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PM, Please Act Against Graft This perhaps is your last chance

    THE indefinite fast by Team Anna in Delhi has once again brought corruption in India back to the front pages of newspapers and prime-time discussions in the TV channels. 
       After a series of scams tumbled into the public domain, the Congress-led UPA government launched into action, initiating cosmetic investigations by the pliable CBI. A few ‘known’ faces were arrested and put behind bars. It is not surprising that now, each one of them is out, some even back where they were before the arrest, a la Kalmadi. The Congress strategy was to pretend to be responsive to the public outcry. After tempers cooled off, the scamsters were released on various grounds. 
       One of the important provisions of the Lok Pal Bill, as designed by the public is to free the CBI from the government clutches and make it an independent constitutional body. This has now become imperative, given the way the premier investigative agency has been dancing to political tunes. It goes flip-flop on cases involving political leaders, as per the latest directions from the Congress high command. Like a sniffer dog it has been at the heels of the Andhra leader Jagan Mohan Reddy while it has suddenly gone coy over the DA (disproportionate assets) cases against bothMayawati and Mulayam Singh. It is reported that the Congress used the ‘proof’ of several improprieties of MulayamSingh and his family to make him fall in line with UPA over the presidential election.  If political grapevine is to bebelieved, Mayawati has sought Congress’ ‘protection’ from any vindictive action by the Akhilesh government in UPover her omissions and commissions as Chief Minister.
        There is hardly any sector in India which has escaped large scale corruption under this government. Food, industry,telecom, defence, sports, aviation, rural schemes and health -- to name only a few. India’s aviation story can make agood text-book case in bad management. At a time when the sector was growing, successive ministers and thestructure have killed it. Today, the flyers are paying fares that are exorbitant and the services have come down. Theroad transport and highways ministry made an unverified claim a few days ago that 1.25 lakh kilometers of road havebeen laid in each of the last eight years.  It is anybody’s guess where these roads are. The situation in power sector isdeplorable. Several small units have shut down because they became unsustainable without power. On the whole theinfrastructure is in a shambles. The general comment one hears from the public is that the situation can improve onlywhen this government is out. The jokes about the Prime Minister and Congress party president are doing the roundsin SMS and the net and has even got mention in such serious journals as The Economist and Time. It is now beingincreasingly seen that the fountainhead of all corruption in the country is an extra constitutional power that is controllingthe government. There is a coterie that protects this power, in which a section of the media too is a willing player. Asmentioned in these columns before not only does India lack a resurgent opposition, it badly needs a combative andcritical media that is apolitical and non-partisan.
        A Prime Minister who had no political baggage and who enjoyed a good image in the public at least initially couldhave achieved much. Much more than what Manmohan Singh has to show in his report card. If he had set his heart,he could have worked, even with one hand tied behind the back. To do that, one would need a strong sense ofcommitment and a burning sense of patriotism within. Need we say more?

Deport Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators save Assam


VHP urges President Pranab Mukherjee
undefinedTHE Vishwa Hindu Parishad urged the President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee to immediately form a Tribunal to deport all Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators from Assam and also from other states of India to prevent further ethnic cleansing of Bharat’s own citizens.

In a letter written by VHP working president Dr Pravin Togadia on July 26, the VHP also demanded immediate compensation of minimum Rs 7,00,000 for those died and Rs 4,00,000 to those who got injured in the attacks over the years and now staying in relief camps. The VHP also demanded rebuilding the houses of the victims at the same place where they lived. “These facilities should be given only to the local tribes, other Hindus and non-Muslims,” the VHP emphasised in the letter. The copy of letter has also been sent to the Prime Minister, Union Home Minister, the Supreme Court of India, the Chief Minister of Assam, office of Human Rights – United Nations, New York and New Delhi and the Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha.

