintains Indianness in them by putting a red dot. “I am a Parsi and a red ‘tilo’ is ever present on special Parsi occasions. It is also a symbolic of bindi, the third eye. So my works have both contemporary as well as an Oriental feel.” Initially, Adil shares, it was very difficult to retain the red dot in the work. “When I would heat the ceramic in temperatures of 1000 to 3000 degrees Celsius, the red dot would vanish. So I developed a technique and finally was able to retain the colour.”

INTERNATIONAL Works by Adil Writer.

On the look of his works he reasons, “My works look abstract as I am trained under two American teachers. Moreover, I keep getting calls from European countries to mount my shows, so my works should have an international feel.”


(From Monday to Wednesday between 4 – 7.30 p.m.)

A talk by Ange Peter on Haiyu Slipware. Technique in Japan taken from old English slipware. A talk by Adil Writer, “Journeys”, on his works

Mask making demo by Delhi-based architect Manjari Sharma A talk by Tanuja Jain on “A visit to China” about a group of potters A presentation “The Cloister of Clay” by Probstner Janos, director, The International Ceramics Studio, Kecskemet, HungaryClay workshop for children by potter Rekha Bajpe Agarwal


Mr & Mrs ’55 (1955)

Starring Madhubala, Guru Dutt, Johnny Walker, Yasmin, Lalita Pawar, Kumkum, Cuckoo, Agha, Uma Devi

Though widely labelled as a romantic comedy, the film sought to raise various social issues.

In fact, the loose script succeeds largely because of nine interspersed songs.

This was Guru Dutt’s fifth film as a director, and third as a hero. Having earlier tested turbulent waters without success as a hero in “Baaz” and “Aar Paar”, the reluctant actor dared to make another attempt, looking more confidently into the camera. The film was originally meant to be released on 25 October 1954, but the delay made the actor-producer re-title the film, and it thus accidentally turned out to be more relevant because of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955.

In a quick montage-kind of opening sequence, the camera quickly shifts from a gathering crowd around a newspaper hawker: a girl picking up a copy and taking it inside a palatial house where a lady is addressing a motley crowd of supposed feminists; a young woman darting to a huge tennis court trying to catch the attention of man who is not interested in marrying her.

Anita Verma (Madhubala) is under the strict surveillance of a daunting feminist aunt, Sita Devi (Lalita Pawar) who is against marriage itself. While trying to escape from the eye of a domestic hand she happens to land in a shed temporarily habited by a struggling cartoonist, Preetam Kumar (Guru Dutt).

Anita’s father bequeaths Rs.70 lakhs to his daughter but with a rider: she has to marry within a month otherwise the inheritance would go to charity. So Sita Devi devises a scheme to get her conditionally married to the jobless cartoonist for a certain reward. In an interesting introductory kind of a scene the landlady, Lily D’Silva (Uma Devi who later came to be known as Tuntun), asks Preetam (while R K Laxman’s sketches adorn the wall in the background): “Are you a communist?” Prompt comes the answer, “No, I am cartoonist.”

Social issues

Though widely labelled as a romantic comedy, the film sought to raise various social issues. In fact, the loose script succeeds largely because of nine interspersed songs. The narrative picks up from the moment the civil marriage takes place, with Anita unaware of the conditions of the marital bond to the guy who she had been running into accidentally. Some dramatically thrown messages bring in a certain change of heart in the heroine, who, now in love, refuses to divorce but subsequently not only concedes Sita Devi’s demand but also provides fabricated evidence of his low moral character, infidelity and torture to help speedy divorce.

Nostalgic The famous stills from the film.

The standard twists takes place. The heroine gets to know the truth; has a confrontation with the aunt before the day; gets locked but escapes in the nick of time to reach her estranged lover who in a fit of frustration has already left to catch the flight to Delhi. The dramatic climax has the heroine reaching the airport with the help of Johnny (Johnny Walker) and his girl (Yasmin)…and they walk away happily from the camera. Johnny Walker performs credibly in an almost parallel role, while others perform competently.

Lively musical

O.P. Nayyar’s lively musical score added substantially to the film’s success, so also Majrooh Sultanpuri’s eight lyrics— Saroj Mohini Nayyar having been credited with the number “Pritam aan milo”.

Except for a solo “Ab to ji hone laga kisi ki soorat” by Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt lent her voice to five solos and two duets with Mohammed Rafi who otherwise only had “Meri duniya lut rahi thi.”

V.K. Murthy’s riveting camera work, especially during the swimming pool song, sequences with girls holding umbrellas, “Thandi hawa kali ghata”, provides colour to Guru Dutt’s inventiveness in song picturisation, even in a black and white movie which is two hours 37 minutes long. And there is never a dull moment.


