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  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Forster's tumultous life
  Colm Toibin  
  IN 1943, the critic Lionel Trilling wrote a book about the work of E. M. Forster without knowing that the novelist was homosexual. Trilling had enough to write about, including the drama in Forster's work between freedom and restriction, between the spiritual and the material, between England and its empire, and between one class and another in Forster's own world. These conflicts were substantial enough for Trilling not to need to know that they also operated as metaphors and systems of disguise, that their power in Forster's fiction was nourished by his secret sexuality.
Edward Morgan Forster was born in 1879. Since his father died soon after his birth, he was brought up by his difficult and demanding mother, with whom he lived much of the time until her death in 1945. Between 1905 and 1924, Forster published five novels, most notably "Howards End" and "A Passage to India." For the following
46 years, however, until his death in 1970, he wrote no more novels, merely a few short biographies, some essays and literary journalism.

In "A Great Unrecorded History," a well-written, intelligent and perceptive biography of Forster, Wendy Moffat attempts to explore that silence and at the same time to draw a picture of a figure who was sensitive, sensuous and kind, an artist who possessed a keen, plain sort of wisdom and lightness of touch that make him, to this day, an immensely influential novelist, almost a prophet. She uses the sources for our knowledge of Forster's sexuality, including letters and diaries, without reducing the mystery and sheer individuality of Forster, without making his sexuality explain everything.

Nonetheless, his sexuality explained a great deal. At the beginning, Forster "taught himself how to feel," Moffat writes, "by force of a fierce, obtuse innocence." In his diaries he wrote that he did not know "exactly how male and female joined" until he was 30. The idea that he was homo­sexual had occurred to him somewhat earlier, but he did not act on it until 1916.

Forster was one of those Englishmen who found freedom, inspiration and relief in places like India and Egypt. His first great love was with a young and "profoundly handsome" Indian whom he met in England when he was 27 and later traveled to India to see. But it was in Alexandria during the First World War that he met one of the two men who were to mean the most to him in his life and with whom he conducted passionate affairs. Forster wrote to a friend about Muhammad el-Adl, a young Egyptian tram conductor: "I have plunged into an anxious but very beautiful affair. It seemed to me -- and I proved right -- that something precious was being offered me and that I was offering something that might be thought precious... I should have been right to take the plunge, because if you pass life by it's jolly well going to pass you by in the future. If you're frightened it's all right -- that's no harm; fear is an emotion. But by some trick of the nerves I happen not to be frightened."

The second great love of his life was the English policeman Bob Buckingham, whom he met in 1930; the affair continued, perhaps even intensified, after Buckingham's marriage. Moffat (who teaches English at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania) writes about Forster's relationship to May, Buckingham's wife, with real tenderness: "Between them, Morgan and May deftly carved out an intimate space for their respective 'marriages' to their beloved Bob, with the long weekends for May and the short weekends for Morgan."

While Forster in his personal life was open and passionate, as a public figure he remained very cautious. In 1912, two years after "Howards End" was published, he made a visit to Edward Carpenter, having deposited his mother, who was plagued by gout and rheumatism, at a spa. Carpenter was a socialist and a believer in all kinds of freedom, including sexual freedom. He lived with his boyfriend, George Merrill, who touched the visiting Forster "just above the buttocks." This touch was electrifying and deeply memorable. Almost 50 years later, Forster recalled the thrill: "It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving my thoughts."

As a result, "as if he were on fire," Forster wrote his novel "Maurice," which he did not publish in his lifetime because of its explicit dramatization of homosexuality. He was intent that the novel not be a story of tragedy or impossible love that would end with imprisonment or suicide. "A happy ending was imperative," he wrote. While he showed it to some associates over the years, including Lytton Strachey and Christopher Isherwood, he knew that it could not come out "until my death and England's," as he wrote to a friend.