In the letter the VHP said the Tribunal to be formed to deport Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators should have members from the Army, those retired and served most part in Assam so that they are well aware of the situation there, the socio-cultural experts to understand the importance of original tribes in Bharat and the legal experts to give justice to all the tribes who have been facing attacks by Bangladeshis. “This Tribunal also should set the deadline for time as to until when the Bangladeshi Infiltrators will be deported fully without getting into the ploy that they have voter ID so they are Bharat’s citizens because for vote bank, many have been given such documents which otherwise are given to Bharat’s other citizens with much verifications,” the letter said.
     The letter also said that just like the authorities ignored first, then neglected and then manipulated the ethnic cleansing in Kashmir done by Pakistan supported separatist groups, the Assam’s systematic ethnic cleansing of local tribes, other Hindus and other Non-Muslims is being ignored by the authorities knowing fully well that the happenings in Assam are the systematic efforts of Bangladesh helped by jehadi elements to create Greater Bangladesh and socio-politically occupy Assam and many parts of North Eastern Bharat. “Kashmir situation has gone out of control and now Assam too going the same direction. Unfortunately, the citizens of Bharat are made into minority there by the invading Bangladeshi infiltrators,” the letter added.
The letter said that Bangladeshi infiltrators settled in Assam with the help of local politicians who have been using this large group as their vote bank. Therefore, the ethnic cleansing by these infiltrators is although not directly state sponsored in a technical terms, but it has a socio-political blessing of those who win based on these votes.
     “Despite continued blasts, other jehadi attacks by terrorist groups and the systematic Pak/Bangladesh sponsored activities like burning big habitats of local tribes, hoisting Pak/Bangladesh flags, reducing local population to minority by directly killing them and also by adding more to Bangladeshi Muslim population there by continued illegal influx, both Union Government and the state Government of Assam have been claiming that there have been no hand of Bangladesh in Assam violence. This is not mere violence between two groups like Bodo and Muslims as both the Governments are trying to project. (this refers to the statement given by the Union Home Secretary and also by the CM of Assam on July 26, 2012 that there had not been any hand of Bangladesh in violence in Assam). This is a systematic Ethnic Cleansing of local age-old tribes and other citizens of Bharat as it happened in Kashmir during partition and around 1990. Similarly, the Government was in denial about Kashmir regarding Pakistan’s hand in Kashmir Ethnic Cleansing. Today, Pakistan has been responsible for umpteen jehadi attacks in and on Bharat where many innocent lives are lost almost daily in Kashmir and in other parts and this is now the official Government stand. Therefore, Mr. President, without wasting much time – already it is late -   you in your capacity as the Constitutional Head of the nation and as the 1st Citizen of Bharat, need to immediately intervene in Assam situation to stop ethnic cleansing of local tribes and other original citizens of Bharat there,” the letter said.    

Urgent need to sensitise rest of India about North-East India

 Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
    "IT is certainly a matter of worry that even after 64 years of Independence, the North-Eastern states are still apparently backward and lag behind in many sectors. I believe one of the primary reasons for it is the unawareness and apathy by fellow countrymen towards the region. It is definitely perilous and we need to change the mindset,” said director of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and political adviser to BJP national president Shri Nitin Gadkari. He was delivering a lecture in New Delhi on July 12 on north-eastern states. The lecture was organised by BJP’s North-East India Sampark Cell.
With the help of a power-point presentation, he sought to underline the reasons why North-Eastern states faced the problems of under-development and what can help these states step forward. “It is a matter of common knowledge that not only citizens of North-Eastern states but also those belonging to other parts of the country faced humiliation when they migrated to other states. However, we hope and believe that the day is not far when this discrimination with  North-Eastern people shall be eradicated by way of awareness and moral development and everyone will be treated with respect. It will also require sensitising people and we are committed to the cause,” he added.
    The lecture was inaugurated by Shri Mahendra Pandey, national coordinator of the Morchas and Cells of the BJP. Shri Tapir Gao, former MP and national general secretary of BJP and Shri Sunil Deodhar, national convener of the North-East India Sampark Cell were also present on the occasion.
Shri Deodhar welcomed the guests by presenting them Manipuri mats. During the function, a short film, showcasing the work carried out by the North-East Sampark Cell, was also screened. Setting out the function, Shri Deodhar highlighted the problems being faced by the citizens of North-Eastern states and pointed out that their migration to other states of the country was attributable to acute lack of employment, education and other reasons. “Moreover, one of the states, Arunachal Pradesh, is also under threat by China, also jeopardising the safety of security of the people. An intelligence report corroborates this threat,” he said.
   Commencing the lecture series Shri Mahendra Pandey emphasised on the lack of efforts in ameliorating the state of affairs in the North-East regions. "We tried to do some positive work during the NDA regime, led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But we also realise a lot is still required to be done to change the situation in the North-East regions and make sure they develop like other parts of the country,” said Shri Pandey.
   Shri Tapir Gao put spotlight on history books that refrained from telling the students in India and across the globe that North-East states were the only parts of the country, which were never colonised and brought to control by outsiders. “Tales of bravery and independence of North-East states must be brought to the knowledge of the world. It is discriminatory that their contribution in India's war of independence fails to find mention in any history book. The new generation must be apprised of the history of North-Eastern states,” added Shri Gao.
(Report by Lalit Bhardwaj and Pooja Jain)