Smile burst

Megan Mylan’s “Smile Pinki” has proved that a small curve can put everything straight.

Photos: V. Sreenivasa Murthy, PTI

Winning smile Filmmaker Megan Mylan

An idea can change life. Sometimes, commercial catchphrases find their reflection in dreary daily life. Megan Mylan’s Oscar-winning documentary “Smile Pinki” is one such case.

It not only opened the world for a little girl but is also giving wings to the dreams of many other Pinkis who are living with the stigma of honth kati. It literally proves a smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks.

The director was in India recently on a multiple city tour to promote the film and the cause. She is elated to find that even taxi drivers know about Pinki and cleft lip. “That’s the job of a documentary. It is not about sermonizing or education. It is about filmmaking and the facts should be delivered in such a way that people are entertained and take home the story and the inherent message. She believes in verite style of cinema.

Understanding reality

“Life should unfold in front of the camera with minimal prompting. I am inspired by the idea, the better we know each other, the better this world is. I expect audience who watch my documentaries to come out with a feeling that now they better understand the life of someone else who is living a different reality.”

Having started her career as a fund raiser with an NGO in Brazil, Megan says she moved to documentaries to tell the stories of the people she was working for. “I wanted to make a social impact.” However, she understands that how the format is being abused these days.

Documenting prejudice

“Everybody wants to be a part of a documentary because it looks authentic. When I was approached by Smile Train (the NGO working with people with cleft lip) I was not convinced initially as I took it as a ‘cosmetic’ issue but when I came to know about the social ostracism part, I realised the problem is worth exploring.” As part of her research, she visited the villages around Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.

“I came to know that they are discriminated against right from schooling. Teachers call them an unwanted distraction in class room. A birth defect, which could be corrected through surgery, is being treated as God’s curse. Smile Train is getting the corrective surgery, which costs Rs.10000, done free of cost but there needs to be more awareness.”

Megan didn’t want to make it as a documentary on cleft lip. “When I started I thought there would be a lot of medical aspect involved. Gradually I discovered surgery is just small part of this social problem. So I decided to address the issue through a real story.”

It is, in fact, Megan’s style reflected in her earlier work “Lost Boys of Sudan” as well. The need of a central character brought Pinki Sonkar into the picture.

“Field producers Nandini Rajwade and social worker Pankaj Kumar came with a dozen pictures of children with cleft lip. Out of them Pinki stood out for her simple charisma that camera keeps looking for.” Verite style proves provocative too as the filmmaker interferes in the personal space of the ordinary subject.

“That’s true. That’s why I wanted to make sure that our presence should not hurt Pinki or her parents’ self-esteem.” However, the most evocative shots that she has got are those between Pinki and her father. “Pinki is closer to her father than her mother. He made her ponytails before the operation and the way he was caressing her hair after the operation was really touching. It appeared as if a big burden had come off his shoulders.” Megan is in touch with Pinki and says that the girl has got her self esteem, her courage. “Her eyes no longer look down and she wants to become a doctor.”

Meanwhile, Megan’s search for issues has taken her back to Brazil, where she is working on a documentary on racial inequality.

Mylan with Dr Subodh Kumar Singh

The doc-talk

Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh who conducted the corrective surgery on Pinki says the satisfaction that he gets from the smiles of Pinkis is much more than the ‘profits’ that some of his peers are earning. “I take it as a professional challenge as well as I get to do so many operations,” says Singh who runs the G.S. Memorial Hospital in Varanasi, which provides free treatment for cleft lip in association with Smile, and has conducted more than 14000 cleft lip and palate surgeries. “Research shows that one in 700 births is born with cleft lip and girls are more prone to it than boys. That explains Pinki as the central character.” About the causes, Singh says the research is still in process. “What we know is that apart from genetic factor, some environmental factors like exposure to pesticides and lack of Folic Acid in mother’s body are also responsible for the cleft lip and palate. It not only affects the physical beauty but also impairs hearing and speech.” He says generally teachers could not realize their problem and most of the kids with cleft lip drop out from school. “The operation requires a specialized plastic surgeon and in hospitals it costs Rs.20,000 to Rs. lakh depending on the facilities. In India around one million people are waiting for the surgery. One Smile Train is not enough, we need many more dedicated groups.”


Is growth equitable?

s equity an add-on to a growth-centred strategy?

INDIA — Perspectives on Equitable Development: Edited by S. Mahendra Dev, N. Chandrasekhara Rao; Academic Foundation, 4772-72/23 Bharat Ram Road (23 Ansari Road), Daryaganj,

New Delhi-110002. Rs. 1295.