Forster believed that his own life as a novelist had been stunted by his inability to make fiction out of his sexual desires. This was how he explained his silence as a novelist after "A Passage to India." While this seems to make sense, it is perhaps too easy, and perhaps even untrue. It may be more true to say that Forster wrote the five books on which his reputation rests because he desperately needed to create characters and situations that would expose his own plight in ways that were subtle and dramatic without being obvious or explicit. His true nature was not only homosexual, it was also wounded, mysterious and filled with sympathy for others, including foreigners and women. Despite his best intentions, he allowed all of himself into the five novels published in his lifetime, and only part of himself into "Maurice."

There is a strange moment in Moffat's book when she refers to "Maurice" as Forster's "only truly honest novel." But "Maurice" is, while fascinating in its own way, also his worst. Perhaps there is a connection between its badness and its "honesty," because novels should not be honest. They are a pack of lies that are also a set of metaphors; because the lies and metaphors are chosen and offered shape and structure, they may indeed represent the self, or the play between the unconscious mind and the conscious will, but they are not forms of self-expression, or true confession.

Because of his silence about his sexuality, some of Forster's friends, including Virginia Woolf, felt sorry for him, and believed also that he had a drab life as a literary man -- dominated by his mother -- who could no longer write. But Moffat, with considerable care and a sort of sympathy that Forster himself would have appreciated, makes the case for his life as an exemplary one. Forster set out to love and be loved, and he did this despite all the odds. He also wrote with beauty and clarity. He stood for liberty, the individual, the sensuous life. He had a gift for --friendship.

The old age of this great Englishman was much cheered up by trips to America, by the sly knowledge that he had a hidden manuscript, by the rooms he was given at King's College, Cambridge, which were his main residence between his mother's death and his own death. His final years were also greatly enriched by Bob and May Buckingham, who looked after him as he lay dying. During his last days, Moffat writes, "May continuously held his hand. If she tried to withdraw it, he half opened an eye in remonstration.' Only someone with Forster's skills and imagination could have maintained such an odd and heartening relationship over so many years. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
Colm Toibin's most recent novel is “Brooklyn.”
An unforgettable book
  Meetu Tewari  
  Lessons in Forgetting
Anita Nair
329 Pages, Rs 399

ANITA NAIR is a popular Indian-English writer who was born in Kerala. Her first book -- a collection of short stories -- was 'Satyr of the Subway'. She also wrote 'The Better Man and Mistress'.

'Lessons in Forgetting' is her latest offering, a novel she wanted to be light reading which anyone could follow. It is a novel focusing on themes such as parenthood, marriage and relationships.

When the novel opens we are introduced to Meera, the cool and composed successful corporate wife who also writes cook books and who is suddenly faced with the dilemma of a disappeared husband.

While Meera strives to keep control of things and keeps her emotions in check, Prof. J. Krishnamurthy or Jak is an expressive and deep man who has returned to India from the US to find out what happened to his elder daughter.

A lot of expectation is built up as the novel progresses as to what has happened to Shruti, Jak's daughter. The truth, when revealed, is melodramatic and anti-climatic.

Throwing in the worrisome trend of female foeticide, though a noble cause, completely fails the plot. Everything seems too exaggerated.

Despite this shortcoming, the author has succeeded in writing an engaging novel. A novel where the protagonists have their worlds swept away like the havoc a cyclone wreaks, and yet destiny and their own determination helps them find their way to happiness again.

Anita Nair especially wished to focus on this element of lives being torn apart and being rebuilt, the way people rebuild their homes once a cyclone destroys them. In this instance a cyclone (the meeting of hot and cold air produces it) is representative of the two main characters, Meera the cool wife and the intense Jak.

The relationship between parents and children has been touchingly described. The novel also has an array of colorful characters, from Meera's mother and grandmother to the struggling actor to Vinnie. Though some of them are too typical and stereotyped, these characters lend the novel its own rich flavor.

Interjecting the novel with excerpts on cyclones and their nature is a unique touch which works to the advantage of the novel. Similarly the constant comparison of Meera to Hera is a singularly artistic achievement of the author.