Jagadish Shettar to fast track development work

Guru Prasad R
   SENIOR BJP leader from North Karnataka Shri Jagadish Shettar took oath on July 12 as the 21st CM of Karnataka, while the Karnataka BJP unit president KS Eshwarappa and the former Minister R Ashoka took oath as DCMs.  31 others took oath as Ministers.
   A swayamsevak since childhood Shri Jagadish Shettar entered into political arena through ABVP. In 1994, he became the  president of BJP, Dharwad district, and took charge as the State BJP president in 2005. He won the first election in 1994 by winning Hubli rural constituency. Again in 1999 he won from the same constituency with a lead of 25000 votes. He retained  the same seat in 2004 with a margin of 26000 votes and for a record 4th time  he won the seat  in 2008  with a margin of 26500 votes.
  It is the second time in the history of Karnataka politics that three Chief Ministers have ruled the state within a single term of Governament. Earlier the Congress Government  had three Chief Ministers namely Veerendra Patil, S Bangarappa and Veerappa Moily. Now the BJP Government saw three Chief Ministers BS Yeddyurappa, Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar ruling the state.
  Jagadish Shettar addressed the first press conference in Vidhana Soudha after swearing in as Chief Minister and said that balanced development of the State is his priority. “I have resolved to make dedicated efforts to build the State with the active support and co-operation of all the legislators and leaders of my party as well as the opposition parties,” he said. He promised that he would honestly strive to continue and implement all these welfare and developmental initiatives with renewed vigor through a harmonious relation and consensus decisions with all his cabinet colleagues, legislators and leaders from the opposition. Shri Shettar expressed his desire to work for the welfare of the drought affected people on a high priority by providing relief to the affected.
Due to the good governance during the last four years, today Karnataka is in the top position among  the states of the country in sectors like transport, e-governance, implementation of NREGA, empowerment of Panchayat Raj and rural development he added.