V. K. Natraj

This volume, published in commemoration of the silver jubilee of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Economic and Social Studies, is dedicated most appropriately to one of its pillars, Professor C.H. Hanumantha Rao. The papers that are uniformly of high professional standards have been authored by established social scientists. They are grouped under six heads: macroeconomic performance and policies; employment, food security and poverty; physical and social infrastructure; agriculture and rural industrialisation; FDI in manufacturing and services; and socio-political issues in the reform process.

In their comprehensive introduction, the editors say that the “approach of growth with equity has been followed in India since Independence” and, subsequently, make the point that “exclusion problems have not been seriously addressed.” Prima facie, these two statements appear to contradict each other. Moreover, the statement that India always attempted to blend growth with equity is open to criticism; there is the view that ‘equity’ was an add-on to an essentially growth-centred strategy rather than a core element. This point is missing from the discussion. Again, it is suggested that ‘growth spread across all sections of the people’ has now been agreed upon as a policy goal. But then India’s development strategy has always emphasised this, leave aside the question of the effectiveness of its implementation. The ‘compulsions’ that drove the country towards economic reforms find no place in the overview. This is significant because the overview pointedly discusses the influence the initial ground situation had on the reform process and draws useful comparisons between India and China.

Valuable findings

Some papers present extremely valuable findings. For example, Nachane, who deals with financial liberalisation, urges a cautious approach, and this should emphasise the hitherto neglected issues such as sequencing of reforms and a diminished emphasis on property rights as collateral in rural credit, to name just two from his list. The editors sound a salutary warning — that micro credit is not a substitute for bank-provided agricultural credit.

The paper on ‘trade’ argues that the question is not about having controls or not having them. It is about hitting a combination of controls, regulation, and liberalisation that is optimal in a given context. This note of sobriety and balance is found in many of the papers. Equally, it is refreshing to see in the overview a critical assessment of the Chinese experience which draws attention to what India has to learn from China. In his critical analysis of the supposed inflexibility of Indian labour laws, Alakh Sharma looks closely at the way in which Indian industry has made adjustments after liberalisation. He pleads for caution while promoting flexibility and for the simplification and consolidation of existing laws.

Another important contribution is from Mahendra Dev et al, who, inter alia, point out how, in India, all debate and effort at creating ‘safety nets’ hardly address a group that is at the most pervasive risk on the health front, namely the poor households. In a short but interesting paper, Errol D’Souza shows how tax evasion is regarded by citizens as compensation for ‘unequal and inefficient benefits’ from public sector activity. This is a strong argument in favour of improving governance and, in particular, the delivery of services.

Health and education

The papers on health care (Jayapraksh Narayan) and education (Jandhyala Tilak) discuss the inequalities in the spread of benefits and their delivery across income groups. Narayan speaks about the neglect of preventive and primary care and the promotion of curative medicine, which is becoming more and more sophisticated. He also bemoans the lack of accountability among care providers, both in the private and the public sectors. Tilak makes a persuasive case for increasing public expenditure on education which, he argues, matters significantly for the development of the sector as a whole and ends by referring to the possible harmful effects of reforms on public spending on education.

K. Srinivasulu makes an attempt to break new ground by positing the view that economic reforms are not the cause of the shift in the role of the state and that institutional and ideological processes are critical for the smooth implementation of reforms. While this may be valid, it is necessary to look at how the two relate to one another in a dialectical fashion. There is no doubt that the papers are solid and truly professional. But there seems to be hardly any sparkling contribution, something that lifts the debate to a new high.


A model for rural development

Traces the evolution of a sustainable rural development model for South Asia

THE AGAKHAN RURAL SUPPORT PROGRAMME— A Journey Through Grassroots Development: Shoaib Sultan Khan;

Oxford University Press,

YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road,

New Delhi-110001.

Rs. 725.

U. Subrahmanyam

This book traces the evolution of a sustainable rural development model for South Asian countries, based on Shoaib Sultan Khan’s personal field experiences in the subcontinent after setting out his roots in northern India during pre-Partition days. It takes the reader through the grassroots of development which culminated in a participatory development model ready for emulation by several NGOs and government agencies.

Khan served initially in the civil services of Pakistan and later moved to UNICEF and UNDP projects. Subsequently he worked for 12 years with the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation. His work in the Mahaweli Ganga project (Sri Lanka), a multipurpose irrigation project, is a classic example of participatory development process started as early as in the 1970s where the villagers organised themselves to settle water disputes and increase the farm output.


The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) extended its activities in every single village in Pakistan. Under the existing local structure, there is no statutory body at the village level. The union council, which typically comprises 10 villages with one member from each village, was the only effective body for inter-village planning, and taxation. But it was inadequate for economic development of individual villages and the vacuum was filled by the Village Organisation (V.O). The AKRSP’s objective is to raise the farmer’s income above the subsistence level and help him emerge as a commercial farmer in the long run. The author is clear that AKRSP is an economic programme and not a political one.