'Lessons in Forgetting' succeeds in being a light novel which anyone can enjoy reading. It is again a hopeful novel and the reader is left with a tantalizing hint that, in the end, things do turn out well for the protagonists. The plot may not be very intelligent and the ending anti-climatic after the elaborate efforts to build up suspense but the novel is still recommended, if you can leave your skepticism behind.
A new politics
  Daniel E. Ritchie  
  Traveling the U.S. with Alexis de Tocqueville.

AT a conference on Democracy in America several years ago, one of the speakers took up Alexis de Tocqueville's prediction that increased centralization and equality in the United States would produce the "soft despotism" of a "schoolmaster" state: "Above [the citizens] rises an immense tutelary power that alone takes charge of ensuring their pleasures and watching over their fate," Tocqueville writes.

It is absolute, detailed, regular, farsighted, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if its object was to prepare men for adult life, but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in permanent childhood. It likes citizens to enjoy themselves, so long as all they think about is enjoyment ... The sovereign power doesn't break their wills, but it softens, bends, and directs them. It rarely compels action, but it constantly opposes action. It doesn't destroy, but it prevents birth; it doesn't tyrannize, but it hinders, represses, enervates, restrains, and numbs, until it reduces each nation to a mere flock of timid and industrious animals, with the government as their shepherd.
The speaker admitted that we can already see this effect in America, and more government would accelerate the process. But as long as the despotism is soft, he said, why worry? I almost asked him to return his speaker's fee. The reason a Tocquevillian worries is that the schoolmaster state prevents us from exercising our liberty in the fullest sense of that word—to solve our own problems, to explore religious or philosophical avenues that defy majority opinion, and (yes) to find new ways of creating wealth. President Obama's effort to nudge us toward the right choices with behavioral economics is just the latest iteration of this worrying trend. Which isn't to say that I'm above being nudged: last year I got a tax credit for buying energy efficient windows. Will I get a gold star from the schoolmaster too?

It is typical of the excellent research in Leo Damrosch's new book that he retrieves Tocqueville's marginal note about the passage: "New despotism. It is in the portrayal of this that resides all the originality and depth of my idea."

As the scion of an aristocratic family that had suffered much in the French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) dreaded the schoolmaster state as a possible outcome of democracies in France and elsewhere. The country would be industrious but mediocre, its souls ambitious but small-minded. Without oppressing huge numbers of people, it would degrade its citizens "below the level of humanity." What was needed, Tocqueville argued, was "a new political science for … a world altogether new," and his book was written to help democracies avoid all despotism, hard or soft. He had in mind primarily a French democracy that would succeed the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe (1830-48). Suffice it to say that the Second Republic under Louis Napoleon (1848-70) was not what he meant, not what he meant at all.

Damrosch's method is to follow Tocqueville and his traveling companion, Gustave de Beaumont, on their nine-month tour of the United States in 1831-32, which provided the material for the two-part masterpiece (1835, 1840). Ostensibly on a tour of American prisons to collect notes for French prison reform, their voyage quickly took on its deeper significance of analyzing modern democracy. Damrosch gives us just enough background to set the context and direct our attention. We learn about the young men's weakness for American women and about Beaumont's slave novel, Marie—both relevant to Tocqueville's social analysis—but the book never gives way to tangents.

A distinguished scholar of 18th-century literature who teaches at Harvard, Damrosch pauses at strategic moments to explore Tocqueville's cultural insights in greater depth, often supplementing Democracy in America with his other writings. For instance, after describing Tocqueville's meetings with Jared Sparks, a politically astute biographer of Washington, Damrosch investigates his analysis of the salient idea they discussed: majority rule. Tocqueville had written in his notebook:

The majority … is always right, and there is no power above it.
Each individual person, society, town, or [state] is the sole lawful judge of its own interest.
Damrosch observes the way these two principles took root in Tocqueville's mind over time, enabling him to see their "dark reverse side," namely "the potential for a stultifying tyranny of the majority... America was thus a nation of paradox, of individualists who were deeply conformist." There are many such moments in Damrosch's book. The writing is concise, insightful, and altogether a pleasure to read.