Retail trade and its importance to Indian Economy

VK Singh
   RETAILING in India is one of the pillars of its economy and accounts for about 15 per cent of its GDP. After Agriculture it is the largest sector, which employs the largest number of people in India. The Indian retail market is estimated to be US $450 billion or 2, 34,952.20 crore and one of the top five retail markets in the world by economic value. It is estimated that India's retail organised industry, employs directly about 40 million Indians (3.3 per cent of Indian population) or 4 crore people with around 1.3 retails organised outlets. If we include the unorganised sector and the employees of organised sector and their dependents this figure will sour to above 20 crore people. India has about 11 shop outlets for every 1000 people.
  The organised retail market is growing at 35 per cent annually while growth of unorganised retail sector is pegged at 6 per cent. Organised retailing, absent in most rural and small towns of India in 2010, refers to trading activities undertaken by licenced retailers, that is, those who are registered for sales tax, income tax, etc. These include the publicly-traded supermarkets, corporate-backed hypermarkets and retail chains, and also the privately owned large retail businesses. Unorganised retailing, on the other hand, refers to the traditional formats of low-cost retailing, for example, the local mom and pop store, owner manned general stores, paan/beedi shops, convenience stores, hand cart and pavement vendors, etc.
  India has topped the AT Kearney’s annual Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) for the third consecutive year, maintaining its position as the most attractive market for retail investment.
   Foreign retailers have already started operations in India through various routes: (i) joint ventures where the Indian firm is an export house; (ii) franchising  (eg. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Nike); (iii) sourcing of supplies from small-scale sector; (iv) ‘cash and carry’ operations (Giant in Hyderabad, Metro in Bangalore) 3; (v) non-store formats – direct marketing (Amway). Large international retailers of home furnishing and apparels such as Pottery Barn, the Gap and Ralph Lauren have made India one of their major sourcing hubs. Up to 100 per cent FDI is allowed in ‘cash and carry’ operations. The Great Wholesaling Club Ltd is one such example. In February 2002, the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, opened a global sourcing office in Bangalore. In November 2006, it announced its entry under a joint venture with the Indian corporation Bharti.
Economist Mohan Guruswamy of the Centre for Policy Alternatives warns that companies like WalMart will serve only to elite Indians. The average Walmart store will displace 11,200 people and replace them with 285 people.
  Throughout the world it is known fact that huge investment is not required to open a retail shop. Investment is required to build infrastructure  for shop, sophisticated technology is not required in retail trade.
  Small retail shops provide more employment then large chain of retail stores. Big FDI companies, instead of developing under developed areas these stores capture prime commercial property in cities. If allowed in India they will first buy goods from producers in bulk and sell it at less margin and hence routing out small traders from trades. When small traders are out then they will monopolise the trade and charge exorbitant price for goods and commodities. Independent stores will close, leading to massive job losses. Walmart will lower prices to dump goods, get competition out of the way, become a monopoly, then raise prices. We have seen this in the case of the soft drinks industry. Pepsi and Coke came in and wiped out all the domestic brands. India doesn't need foreign retailers, since homegrown companies and traditional markets may be able to do the job.Work will be done by Indians, profits will go to foreigners. Remember, East India Company. It entered India as a trader and then took over politically.

Tracking the source of terror Ten-year US hunt for Osama

Manju Gupta
Manhunt: From 9/11 to Abbottabad - The Ten-Year Search for Osama Bin Laden, Peter Bergen, The Bodley Head, Pp 359, £ 14.99
   THIS is a racy account of the most intensive and expensive manhunt of all time for Osama bin Laden, the founder of the Al-Qaeda and mastermind behind the 9,11 attacks. The real life story begins against Abbottabad’s placid environs half a decade after Osama bin Laden’s victory on 9/10. It is one of the last places in Pakistan that anyone would have suspected him of living there with his three wives, children and grandchildren. He allowed his first wife, a Syrian, to leave him as she wanted to go home and see her family in Syria. The other three lived with him, with the youngest called Amal, who was barely 17 when he married her at age 43.
   We learn for instance, that bin Laden’s two older wives, both academicians, taught the children Arabic and read from the Quran in a bedroom on the second floor, while his youngest wife lived on the third floor with him. About every day apparently, the al-Qaeda leader, a strict disciplinarian, lectured his family about how the children should be brought up. Nowhere were bin Laden’s living conditions particularly salubrious. Peter Bergen says that a tiny bathroom off the bedroom that bin Laden shared with his Yemeni third wife had green tiles on the walls but none on the floor, a rudimentary squat toilet and a cheap plastic shower. In his bathroom, Berger tells us, bin Laden (54 when he died) regularly applied ‘Just for Men’ dye on his hair and beard. Next to the bedroom was the toilet and the kitchen which was the size of a large closet and across the hall was bin Laden’s study, where he kept his books on crude wooden shelves and tapped away on his computer. There was no air conditioning.
   Such details remind us that for all the monstrosity of his views and acts, he was human. There have been times in the past decade when the Saudi-born son of a construction tycoon and veteran of the Afghan war, appeared more myth than a man.
   This manhunt for bin Laden is supposed to have cost, in terms of funds funnelled to American intelligence services over the past decade, somewhere around half a million dollars. Bergen points out that at its heart, it was an astonishingly small number of CIA operatives, no more than would fill a small conference room and an equally restricted group of senior policy makers who participated in the hunt.
Peter Bergen, a former TV journalist, considered one of the most reliable and perceptive specialists in the now expansive field of al-Qaeda studies, managed to get himself into the house in this northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad where bin Laden lived from around 2005 with his family and how they spent their time in hiding.
   Though Osama bin Laden’s initial stance was total denial of his role in the attacks on the Twin Towers in USA, he is reported to have admitted later, “What America tastes now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. Our nation (the Islamic world) has tasted this humiliation and this degradation for more than 80 years.”
   After reading about 100 pages of the book, the narrative picks up momentum as Berger describes how analysts assembled and went through a huge amount of information from multiple detainee interviews and from thousands of al-Qaeda documents recovered on the battlefield or following the arrests of its operators. 
In the hunt for bin Laden, the person that interested the hunters, that is the Western powers, was a Pakistani who had grown up in Kuwait and who appeared to be some kind of a fixer for al-Qaeda. Nobody knew exactly what he did, but the efforts of senior captured militants to downplay his importance to al-Qaeda set up alarm bells in the CIA. The analytical case that ‘the Kuwaiti’ might be the key to finding the al-Qaeda leader was first made in a memo by CIA officials in August 2010 under the title, ‘Closing in on Osama bin Laden’s Courier’. A month later, a second more detailed account, titled ‘Anatomy of a Lead’, was put together. By this time, CIA ‘assets’ had located him in the border town of Peshawar and had trailed him back to the Abbottabad base.
  The book has to be read to get the feel of the atmosphere and the description of the site of attack to visualise what it must have been like when the USA launched its attack.   
(The Bodley Head, Random House Group, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA;