The AKRSP, which promoted autonomous rural support programmes, limited its direct involvement to giving the necessary training and concentrated on the development of a viable model. In the process of localising the development, the question arose whether an elected functionary can be bypassed, and Khan’s answer was that a member of the union council, usually a part of the V.O., is not the sole arbiter in the village. Community pressure had a greater force than legal power. Even when formalised, the V.O. will not be a traditional cooperative because it is the general body, rather than the management body, that will rule. The interaction the author had with various V.Os. has been narrated in detail and this should serve as a guide to those engaged in social mobilisation for any development activity.


The principles of community development were well-defined by the AKRSP, but it needed tremendous effort and courage on the part of development workers to make a success of them in practice. The village organisation under the AKRSP is a truly democratic set up requiring the convening of all the members. In such a set-up where everyone is properly trained in taking up development programmes that served the overall interests of the village, there can be no place for bad or selfish leadership, including that of the political variety. In this context, it may not be out of place to make a comparison with the ‘gram sabhas’ functioning in India. It is doubtful whether, the way they are organised, the ‘gram sabhas’ are truly democratic. There is an imperative need for a major initiative for human resource development on a large-scale to revitalise the ‘gram sabhas’, if the various rural development programmes are to be meaningful.

The author is of the view that an NGO engaged in such a development process should be relatively independent of the political change. It should, preferably, not associate itself with any political formation. This is a wakeup call for the Self-Help Groups, which have emerged in large numbers in India. They need to be kept free from politics, if they are to enable the sustainable development of their villages.


In the concluding chapter, where Khan speaks about his visits to the SHGs of the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in Andhra Pradesh, he says the visits brought him closest to witnessing the phenomenon of government departments and functionaries imbibing and emulating a corporate culture like that of the NGOs. He feels Andhra Pradesh has demonstrated a poverty-reduction model unparalleled anywhere in South Asia. The SERP has not stopped with alleviating poverty, as most micro-credit programmes do; it has facilitated millions of poor and destitute families to come out of poverty.

There is also a word of caution from him. Khan is of the view that the Zilla Samakhyas of the SERP will survive and be effective only if the SHGs are viable along with the V.Os. To quote him: “Andhra achieved the most magnificent model of elimination of rural poverty that I know of in the world. The CRP initiative is a fully home grown and a powerful tool to take the programme to the scale.”

The book not only throws light on the socio-political and socio-economic conditions of contemporary rural communities in the subcontinent but provides insights into the Rural Support Programme — a successful and sustainable model initiated by Khan, thanks to his life-time experience in, and commitment to the cause of, rural development. The model needs to be replicated in other parts of South Asia. The publication will make an absorbing reading, particularly to those working in the field of rural development.


Silk Mark launched in Hyderabad

  • 220 manufacturers registered
  • Applicants go through screening process
  • Training component built into process

    SHEEN GUARANTEED: Models displaying Silk Mark sarees at the launch of the nodal office in Hyderabad on Wednesday. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

    HYDERABAD: "Let us work together to help the queen of textiles retain the numero uno status it has enjoyed the past 5,000 years."

    This was the point the Silk Mark Organisation of India (SMOI) sought to drive home to a gathering of master weavers, traders and others connected with the silk industry on Wednesday.

    Three-time Nandi awardee, Laya, clicked a computer mouse to make the Silk Mark symbol appear on two giant screens at the Grand Ballroom of the Taj Krishna. She also released the tamper-proof holograms.

    The SMOI Chairman, H. Basker, said Silk Mark was launched first in Bangalore on June 17, 2004. It was followed by launches in Chennai, Mumbai and a half-dozen silk clusters -- Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu and Dharmavaram, Hindupur and Pochampalli in Andhra Pradesh. The CEO, SMOI, Vandana Kumar said the response to the scheme, sponsored by the Central Silk Board was encouraging.

    Brand equity

    "It has been just over a year since it was launched and we have 220 manufacturers registered with us, using Silk Marks," she said, adding that they were looking at establishing brand equity through the marks, which were numbered, coded and controlled.

    First the applicants go through a screening and certification process, after which they are registered with SMOI and become eligible to use the tamper-proof holograms, which come for Rs. 2 each. A training component is built in, she said. A grievance redressal mechanism was in place and the nine nodal centres would be responsible for seeing that the holograms were not misused, she said. Prominent among those present were the Commissioners, C.S. Ramalakshmi (Sericulture) and T. Satyanarayana Rao (Handlooms), and the Additional Director, Sericulture, B.Venkateswarlu. Those interested in getting details of Silk Mark registration may contact 040-23554447.