This doesn't mean, of course, that one will agree with every judgment and emphasis in the book. How could that be when the subject is a writer like Tocqueville, who invites admirers from every political stripe? For instance, Damrosch laments Tocqueville's neglect of social class, "which Marx would soon bring to the center of political theory." And elsewhere he commends Tocqueville's eventual "recogni[tion] that evangelical fervor had deep roots in class resentment." I suppose one can argue that Jonathan Edwards' evangelical fervor was related to his resentment of Increase Mather's social class, if you eliminate all other forces and all evidence to the contrary. But why bother? Many recent scholars have been drawn to Tocqueville precisely as an alternative to those Marxian class analyses that proved so rigorous yet inexact, so prophetic and yet so wrong.

Tocqueville's analyses, by contrast, have proven much more durable, such as his concerns about individualism drying up Americans' public engagement and our typical ways of combating this problem through voluntarism, the family, and religion. These elements, which we now call "social capital," could have received more attention from Damrosch. They are the main sources of the "mores" that, in Tocqueville's view, create and sustain the "habits of the heart ... [and] mind" that keep a modern democracy healthy. Mores are more important than laws, for they form the laws. For instance, religion is "the first of their political institutions," he writes, because it teaches Americans how to use freedom rightly. He considers American women to be the makers of mores and hence the most significant directors of American society. Finally, an understanding of how to organize voluntary associations is, for Tocqueville, "the mother science" of modern democracy. If it should ever be lost—to the omnicompetent schoolmaster state, for instance -- "civilization itself would be in peril."

Like any great book, Democracy in America attracts good writing without being exhausted by even the most thorough analysis. Along with Joseph Epstein's popular biography Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide (HarperCollins 2006), Damrosch's book serves as one the finest introductions to Tocqueville's work in recent years. Once in, you'll want to stay.
Daniel E. Ritchie directs the Humanities Program at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author most recently of The Fullness of Knowing: Modernity and Postmodernity from Defoe to Gadamer (Baylor Univ. Press).
Courtesy: Christianity Today
War through a camera lens
  Janet Maslin  
By Tatjana Soli
389 pages. St. Martin's Press. $24.99.

TATAJANA SOLI'S haunting debut novel begins where it ought to end. In this quietly mesmerizing book about journalists covering the war in Vietnam, the first glimpses of the place are the most familiar. The year is 1975. Americans are in a state of panic as North Vietnamese forces prepare to occupy Saigon. The looters, the desperate efforts to escape this war zone, the mobs surrounding the United States Embassy, the overcrowded helicopters struggling to rise above the chaos: these images seem to introduce Ms. Soli's readers to a story they already know.

Her protagonist is Helen Adams, a war photographer. As Helen makes her way toward the embassy with a wounded Vietnamese man named Linh, she surveys the ruins of her own wartime experience. A friend is missing, and that friend's shop has been looted. Refugees are everywhere. And Sam Darrow, the charismatic, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has meant everything to Helen, is long gone. He died at some point in Helen's tumultuous Vietnam tenure.

Ms. Soli thus creates a serious challenge for her narrative. How is she to breathe life into a book that has already answered the most pertinent questions about its characters? Her extremely successful way of surmounting this obstacle is to lead readers into the naïve, unformed mind of the newly arrived Helen, who, way back in 1965, barely understood her talents or her professional raison d'être. "The Lotus Eaters" expands along with her as she grows into her expert photojournalist's role.

This quick shift in time frames proves to be much more seductive than a simple introduction to the older, tougher Helen would be. How does this yeoman photographer from California start out as a freelance (she eventually lands a job with Life magazine) and learn what war reporting is all about? To begin with, she takes a terrible ribbing from the men already entrenched in this work, men who like calling her Sweetheart and Prom Queen and treat her as the butt of disparaging wisecracks. ("So now the girls are coming. Can't be much of a war after all.") Her initiation rites include being exposed to every hoary cliché imaginable about seasoned war reporters who thrive on witnessing bloodshed in countries not their own.

