Documenting Ordinary Lives

The books under review are two collections of short stories by wife and husband Annie Chandy Mathew and P.Chandy Mathew—their first creative efforts. As writers they acknowledge their debt to each other as their lives enrich each other’s ‘story’, yet their short stories need to be looked at as independent works (even though both the collections are imbued with a yearning for basic human values which will restore some order to the chaos of divisive voices, warring interests and frenzied passions.

Comparative Critical Theory

With the rising popularity of Comparative Literature as a subject of formal study, comparative critical theory has assumed fresh importance as a complementary discipline, and received greater scholarly attention, including curricular provision. But, the discipline suffers from the paucity of adequate primary materials—the literary principles of target literatures essential for the appreciation and evaluation of their individual genius and interrelated aesthetic bearings. Naqi Husain Jafri has volunteered to abridge this deficiency with reference to five Asian languages—four classical and one modern. Tackling the five-fold problem was no easy task, but he has accomplished it with credit despite the scarcity of adequate English texts.

Samit Sawhny’s All the World’s a Spittoon is an account of a maverick Indian’s atypical journey. The author’s unconventionality comes to the fore in his choice of the title itself. Why a spittoon? Sawhny refrains from making a clean breast of it. But then he might as well claim that he had earned the right to call the world a spittoon, having ejaculated his spit in the remotest regions of the planet during his cross-continental travels. The subtitle ‘Travels back to India’ is not tongue in cheek but sums up more succinctly what the book is all about.

Linguistic Deconstruction (On the Road)

Science students remember Moebius strips fondly; odd playful creations, a clever twist and a basic rule of space lies broken. Run your finger along the side and you feel a strange frisson of confirmation—you always knew what would happen, but it’s still strange. Similarly, Giti Thadani sets out on a road trip—and it’s been established that road trips have led to many a fascinating book, a la Blue Highways—but it’s an extraordinary feeling to find one that compels you to leave your seat and hit the highway. Ms. Thadani owns a Maruti Gypsy and she uses it as a two-ton passport to the lesser known vistas of Indian history. In her car, she drifts across the landscapes of India, dipping in and out of histories, meeting the usual panoply of interesting characters, the scoundrels and the dedicated.

Making History Come Alive

Few persons are likely to have done more reading of the books on South India written during the colonial period than Kavita Watsa. Intelligently selecting from that reading, she combines her selections with perceptive observations made on journeys through South India as well as in places she has called home during a young life spent on much moving about. This happy mixture she spices with nostalgia, anecdote and sentiment, certainly biographical but never allowing her persona to overwhelm the narration. The result is one of the most charming travel books by an Indian author that I have read.

The Story of a Saga

Twenty-one million people spread over 110 countries with an estimated combined income of US$160 billion. So goes the statistics of the Indian origin people world over. A lot has been written on their success stories in the respective host countries. The book under review is one such, but with a difference. The difference is, not words, but pictures, that are doing the narrative of the travails of the Indian origin people in Sri Lanka. More than 300 pictures, painfully compiled by the author, fill as many numbers of pages.

The famous Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (more familiar in India in the old transliteration Hiuen Tsang) has left a deep imprint on his own country, on India where his journey led him, and on several lands in between. He was a profoundly significant figure of his time, an elevated spirit of unmatched learning and unbelievable drive. His determination to learn about Buddhism in its original home sent him along the hazardous overland route to India, a hugely dangerous venture across brigand-infested and barely charted deserts and mountains. So determined was he that he took the grave risk of defying an imperial order that would have confined him to China so as to take his place among a chain of Chinese pilgrims drawn to India. Today, he is acknowledged to be the greatest of them, as scholar, teacher, analyst—and also as folk hero, for his journey inspired the unfading popular Chinese classic The Monkey King which is a story invested with high romance and fantastic adventure, stirring stuff that has delighted audiences for centuries. Xuanzang’s own Record of the Western Regions, written after his return, is an indispensable account of what he saw, a priceless historical source.

Between Aurora and Maria:Being and Becoming in Goa

There is this charming passage on page 61 of the book where Aurora, recounting the tense and fluid months after the Liberation of Goa, gives us a glimpse into that private world that she and Alban, an IAS officer of the Bihar cadre sent to Goa to help with the transition, had to negotiate. ‘He could sense my personal turmoil and my wistfulness, but to him I was Maria. He has come to know and acknowledge Aurora best perhaps only in the reading of this book. (“Oh no”, he had said when we were engaged to be married, “North India is full of Aroras/Auroras; it is a surname there, and I have a subdivisional officer called Arora. Please, please let me call you Maria. Besides, I cannot even pronounce Aurora the way it should be.”’

India-China-US: A Romantic Triangle?

American scholarship and policy has traditionally treated India and China as falling within two different geopolitical contexts. In the past decade, US scholarship on China has dealt predominantly with the challenges posed to the US by a rapidly growing Chinese economy and military capability. The main drivers of this US-China relationship were trade, Taiwan, Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian security issues. On the other hand, scholarship on India has tended to focus on India’s economic potential, its nuclear tests and bilateral relations driven by South Asian geopolitics and nuclear nonproliferation.

Beyond the Legacy of Conflict

Sudarshan Bhutani served as a young officer in the Indian Embassy in Beijing in the years covered in this elegantly written short study of some 215 pages, not including the appendices. It lucidly summarizes the essentials of the India-China border dispute as seen from an Indian perspective, offering a kind of ‘everyman’s guide’ to an issue that must figure as a problem to be resolved, as the two countries move forward in a relationship that has gradually moved beyond that dispute’s legacy of bitterness. The author is scholarly in his tempered comment, and has marshalled a wealth of information from published sources.

On the evening of May 21st I had gone out for dinner after completing a sequence of poems. The last poem was a first draft. I came back and faired it in long hand. It ran: The Messenger Announces At Pasargadae the Terrible News My Lords, both Persian and Mede, rumour precedes horsemen. So I have ridden twenty hours a day to be here amongst you and beat rumour by a length. The army, or its remnants have brought back six kinds of moss, infinite varieties of kelp laughter-leaves which intoxicate when thrown in fire and words of a language looking for a script. And we have brought the body of Cyrus.

An Intractable Problem Under Scrutiny

The problem of Jammu and Kashmir and of the Kashmir valley in particular, must be the most explored and the most overworked theme in a variety of studies that range from conflict, to nationality and nation, to federalism, to patriotism, to security, to terrorism, to accounts of the Partition, to communal conflict, and to India-Pakistan relations. Looming large over all these scholarly imaginations is the ‘P’ factor—Pakistan, the ‘T’ factor—terrorism, the ‘S’ factor—security, and in the aftermath of 9/11 the ‘I’ factor—Islamic terrorism.