  • A radio station turns four

    BANGALORE: On Sunday, Radio City 91 FM turns four. Reason enough for Bangalore's first private radio channel to launch a weeklong extravaganza to mark the event. Radio City fans will get to win a lot of prizes, including a free chopper ride over the city. The gala celebrations kick off on Thursday. In "Who is Wishing Us," Bangaloreans will have to guess the voice of the celebrity attending the bash. The "Mega Fan Mega Prize" will test the listeners' knowledge of the radio station.

    "Every true-blue Bangalorean has music pulsating through his/her veins. Radio City has a slot dedicated to English music beginning from July 18," says Bhaskar Dutt, vice-president and station head, Bangalore.


    Fashion weekend takes Bangalore by storm

    BANGALORE: Think of the malls in Bangalore and you know why fashion shows are drawing people by the hundreds. Flaunting international brands, the malls are triggering fashion consciousness like never before. Big brand names, which were unheard of till a few years ago, are on everyone's lips. To be up there, you need to be chic, trendy and contemporary, so say the rules.

    No wonder then that the crowds swelled at the Shoppers' Stop Bangalore Fashion Weekend. On the second and third day, the finalists and winners of the Runway Model Hunt, L'Oréal Cover Girl Hunt, Happy Dent Miss Beautiful Smile and Lawrence & Mayo Look Award walked the ramp showcasing designer collections.

    The Fashion Weekend started on June 24 with a grand opening show featuring models of the likes of Vidisha Pavate, Kiran Rao, Rachel, Anushka, Shreya, Pashmeena, Mustaffa, Aryan Vaid and Muzamil, who showcased the creations of India's top designers. Among the designers represented were Raghavendra Rathore, Suneet Varma, Deepika Govind and Manoviraj Khosla.

    Bridal wear

    The event started with the L'Oréal Paris Makeup Show followed by an exclusive Leela Palace Bridal Collection from Deepika Govind. The line was in "Muga" silk known as liquid gold for its natural lustre. This was followed by Deepika Govind's collection — Fearless and Free — for the "spunky and free-spirited individual... ." a young and trendy line of tees infused with a mélange of newsprint and psychographics and with unusual cuts. Innovative skirt silhouettes echoed the theme of nonconformity. The collection presented by Manoviraj Khosla for women had a lot of prints. Embellished around the prints were sequins and beads. The fabrics used for women had cotton, linen, silk and chiffon, while those for men had velvet and denim.

    Suneet Varma, known for his dramatic bridal trousseau collections, presented his prêt label, Le Spice. The collection featured themes such as "Fun Factory," "Time Capsule," "Ethno Chic," "Finding Nemo" and "Polka Dots."

    The excitement peaked when the judging for the Runway Model Hunt, L'Oréal Paris Cover Girl Hunt and Happy Dent Miss Beautiful Smile Hunt took place. The winners were announced at the Grand Opening Show with Shambavi Shekar winning the L'Oréal Paris Cover Girl Hunt, Kapali Patne winning the Happy Dent Miss Beautiful Smile Hunt, and Dipitha Shayan bagging the Lawrence & Mayo Look Award.


    A story of determination

    DAVANGERE: He is from a barber's family and helps his father in his profession. But helping his father did not make him slack in his studies.

    B.S. Vijay Kumar scored 93 per cent in the second Pre-University Course exam held this year and stood first in his college, DRM Science College in Davangere. He secured the 3035th and 4922nd ranks respectively for medical and engineering seats in the Common Entrance Test.

    Vijay, who has been performing well all through his academic life, wants to become an electronics engineer. He continues to assist his father in his profession, as he is yet to be admitted to an engineering college. Vijay does not want to pursue his studies elsewhere as he wants to continue assisting his father till he completes his education and gets a job to take care of the family. He hopes to do his engineering at the Bapuji Institute of Engineering and Technology (BIET) or at Brahamappa Devendrappa Thavannappanavar (BDT) Engineering College in Davangere.

    Father proud

    Despite concentrating on his studies, Vijay did never failed to attend to customers at his father's shop. "In spite of telling him to concentrate on his studies instead of assisting me at the shop, Vijay used to continue to do both with ease. He has scored very good marks right from his childhood," recalled Somashekarappa, his father. Despite having studied in a Kannada-medium school from the beginning, Vijay has a good vocabulary in English.

    That Vijay is an extraordinary boy can be seen, and he has indeed set an example for other children.


    Traveller’s tales

    Of encounters in far-flung places.