Sometimes, in this otherwise tough and lyrical book, those ideas can be expressed a bit clumsily. "We're in the business of war," one pro tells Helen. "The cool thing for us is that when this one's done, there's always another one -- Middle East, Africa, Cambodia, Laos, Suez, Congo, Lebanon, Algeria. The war doesn't ever have to end for us."

The speaker is none other than dashing Sam Darrow, who is, according to one of his sardonic colleagues, "more commonly known as Mr. Vietnam." Sam turns out to be irresistible. Ms. Soli is somehow able to set off sparks between two photographers, the neophyte Helen and the seasoned, much-admired and very married Sam, without remotely suggesting that they are not on an equal footing. "Perhaps at long last he had met his match in female form?" Sam wonders about their nascent love affair. He has, and he has also met a woman who will emerge after much hard-won work experience as his professional equal.

If it sounds as if a love story is the central element in "The Lotus Eaters" (which takes its title from those characters in "The Odyssey" who succumb to the allure of honeyed fruit), Ms. Soli's book is sturdier than that. Its object lessons in how Helen learns to refine her wartime photography are succinct and powerful. By exposing its readers to the violence of war only gradually and sparingly, the novel becomes all the more effective. Helen's photograph of a harmless-looking old man's sudden execution offers an especially indelible image. So does her witnessing of one rebellious soldier's way of taking his fate into his own hands. And her efforts, with Sam, to help a maimed Vietnamese child backfire in ways both terrible and illuminating.

Helen's story has an obvious demarcation point. First there is Sam; then there isn't. She moves on to an intimacy with the complicated, subtle Linh, who worked as Sam's assistant but had many earlier experiences about which Helen learns during their solace-providing union. Each of them grows and changes in ways that give "The Lotus Eaters" dramatic impact even when its characters become hardened and battle-weary.

Ms. Soli has done prodigious research about the Vietnam War, particularly about the role of female war photographers, and so is able to imbue an otherwise deeply romantic book with a strong sense of history. She artfully uses Helen's autodidactic approach to photography as a way of raising questions that her readers need to answer too. What is a war photographer's mission? The book suggests that the job involves developing both a discerning eye (Sam is said to have birdlike movements, as if they allow him to look at things from many angles at once) and an analytic understanding of what the camera records.

Helen's experience peaks when she has mastered these aspects of the job. It becomes irrevocably altered when she senses the vulturelike attitude of journalists who flock to the site of a lost war for reasons of naked professional ambition. By the end of the story -- in ways that bring to mind the feverishness of the Iraqi war film "The Hurt Locker," with its very different locations, job descriptions and wartime imperatives -- she has been utterly transformed. She is no longer a witness to history. As Ms. Soli makes her readers understand very viscerally, Helen has become part of the history that she set out to record. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
Nine lives, one quest
  Meetu Tewari  
  Nine Lives
By William Dalrymple
Pages: 284
Price: Rs 324

WILLIAM DALRYMPLE is one of the best travel writers of contemporary times. Born in Scotland, he was brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. 'In Xanadu' was his first novel and was written when he was just 22. Dalrymple, who has been presented with several awards, lives on a farm outside Delhi with his wife Olivia Fraser and three children. His latest offering, 'Nine Lives', is as interesting and intriguing as ever. "In search of the sacred in modern India" says the subtitle. The book covers diverse religious beliefs and practices that stand out in stark contrast to the rapidly developing India; the economic power called India.

The author says he has attempted to stay silent and let the people, whose stories are narrated, be the main characters. Dalrymple does not judge, and his objective narrative is peppered with the description of unique practices and the humane voice and emotive appeal of nine persons whose experiences and lives are disclosed within the pages of this book.

The first story is of Prasannamati Mataji, who as a girl born into a rich family, decides to follow the difficult path of Jainism. On her path to diksha and of cutting ties with her family, she meets Prayogamati, who becomes her lifelong companion and friend. Her story is one of pain and suffering, yet with a thread of peace interconnecting it all. Peace that comes from following a path one loves. However, as with all the stories, the narrative does not stop by telling the stories of these unique individuals.