A valuable study on Indian film industry

Ashish Joshi
The Magic of Bollywood, Anjali Gera Roy (Ed),  Sage Publications,  Pp 334, Rs 750.00
   OFTEN compared unjustly to its more affluent, professional counterpart, Hollywood, in the past two decades, Bollywood, a catch-all term for the Indian film industry, seems to have come into its own. Perhaps India’s best-known export to the West, Bollywood works on several levels. It brings the many shades of India vividly to life on the screen-weaving together tales from the lawless, remote hinterland, where existence is more or less hand-to-mouth, to the stories of people navigating their way through the labyrinthine maze of the big bad cities, where crime is a way of life. At another level, it connects the many NRIs (non-resident Indians) who, despite their varied cultures, can relate to the stories so vividly depicted on the screen. Most NRIs spend their free time catching up on the latest Indian film releases (my Sydney-based sister being one!). It is something that offers a sense of community bonding, a sort of umbilical link with the motherland. It is an affirmation of their faith in their own culture in an alien and at times hostile land. They may no longer have Indian passports, but Bollywood is just a DVD-rental store away!
     Bollywood was popular right from the time India became an independent nation. Apart from India, it found popularity in Pakistan, the Middle East, Turkey, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. It was and remains a big draw among the NRIs in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. With India on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s three biggest economies, Bollywood is poised to grow even bigger and command an audience in countries where Indian films traditionally have had a smaller market. So, what is it the secret behind Bollywood’s enduring popularity? Is it the drama, the sometimes unconventional storylines or the interplay of emotions between the characters? Or is it the colourful song-and-dance routine that keeps audiences mesmerised? How far will Bollwood’s ‘soft power’ go in ensuring India has a bigger role on the global playing field in the coming decades? Deftly edited by Anjali Gera Roy, The Magic of Bollywood attempts to answer some of these questions against the backdrop of an increasingly globalising world order. The essays in this volume address Bollywood’s popularity in and outside South Asia, especially among the disapora-and the role it plays in international relations and diplomacy.
    The term ‘soft power’ was coined by the American political scientist Joseph Nye; it simply means to get what you want through persuasion rather than brute force. American fashions, Hollywood and its music are all a manifestation of United States’ ‘soft power’ that has dominated and impacted the world like no other. It was in fact Nye who commented in 2006 at Davos that Indian films, with an audience across the globe, are symbolic of the country’s ‘soft power’. In fact Bollywood has become inextricably linked with the image of India’s ‘soft power’, a testament to its global appeal. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bollywood has probably become India’s most enduring brand. Brand Bollywood, as essayist M K Raghavendra comments in the second chapter, is defined by ‘a certain kind of allure produced by a characteristic visual excess brought in by spectacle, choreography, costume and music’. Its influence can be felt in Indian restaurants, clothing, and décor.
   The book also charts the impact of Bollywood in countries, such as Pakistan, Senegal, Indonesia and Germany, where the embrace of Hollywood is all-pervading. It is interesting to note that another country where Bollywood is really popular is Russia-perhaps in part due to the twonations’ shared communist ideologies? Another reason Indian films have a significant presence in Russia is due to their portrayal of themes, such as alienation and loss of identity due to globalisation, something which finds resonance amongst the middle class in both societies whereinequality is rampant. Blighted by decades of bloody wars, Afghanistan has nevertheless also shown an interest in Bollywood films. Sushma Swaraj, the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister in the NDA government spoke of ‘this entertainment and media explosion, which hasbrought India closer to its diaspora. More important is the fact that the diaspora has also majorly contributed in fuelling this growth.’ She went on to suggest that each Indian media and cultural icon was potentially ‘our’ unofficial ambassador abroad. 
   Scholarly and engaging, these essays explore the role of Bollywood through the prism of its ‘soft power’ to disseminate Indian culture and traditions to a wider audience. Experts from an array of fields, such as literature, cultural studies, music, media, sociology and theatre bring their perspectives to cover a raft of issues on the Bollywoodisation of culture and its power to influence issues of social and political relevance. If you are looking for a discussion of popular Bollywood films through the decades, skip this book. This is a serious work, a clinical study of the underpinnings of the world’s largest film industry, the issues that make it tick and its future in a rapidly changing and uncertain world.       
(Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, B1/I-1, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, Post Bag 7, New Delhi -110 044,  