    Footloose and Fancy-free; Prema Srinivasan. For copies contact Prema Srinivasan, 12 Parthasarathy Gardens, Kasturi Ranga Road, Alwarpet, Chennai 18 or e-mail

    For one who doesn’t like to travel, the best way to learn about other places is travel books. Sit back and let the writer take you to all those places that you’ve heard of or wonder about…

    Prema Srinivasan’s Footloose and Fancy-free covers all the known territories: the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Australia, South Africa… India gets a look-in with Shimla, Puducherry and Tranquebar.

    Down memory lane

    In her preface, the author mentions that most of these were places she had visited with her family; some are reprints of articles published earlier in newspapers and magazines. The first piece, a trip down memory lane, on the Mylapore area of Chennai is perhaps the most evocative. The images of a laidback charming place are in sharp contrast to the congested, traffic-heavy Mylapore we know today.

    Israel begins Srinivasan’s journeys in real earnest. From there you follow her through Switzerland, Greece, the Salisbury Plains, Wessex; Vienna, Yellowstone National Park, South Africa…. Srinivasan sticks to the tried and tested. Greece, Egypt and Israel, for instance, are seen through the prism of myth and history; her descriptions of Wessex are interspersed with references to Thomas Hardy’s books; Shimla’s imperial past is invoked; in Yellowstone and South Africa, the focus is on natural beauty.

    Her text encompasses history, geography, occasionally economics…. Very rarely does her personal view peep through. But that seems to have been her intention. The blurb on the rear cover says that the book “attempts to take the reader across accustomed thresholds, to places known by reputation…” Of the various pieces, the ones that really hold attention are The Aborigine Experience and Cornwall. Overall this is a book to dip into; choose your place, flip through the photographs and dig in for a learning experience.


    A flair for the unusual

    From a sluggish first half, Solo takes flight to a surreal world.

    Solo; Rana Dasgupta, HarperCollins,

    Rs. 395.

    With Solo, Rana Dasgupta again demonstrates an unusual flair for the short story; for, though Solo is a novel, it is really the self-contained, story-like chapters of the second half of the book that are remarkable. In the latter part, the writing frees itself from an uneasy heavy-handedness that slows down and mars the book’s first part.

    No doubt the first half is meant to give readers a sense of the sluggish, unrelenting pathos of real life (which does get through), however the structure seems unable to prevent the reading from occasionally becoming a little tedious.

    But, for a large part of the first half, Solo does read well; a few sharp cuts might have prevented readers from getting a little fed with how long it takes the writer to show us what life means for the 100-year-old, blind Ulrich, sitting alone in his derelict flat and re-membering his own listless past and that of his country.

    The good thing is that the second part begins just when one is wondering whether or not to consider abandoning the book, and lo! what follows is so energetic that one totally forgives the little tedium of what went before. Solois conceived as two ‘movements’ — called ‘Life’ and ‘Daydreams’ — with ‘Daydreams’ soaring into flight, fuelled by the literal, realistic, chronologies of ‘Life’. Without ‘Life’, ‘Daydreams’ would be impossible!

    Controlled narrative

    In ‘Life’, there is the controlled narration of Ulrich’s journey to his present state of helpless compliance, powerless to shut out the invasion of neighbourhood smells and the sting of his own past. In the chapters that follow, Ulrich’s character is fleshed out, with events in his life that often depend on or are controlled by those that are happening to his country, Bulgaria, which is being slowly undone and reorganised as a unit of the Soviet Union. But perhaps because the patterns — of fate in a man’s life, and power in a country’s existence — are large and often repetitive, there is a feeling of going around in the same place, and the plot loses a little of its charm.

    Ulrich is an interesting character, interestingly written; when he goes from part one to part two, he is not only a very different person, but also becomes a delicate clasp for the two sections. The annoying, pathetic, stale, person that we have had enough of is here freed of the shackles of his own ineffectiveness and becomes animated with a charming vision of life.

    Crazy charm

    ‘Daydreams’, the second half, has the momentum and all the crazy charm of a series of daydreams; it takes us back to characters and events from the first part, who — now unburdened of their baggage of history and chronology — fly about the pages like the outlandish but endearing figures from some surreal composition. In this section, perhaps because the plot requirements are not so locked in, the narrative structure is much more inviting, far less demanding and also more rewarding. ‘Daydreams’ is a madcap flourish that shakes off the restraints of time, space and logic so that nothing holds down the plot. And yet, as in Tokyo Cancelled, there’s nothing coming loose from or threatening to topple the total structure.

    Rana Dasgupta is at home here. This is the voice we heard in Tokyo Cancelled, but honed clearer and purer, the voice of someone who can spin such tales that we are, at least for the moment, transported out of ourselves into another world of enchanting characters, whose lives are wild flashes on the page: Khatuna, Irakli, Boris, Ulrich and so many more.