Each story is rich in detail of the religions and beliefs being described. Any reader of this novel will gain vast knowledge of these aspects. Learning through fascinating stories is an art William Dalrymple is quite aware of and he uses it in this novel as well.

Another story deals with the remarkable dance form called Theyyam, popular in Kerala. Here the story of Hari Das is told to us -- a well-known theyyam dancer, who otherwise digs wells and is a prison guard. Together with the tale of when Dalits and others who are considered to be of the lower castes get to become gods and have higher caste Brahmins touch their feet, we also discover quietly the fate of some Indian prisons, where inmates rule over the guards. Unobtrusively adding details of such things as they exist in India today, the reader is given a firsthand account of illegal happenings. These details are not the focus of the story but their clever mention cannot be ignored either.

Daughters of Yellamma is a sorrowful tale of devadasis, women dedicated as young girls to the goddess Yellamma and who have come to work in the sex trade. Their poignant tale speaks of hardship and sorrow, as they are forced into this field by their parents and then work to feed their families. The history behind this age-old custom and the trauma faced by devadasis today are all to be found within the pages of this book, which has daringly brought to light this controversial practice and yet managed to retain its objectivity.

The Singer of Epics is a tale of Mohan Bhopa, one of the two last known hereditary singers of a Rajasthani epic, The Epic of Pabuji. Actually a 4,000 line poem, it takes five days and nights to recite it completely, something rarely done today. Ancient practices connected to the recital of the poem have survived the ages and are followed religiously by the singers. Importantly, a male singer must also have a musical wife who could accompany him as he sings. The bhopas are described as 'shamans and bards' who have retained their traditional jobs, as these societies remained virtually untouched by the colonialists. William Dalrymple quietly mentions the survival of practices like sati and widow-burning in these areas of Rajasthan, which again form a vividly contrasting image to the modern India. The author dwells on this practice of singers of traditional poems, mentioning their existence in European countries.

The Red Fairy is a tale on Sufism in Sindh, Pakistan. It is a religion and mystical belief that attracts followers from Hindu and Muslim faiths. Sufi saints preached that all religions are one and one should try and attain fana, which is 'total immersion in the absolute'. Lal Peri Mastani, a famous lady fakir, is the character most in focus in this story. As her tale unfolds, the reader finds out the distance she travelled to find peace in the house of Lal Shahbaz Qalander. We are told of the recent attacks on Sufi shrines by the Pakistani Taliban, who are enforcing radical Islam on the believers of Sufism. Extremism is threatening the teachings of Sufi saints, who taught acceptance and tolerance and who succeeded in bringing Hindus and Muslims together.

Tashi Passang is a monk who took up arms to fight for his homeland, Tibet. He took up arms hoping to fight for Tibet, but he and others were instead mislead when they joined the Indian Army. They had to fight for Bangladesh, killing Pakistani soldiers. Tashi (now an old man) then set out on a path of redemption, seeking forgiveness for his actions and waiting till the time he could be worthy again of being a monk. It is a tale of a family destroyed, a way of living challenged, of people forced to flee. It is not a political text, rather a simple retelling of how things went bad.

The Maker of Idols takes place in Tamil Nadu where Srikanda Satpathy makes bronze statues of gods and goddesses and believes that the deity resides in the sculpture. Each figure, however, has a lifespan, after which the god leaves it. This lifespan is not fixed and needs to be determined by an astrologer. Making the statues is a task that follows very rigid guidelines. The idol maker and those he employs must be of a higher caste. Each stage in the idol-making process follows certain rules and rituals. The eyes are opened at the end, when 'divine powers' enters it and it becomes a deity. Srikanda insists that it is not the spirit of god residing in the statue, but rather the deity itself, maintaining that it is faith that gives life to a sculpture, without which, it is lifeless. This unique tradition is now threatened, the work is hard and the younger generation is more intent on pursuing other careers, while businesses that make a large number of sculptures have sprung up. Such statues, Srikanda tells us, will never have a god residing in them.