Guilt and depression A fascinating read

Nidhi Mathur
From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression, Clark Lawlor, Oxford University Press, Pp 265 (HB), $ 20.49
   GUILT is often linked to depression, as Dr Samuel Johnson himself recognised. Despite being bestowed the glamour of literary fame, he, the ‘Great Cham’ of English literature and towering giant of the Enlightenment, suffered from crushing despair and ‘misery’ characteristic of the condition. Compared to physical pain, the mental turmoil that he endured was far worse. His physical ailments at the end of his life, gout and asthma among them, prevented him from disentangling his physical symptoms from the psychological malady. Johnson’s life was long and his depression came and went with varying degrees of severity and with different forces driving it.
   The author of this book is of the view that ‘duty’ breeds guilt and guilt, melancholy – all the more insidious and difficult to ignore than immoral images conjured by the imagination. He says that it became clear later that Johnson’s depression was fuelled by religious guilt, initially in the form of regret that he had talked against religion in his earlier years and then because he applied impossible standards of behaviour on himself when older. In an essay titled ‘Idler’, Johnson rejected both pagan philosophies of the Epicureans and the Stoics and instead, pointed to Christianity as the only permanent solution to loss and sorrow. It must be remembered, however, that he had a terror of death – increasing with age –and found it difficult to believe that any rational person would not be afraid of their final judgement. 
   In classical writings, depression was not called depression but the term ‘melancholia’ commonly indicated a long, running mental illness with core symptoms of causeless sadness and fear that derived from an excess of black bile – the melancholy humour – one of the four humours supposed to constitute the body. Ancient Greeks considered causeless fear and sorrow as the foundation for melancholy, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, though in modern medicine this is not taken to be true.
  The author makes an unusual observation to say, “If literature was slow to realise the potential for intellectual and creative depth in the character of the melancholic, it made up for it later, not least due to the powerful intervention of Aristotle or – more likely – one of his followers who linked melancholy with genius.”
  The author is of the view that anti-depressants carry a placebo effect and in essence do not work, but social psychiatry is said to work as it is considered an acknowledgement of the social pressures on people rather than individual chemical pathologies to fit in the modern agenda. His conclusion is that depression requires more extended talking cures, though with drugs.
(Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP)