    Rana Dasgupta is an interesting storyteller, whose particular strengths are by now clear to readers, one looks forward to his next, a book set in Delhi.


    Intimacy of killing

    Intimacy of killing” might sound incongruous, but that is what “killology” founder Lt.Col. Dave Grossman seeks to detail in his 1995 Pulitzer shortlisted book On Killing. It has since — particularly post 9/11 — become required reading at many military schools and law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

    In its initial appearance, the book was primarily a detailed study of how armies the world over developed ways to make troops overcome the aversion to kill after it became evident that nearly 85 per cent of riflemen did not fire their weapon at an exposed enemy even to save their own lives or that of their comrades in World War II.

    By the time of the Vietnam War, this “Johnny-can’t-kill” syndrome had been dealt with through psychological conditioning and the non-firing rate was reduced to five per cent but at a huge psychological cost; making Grossman assert that man by nature is not a killer despite the increase in violence in day-to-day existence.

    And, that seems to be his main concern in this updated version of On Killingwhich includes suicide bombings, school killings and recent trends in crime. A recurrent theme in this book is the connection between violence projected in the media/celebrated in interactive video games and aggressive behaviour in children. In them, he sees a replication — minus the mandatory safeguards — of the conditioning used to enable soldiers and law-enforcement officers to kill.

    In fact, Grossman’s submission is that the growing aggression in society due to violence-enabling in the electronic media poses a major threat to civilisation; second only to an attack with weapons of mass destruction by a terrorist group/nation. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Lt.Col. Dave Grossman, Little, Brown and Company, Rs. 595.


    The Making and Working of the Indian Constitution, Shibani Kinkar Chaube, National Book Trust, Rs. 70.

    For Shibani Kinkar Chaube, the Indian Constitution is not just a body of law that the Indian people gave to themselves. “It is as much politics as it is positive law,” is the submission of the retired professor of Political Science in this National Book Trust (NBT) publication.

    So, instead of going into the legalese, Chaube dwells on the politics that shaped the Indian Constitution while explaining some of its salient features, the amendments and the circumstances that dictated these changes, the aberrations, and some of the controversies.

    Sticking strictly to the mandate he gave himself — to tell the story of the longest Constitution in the world — Chaube’s book makes for easy speed reading of a journey that began before 1947. As he maps the journey, Chaube draws parallels with other Constitutions, points out the borrowed features, and flags the trouble spots and the difficulties that the executive has had negotiating the diversities of the Indian nation despite the founding fathers’ attempts to anticipate such eventualities and address them through the Constitution.

    Jai Telangana

    Telangana: The State of Affairs, M. Bharath Bhushan and N. Venugopal, AdEd Value Ventures, Rs. 250.

    Ever a festering issue in Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana question assumed national significance after a three-decade hiatus since the Jai Telangana Movement in the wake of the 2004 electoral alliance between the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

    Sensing the widespread ignorance outside the State about the Telangana issue, M. Bharath Bhushan and N. Venugopal have sought to explain the rationale for the demand for separate Statehood in this collection of research articles on the region and literature from the area. Through these varied approaches, the attempt is to explain the reasons for the sense of alienation felt by the people of Telangana; traced in a 1969 vintage article by Duncan B. Forrester to the region being under Nizam’s rule for 200 years, cut away from the “rest of the Telugu country”.

    Given that Telangana has become a major election issue in the State, the book examines whether polls foster separatism and uses government data to show how the region is lagging behind the coastal and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh to make out a case for a separate identity. Also thrown in are two short stories in translation — the delightful “Golla Ramavva” by former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and “Bhoomi” by the doyen of Telugu short stories, Allam Rajayya.


    A critical failure

    At first glance, literary criticism seems a purely reactive enterprise; an appraisal of creative output that both logically and chronologically arrives after the fact. But it is much more than that. Just as the gardener’s pruning shapes the growth of the plant, criticism gives direction to creativity. A critical culture envelops writers, whispering suggestions of subject and style – and the majority of writers depend on the suggestions. Otherwise they might not know what to say. The same critical culture guides readers too, and helps them comprehend the books they are given. Otherwise they might not know what to think.

    No clarity

    So if Indian English fiction today seems a disjointed cacophony of voices, with no discernible shared themes or values to lend some shape to its burgeoning mass, the ultimate fault is of our critical imaginations. They have not clarified the standards, by which writers may know their material, and readers may know their books. What standards we have got, are superficial and misleading, and the products of insecurity.