Manisha Ma Bhairavi is The Lady Twilight, a tantric who lives in Tarapith, praying to the goddess Tara. While this goddess is generally depicted as a frightening slayer, for Manisha Ma, she is gentle and benevolent like a mother. The reader learns the story of Manisha Ma and how she became a tantric. We learn about various tantric practices and how tantric sex has been sold in the West, which hardly follows or understands the actual practice. Details about the followers of Tara Ma are divulged in this story, portraying them not as scary men and women, but normal people who like to follow cricket on their radios.

The last of the nine stories is The Song of the Blind Minstrel. It is the story of Kanai, a baul, which in Bengali means 'possessed' or 'mad.' They live lives that run contrary to what the society dictates -- smoking ganja, singing and dancing, following certain practices of sex, philosophy and the belief that God is right here inside every person seeking the truth; a life that requires you to be on the road, have a guru and always follow the path of love. William Dalrymple refers to them as near atheists and humanists. The story of Kanai is once again one of belief guiding his steps at a young age as he sets out to become a baul. His companion Debdas belongs to a high caste Hindu family and decides to become a baul, rejecting everything his family taught him.

All characters in this book are uniquely rich; each has his or her own story, many of them face hardships and pain before finding through faith, their way to connect to God. They believe that their beliefs lead them to God and that it is their God who protects them and guides them. Call it chance, coincidence or destiny, but each one of them has found peace and joy on the path they chose to follow.
Politics of identity
  Mihaela Gligor  
  Identity Politics in India and Europe
By Michael Dusche
SAGE, 2010
PP 375, ISBN: 978-81-321-0304-2.

THE interdisciplinary and rapidly growing body of literature on recognition and identity politics deals with the question of how different cultures can manage to live together and how it is possible to reconcile a multitude of different identity-based claims for difference with a common sense of community and identity.

Many books on these themes have appeared during the last decade and most of them consider identity politics "in the name of the emancipation of disadvantaged groups with respect to gender, race, class, ethnicity or religion", as Michael Dusche's book also does.

'Identity Politics in India and Europe' examines the present perceptions of East and West as seen through the eyes of eminent scholars from India. It is a very important book on this subject, especially because it analyses both worlds, East and West, and it tries to offer not only a comparison between what identity politics means for each, but also extends the analysis to different areas, from culture to language, as ways for a better understanding of identity and differences.

Michael Dusche has the necessary background to do this comparison, holding a PhD in Philosophy and International Relations from the University of Frankfurt and currently being a fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Beyond this, Michael Dusche is the author of many articles on this topic, which were presented at international conferences or included in edited books published in India and Europe.

The first section of this book reviews the history of perceptions between the Europe of Latin Christianity and the so-called Muslim world starting from the seventh century when both were just about to emerge from opposite fringes of the decaying Roman Empire. "The portrayal of the Muslim 'other,' both in India and in Europe, draws on age-old stereotypes, whose genealogy can be traced back to the early encounters between the emerging world of Latin Christendom in Europe and the expanding world of Islam". The book begins from here.

The focus is on the origins of perceptions of Muslims as the threatening "other". Mentioning Edward Said's book Orientalism, Michael Dusche puts the right question: "In the light of what empirical evidence can we afford to speak of Europe and the Muslim world even after Said?" (P. 9), and he also gives the right answer: "Both civilizations share common reference points and origins in late antiquity and both categories allow for further differentiation... Both civilizations are marked by the fact that a single language of education, Arabic and Latin, and a common universe of reference, of religious symbols and narratives, expand over vast tracts of different local cultures and their respective vernaculars" (P. 9).

Orient and Occident, East and West, or even the dichotomisation into "us" and "them' are pairs of terms analyzed according to their specific meaning. The first encounters between Christians and Muslims, the processes of acceptance of identities and the differences between "populus Romanus" and "the barbarian people", as well as those between Catholicism and Islam are carefully presented in the first section of the book.

The chapter about "Islam in Western Europe: Al-Andalus" analyses the disputes among Christians, Jews and Muslims, those that ended in the Crusades, that broke all the rules and the bounds between the permitted and the forbidden. "The crusaders violated all acceptable standards of propriety in ways unthinkable to the locals, no matter whether they were Muslims, Christians or Jews" (P. 39).