Test of times How humanity battled terror through ages

Dr R Balashankar
The Terror of History – On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization, Teofilo F Ruiz, Princeton University Press,Pp 178 (HB), $ 24.95
    THE world history has several moments of terrible anguish—wars, diseases, executions. How do human beings deal with it? Centuries later, looking back at those terror moments give answers to the way people behaved when face to face with certain death and depravation. In a highly thought-provoking and rather sad book, The Terror of History – On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization author Teofilo F. Ruiz discusses the essentially three ways in which human beings have always reacted.
   They either take to religion in a feverish way, or they cut off from the society and seclude themselves to save their lives or indulge in fun and frolic, to live the remaining days of life in gay abandon. An exceptional few stay on in the location of tragedies to help and offer comfort. There is nothing unusual in history about being terrorised, he says. Quoting Mircea Eliade (Romanian historian-philosopher) he says the early homo sapiens dreaded the evening. Now, we live in our own fear of an atomic holocaust.
   Ruiz’s entire discourse is about the West. “The Scientific Revolution that transformed European thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was paralleled by the untold cruelties of religious warfare and the savagery of the witch craze. The same people who zealously advanced science were firm believers in the existence of witches and complicit in their destruction.” He goes on to mention how even in this technologically advanced times, large segments of the population in the US firmly believe that the end is near and that a select few would be directly taken to god. Ruiz denounces the fact that almost one third of the US Presidential candidates in 2008 said they did not accept Darwin’s theory of evolution and they thought that torture was “rational” way to deal with terrorists.
   Quoting the story of Buddha, Ruiz says, when awakened to the fact of human miseries Gautama chose a path of action that will set him free from this endless wheel of life. “For Westerners, this idea of nothingness as the goal of one’s life is a hard pill to take.” Ruiz goes on to explain how religion becomes a succour for most suffering people, despite its contradictions, what with religious history being replete with violence. Then there are people who embrace material pleasures from buying sprees to eating and drinking binges to overcome their terror. This includes indulging in physical pleasures. The third category fall in the pursuit of knowledge, art, beauty, of things that are secular. “Throughout human experience, love has always provided a forceful antidote to the terror of history.” Both sensual and romantic love.
  The governments then and now use several methods of distracting the public from the reigning causes of terror. “Authority has often been projected in elaborate demonstrations (royal entries, religious processions, public executions, and the like) aimed at providing distraction from present evils and as didactic reminders of the social hierarchy and the unassailability of constituted power. Processions and spectacles … may go a long way toward assuaging fear and providing escape from the terror of history and the vicissitudes of historical events. But this is not always the case.”
  Discussing the lure of beauty and knowledge, Ruiz narrates a touching incident. While teaching university students history, he gave a choice to students. They could perform in lieu of a paper. There were three performances. First was a musical performance based on Odyssey.  The second was an energetic rendition of a Garba Raas from Gujarat. Finally two young students a man and a woman played guitar and violin and sang verses from the Bhagavatgita to music that the woman had composed. “When they concluded their performance, the students in the class, more than three hundred of them, stood up and gave them an ovation. Some had tears in their eyes. I did too. I was speechless in this moment that was transcendental, not in a religious sense but in an aesthetic one… I was, and many of my students were, outside history and time.”
  The West boasts of being more developed, advanced and hence better than the rest of the world. But this is not a contention that goes without debate. Walter Benjamin, one of the most provocative thinkers of the first half of the century indicted ‘progress’ and said that the “continuous celebration of Western technological advances and political order has been achieved through the continuous projection of power beyond our borders, by endless wars, and by systemic injustice and inequality.”
  This systemic injustice spawns more unrest, and launches a cycle of violence and terror from which humans go scurrying for cover in any of the three ways mentioned above. The West’s obsessions with bodily things, the demonstrative love are all part of this escape, suggests Ruiz. Teofilo F Ruiz is Distinguished Professor of History and of Spanish and Portuguese at ULCA and has authored several books. The Terror of History is an absorbing book that will not let the reader skip pages. It challenges the intellect while launching arguments in the mind over the content. The cover of the book is interesting. It is Saturn Devouring one of his Children, 1821-23 by Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes.
(Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)