    Judged by the number of international literary awards it has won, and the pace at which it has won them, Indian English fiction must be among the world’s finest. The list of winners is impressive- Rushdie, Roy, Lahiri, Desai, Adiga. And it seems only natural that we should accept these victories as aids to our judgment. Surely it is safe to say that a book by an Indian author, so successful on the world stage, is an exemplar of Indian writing in English? But truthfully, not at all, because fiction writing is not a sport. An Indian cricket team winning the World Cup is almost certainly a greater achievement than the same team winning domestically, since at the international level the rules are the same and the competition is likely much tougher. But in fiction, there are no rules, and the ‘competition’ is incommensurable. All there is, at the back of every book, is a certain sensibility, the writer’s mind, expressed for better or worse. And the act of reading is a meeting of minds. So when a book by an Indian writer wins a foreign prize, it makes more sense to be suspicious than thrilled. It may well be that the book is not really Indian writing, not really an Indian mind on paper, but a more or less foreign one. Perhaps that is why it won. At any rate, the inquiry must be made, and to shirk the inquiry, to focus on the fact of the prize, and to declare on its basis a triumph for Indian writing in English, is to leave the critical job undone. It is to continue to accept other people’s opinions, without looking for one’s own.

    Kiran Nagarkar once observed: “Research is not fiction. Very often it is passed off as fiction, especially in this country.” These are insightful words. Non-fiction continually outperforms fiction in our English language market, perhaps because its utility is clear on the face of it, while the case for fiction is less easily grasped. It needs to be made, clearly and effectively, but it hasn’t been, and so a strange and pervasive theory has come to hold sway, that the best fiction is really just non-fiction with a storyline.


    According to this theory, the internal crises of characters, the play of their thoughts, the analysis of their emotions, do not suffice: ‘hard facts’ are needed, politics, history and sociology must be dropped as paperweights to prevent the frail fictional edifice from fluttering away. Many literary heavyweights adhere to this theory, and with seeming impunity. But the greater the emphasis on reportage the greater the disconnect between the writer and his characters, and the less the human insight. Then why the great emphasis? Perhaps, as Amitava Kumar has written, “the painstaking attempt at verisimilitude... betrays the anxiety about authenticity.” A writer “concerned about losing touch with the society he took as his subject...[might] invest in an aesthetic of observation and reportage... to build banks against the rising tide of that worry.”

    Nowadays, it is usual to read and hear that middle class India is growing ever more self-confident and ever more globally powerful. All too often, however, the hallmarks of this way of thinking are an uncritical celebration of money, personal aggrandizement and faux liberalism. Businessmen and industrialists are the heroes of the movement, but artists are welcome to join- provided they toe the line. And therefore a new breed of Indian English fiction has come to be published and lauded, not because it is good, but because it is the fashion. A book that is ‘light’ and ‘breezy’, doesn’t have much to say but says it glibly, pats its chosen establishment on the back, and takes aim at nothing but good taste, will fit the bill. The operating tyranny here is that one mustn’t be a spoilsport- you cannot seriously criticize a ‘fun’ book. A great deal of ‘chick-lit’, for example, is thus allowed to fly under the radar. But this is literary criticism at its most superficial; it is almost literally judging a book by its cover, as though the only important story on offer is the writer’s ‘success story.’ Naturally, it provides no means of judgement, only adds to the prevailing peer pressure.

    The extent of foreign acclaim, non-fictional content, and trendiness - what do these spurious standards of criticism have in common? They are each proof of a cultural insecurity. We resort to other people’s verdicts, hide behind detail, and pile onto bandwagons, because we are shy of accepting that we have minds of our own. The literature of other Indian languages suffers from no such crises of identity; but as to Indian writing in English, Naipaul has rightly diagnosed, “India has no means of judging.... India’s poverty and colonial past, the riddle of the two civilizations, continue to stand in the way of identity and strength and intellectual growth.”

    And yet we cannot accept the air of finality about that assertion, because after all, it is the writer’s very job- and pride and joy: to solve such riddles. The fact is, that the lives of English-speaking Indians, their specific social situations, their emotional crises and predicaments, are as real as anybody’s, and as fertile a ground for literature, as anybody’s. The test of the worth of Indian English fiction must, therefore, be the same as the test of any fiction. It is the test of interior honesty, which is achieved only by accepting your material and making something of it and with candour, not a nervous laugh or a running apology. What is more, we do have writers who have attempted this task, and some of them have even tasted great domestic success. Unfortunately, their success has perhaps been mis-analyzed. I would suggest, for example, that the popularity of Chetan Bhagat’s books is not because they are written so ‘simply’ or imagined so crudely; it is because, in spite of their many glaring artistic and other shortcomings, they honestly have something to say. There are others, also, who have things to say, and the only fair way of judging them is on the merits of what they have said and how well they have said it. That way lies literary criticism, and a little further on, maybe, a new national literature.