The Curious History Of India-Pakistan Ties

In September 1960, during a rare five-day visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan, Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan President Ayub Khan drove in an open car together to the hill station of Murrie. The air would have been chilly, but not colder than the mood in the car, and the two leaders spent most of the drive without uttering a word. The outcome of the drive that dispelled all chances of a thaw between India and Pakistan is detailed in various accounts by Nehru, Ayub and diplomats of the time, which have been collated in former High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan’s book under review.

Is The Abyss Gazing Back At Pakistan?

Given the extra emphasis that Pakistan receives in India (some would even call it an obsession), books authored by Indian scholars, especialy those who have spent time in Pakistan in some official capacity have been few. Given the harsh fact that some of the best books on Balochistan and NWFP (now KP) were written by former British bureaucrats and military officials, and those who accompanied them, this becomes even more important.

An Official Narrative?

Running into 345 pages of text, this volume is by no means a concise history. This revised fourth edition has run into 27 chapters of uneven length, episodic treatment, wavering focus and disjointed narrative. To update the volume, the author has appended a few chapters at the end but this has marred the continuity. Reading through this book, most Indians will marvel at the way Pakistanis are able to produce an alternative narrative of their foreign policy, because so much of it is about India. There are three grand narratives on Pakistan’s foreign policy—the security threat from India, a resolution of the Kashmir problem, and its relationship with the US. The grand narrative about its relationship with China is yet to emerge. Sattar has devoted around twenty pages in the volume to the vaunted relationship with China.

A Broad Structural Approach

China-Pakistan relation is among the most fascinating in the post-Second World War international politics. It is one of the closest and longest strategic relationships in the contemporary international system, surviving changes of governments and domestic and international turmoil, and continuing to gather strength even after the end of the bipolar Cold War period in which it initially formed. It is fascinating also because it was such an unlikely partnership: a feudal, conservative, western-oriented, formally US-aligned, and military-dominated and explicitly religion-based state with a revolutionary and radical regime. At the same time, this is a relationship that is also a reflection of the quintessential reality of international relations: it is national self-interest rather than principles that determine alliances.

Changing Global Power Equations

The 19th century was about European empires dominating the world and an era of consolidation. Yet in 1816, barely 40 years after US independence, Thomas Jefferson prophesied, ‘Old Europe will have to lean on us … what a power shall we be.’ This happened at the end of the Second World War and after nearly fifty years of endless violence. The US strategic planner, George Kennan, one of those original Cold Warriors was sure that the US would not give up its primacy where, with 6.4 % of the global population, that country owned 50 % of the global wealth.

Nudging the Urge for Knowledge

Despite its phenomenal growth and diversification in the last decade, Indian media, both print and television, remains an inadequate and flawed vehicle for the communication of serious ideas. Most analysts disparagingly refer to the dumbing down of the media, the unhealthy growth of a page 3 culture, an obsession with titilatory gossip and the ever-present three Fs – films, fashion and food.

Interesting People, Uninteresting Thoughts

The one thing that strikes the reader as he closes the book is: Interesting people, uninteresting thoughts. The section, “About the Authors” makes for more interesting reading than the book itself. This is a puzzling thing, apart from being an obvious paradox. And it needs some explanation. The Stephanians who have contributed to this 125th St. Stephens College anniversary issue are successful bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists, politicians, academics.

Chasms and Relationships

Thrity Umrigar’s second novel , The Space Between Us is, to put it very simplistically, the story of Sera Dubash, a middle class westernized Parsi, and Bhima, her maid. In this novel Umrigar moves beyond the world of middle-class Parsis which she portrayed so well in Bombay Time, and depicts the wide spectrum of class and society which constitutes the fabric of life in a modern Indian metropolis. Bhima is a representative of that extensive support system of workers without whom most Indian middle class households would collapse; individuals who touch upon the lives of their privileged employers intimately but themselves remain peripheral and insignificant entities in any deeper and meaningful sense in those lives.

Portraying A Vanishing Community

In many ways, Esther David’s Book of Rachel resonates with rather than follows from the preoccupations in her earlier books. As in her previous book Book of Esther, whose very title suggests a certain proximity to this new one, and also her former novel The Walled City, David is concerned with depicting Jewish life in a contemporary Indian context. However, Book of Rachel marks a turn in her exploration of this theme. Her preceding books look inward at the Bene Israel Jews in India, chronicling the community yet critiquing it through the travails and triumphs of her protagonists.

A Rich and Poignant Life

Mythili Sivaraman has written an outstanding book. It is moving, angry, grounded in the everyday, and speaks, in true democratic spirit, to the common reader (its subject, Subbalakshmi, was one such avid, intelligent reader) and to academic specialists in history and women’s studies. Its focus is Sivaraman’s grandmother, the aforementioned Subbalakshmi, who lived from c. 1897 to 1978, in a Tamil Brahmin milieu.

Debunking Historical Stereotypes

The memsahib as arrogant, snobbish, exclusive, is one of numerous stereotypes we have been saddled with since the end of colonialism in India. There are plenty of others, including the idea that Macaulay forced English and English studies down the throats of Indians. British colonialism in India has been treated as a monolith, with little suggestion of varied voices, attitudes, achievements. Selective quotation, serious omissions of historical facts, all in the name of postcolonial studies.

Chronicling a Publishing House

Reading this extremely well researched and lucidly written study took me back to the 1950s in what was then Bombay when small volumes bound in dark blue, the World’s Classics, were there to be bought, and one wondered in one’s ignorance whether the motto on the crest was to be read downwards (Dominus illuminatio mea) or across (Dommina nustio illumea!). Thacker’s Bookshop was just across the road from Elphinstone College, and Taraporevala’s down Hornby Road, darker, mustier, but full of treasures.