Catching up with modern Tamil writing

The story of a woman commie
Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Fading Dreams, Old Tales, Pa Visalam, translated  by Meera Rajagopalan, Oxford University Press,Pp 270(HB), Rs 495.
   PA Visalam was caught up in the heady early days of Communist movement in south India. And her semi-autobiographical novel, the first by a woman Communist activist reflects the political evolution she went through as she saw her faith withering away. Fading Dreams, Old Tales tells the story of the youngest girl in a large family, brought up with lot of indulgence. Her life takes a bad turn with the death of her father. Her sisters fight over the property, the house in which she and her mother lived. One of them even sends a court notice demanding a share.
  Pushed into poverty and struggle, this girl, with strong convictions and stronger mind fights against odds. Exposed to the inequalities in the world and attracted to the ideology of communism and its upcoming young leaders, she gets drawn into the party. She falls in love with a young leader Nandan and marries him in an unconventional way, away from the family. Meanwhile, through all these, her Communist party breaks, with a section of the leadership walking out to form a new party. The novel In fact Ends in that note.
  Pa Visalam, a well-known writer, lives in Pondicherry and has authored two other novels. While her husband is an entrepreneur, she is involved in social work. The book has been translated by Meera Rajagopalan, a journalist and writer and with an introduction by Prema Nandakumar, a senior writer and scholar. Several Tamil terms have been used which blend with the narrative, translating which would have sounded jarring. There is a glossary at the end which can guide the reader. This volume is part of the translations taken up by the Oxford University Press, as part of their marking hundred years of publishing in India. A highly enjoyable socio-political novel with a lot of rural flavour and human emotions.
(Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, 1 Jai Singh Road, New Delhi 110 001)

Mansions ancient structures Excursions to architecture

Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Mathematical Excursions to the World’s Great Buildings, Alexander J Hahn, Princeton University Press,Pp 317(HB), $49.50
   LONG before the world discovered the virtues of the science of building techniques, India had created not just treatises on building (vastushastra) but executed magnificent structures, mostly temples, that even today are looked upon as engineering marvels. And hence when a book takes a tour of some of the world’s greatest buildings in which India finds no place, it is disappointing. Alexander J. Hahn’s Mathematical Excursions to the World’s Great Buildings discusses the mathematics, science and technique behind some of the beautiful buildings in the West.
  The ‘excursion’ is done at two levels. First it looks at the “architectural form (the role of geometry, symmetry, and proportion) and structure (matters of thrusts, loads, tensions, compressions) of some of the great buildings of western architecture…”  The second level is to view  “current elementary mathematics from a historical perspective.” “It is the raison d’etre of this book to intertwine these two stories and to demonstrate how they inform each other” says Hahn.
  Beginning with prehistoric times, Hahn explores the buildings of Greek, Roman, Islamic, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and modern styles. “Basic geometric forms are evident everywhere in Greek architecture. In the construction of their buildings the Greeks tied ropes to pegs and stretched and rotated them to lay out the straight lines and circular arcs of their design” he says, adding “Greek contributions to mathematics are nothing short of astonishing. The Greek’s designs with Roman engineering rendered some of the earliest stable, well-structured buildings.
   Hahn goes on to discuss some of the most fantastic churches and mosques throughout the West. Romanesque architecture is the style that incorporated the styles of the ‘East’ and West Christianity. “While Eastern Christianity preferred a centralised concept for its churches, Western Christianity turned to the basilica…” There were common elements but the differences were distinct and unique. The Gothic style is one of the most known with several Churches in India following it.
  The story of the building of the cathedral Santa Maria del Flore in Florence is fascinating. It was started in 1296 with an avowed intension to surpass in grandeur those of its Tuscan rivals, Pisa and Siena. In 1418 the central dome had to be constructed and it was a 145-foot space. The authorities overseeing the project announced a competition. Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith by training, and who had studied the brickwork and construction techniques of Rome submitted a project that did not warrant the building of a central 180-feet support beam. Work started in 1420 and was completed in 1436. “The church, 500 feet long, 125 feet wide, with a dome that rises to a height of 294 feet—376 feet if the lantern is included—was the largest church in the world.” Today, there are two larger, similar churches—St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.
  Some of the modern buildings discussed are the US Capitol and the Opera House Sydney. Before starting on the book, brush up the basic mathematics for Hahn has gone into the formulas and calculations rather intricately. Alexander J. Hahn is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Notre Dame and has authored books. Rich, insightful and detailed, the book is a pleasurable excursion if you want to go beyond a peek at the buildings. Drawings and colour images add understanding to the narration.
(Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)


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