However, increasingly, a new civilization took over from within the world spanning European colonial empires: that of modernity. The second part of the book is devoted to a characterization of that civilization from a theoretical point of view and to an analysis of its interference with older frames of reference. "Modern actors gain legitimacy and orientation from behavioural patterns and norms provided by the cultural reference frame, which also determines what is to be taken as the real character of the world, which things exist and which do not, what is to be reckoned with in terms of natural laws, social conditions, and so on" (P. 51).

While analysing "Culture and Politics in Modern Politics", the author starts from John W. Meyer"s sociology and Amartya Sen's opinion about "West and Anti-West" and considers that "the debates surrounding 'Western Science' versus 'Eastern Spirituality', 'Western Values' versus 'Asian Values', 'Western conceptions of human rights' versus 'African' or 'Islamic human rights' all point to the same phenomenon: an excessive fixation with the West and, consequently, a propensity to define one's post-colonial identity reactively as 'anti-West' (P. 52).

We can't make a sharp distinction between what is purely Western and what is purely Eastern. "Nobody would deny the usefulness of the trigonometric concept of 'sine' and 'cosine' and the decimal numeral system including the number zero in mathematics even though they are of Indian origin" and as well we can't deny the Western concepts of "individual liberty, democracy and progress" and the fact that we, as humans have need of all of them.

As for identity, the concept is used not only regarding politics or religious beliefs, but also regarding language or culture. "Considering that language gives us the most sophisticated tools to express who we are and considering that language, too, has to rely on commonly accepted patterns of communicative interaction, the symbolic representation of our identity is in need of common acceptance among the users of the language" (P. 84). As social phenomenon, language is the medium through which individuals express their thoughts and act in different circumstances, and it has a very important role.

The identity of a group of people can be expressed through their language. With regard to culture, its sphere "is defined by reference to symbols, metaphors or symbolic actions with characteristic meanings" (P. 90). So, "identity" can be seen as a sum of linguistic, cultural, religious or/and political identities, all confined into the same person or group of persons. "Identity" is that which makes the difference between "us" and "them'.

This complex relationship between religion and political status of a society is the subject of the third part of the book. The author investigates challenges to the established normative order in India and Europe. The methodology combines qualitative methods in the form of 20 interviews conducted with academics in India, with historical and philosophical analyses. These are set in the historical context of relations between Europe and the Muslim World and analysed from a theoretical angle drawing from theories of modernity, conceptions of justice and notions of identity politics.

Michael Dusche's interlocutors are Professors of Philosophy, Sociology or Political Sciences, from New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai or abroad. The discussions move from women rights to political independence; from intolerance and multiculturalism to leftist politics in Bengal or Westernisation of the Bollywood; pointing on the differences between Hindu and Muslim ways of living; taking religion as the starting point or as the ultimate conclusion; with many accents on the individualities of Indian culture among all the other and the role of its traditions into this globalised world.

The freedom of speech and academic freedom are the most important conditions used by Michael Dusche in composing this book. Reason and the reach of reason are important for intellectual elites of a country as India and reading these interviews one can see that quite clearly. Announced at the very beginning, Michael Dusche's thesis that "Perceptions of self, identity, social order and peace on the one hand and fears of instability, loss of self, disorder and violent conflict on the other hand seem to depend on each other in a dialectic way", was thoroughly demonstrated.

Very well structured, in three distinct but inter-correlated and cursive parts, the book should be of great interest to the world of social science scholars, especially those with specific interest in the history of ideas, modernity, transnational history, politics and cultural relations.
Excerpted from an extensive review published in the International Journal on Humanistic Ideology, Vol. 2, No. 2, Autumn-Winter 2009, Cluj University Press, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, PP 171-178.
Mihaela Gligor has a PhD in Philosophy and is working as Scientific Researcher in Humanities at Romanian Academy. She contributes regularly to The Herald of India.
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