April 16, 2001

India Today, April 16, 2001



Anything To Declare, Mr Verma?
The arrest of the Central Board of Excise & Customs chairman has revealed the rot that has set in the premier revenue- collection authority. An inside story of his assets, and rise to position of power. Plus: The sex and smuggling controversy arising from his dubious links with Uzbek nationals.

The Silk Route
The Customs played an active role in a smuggling racket by Uzbek couriers that could have compromised the nation's security.

Rites Of Passage Despite stringent internal controls, the CBEC is one of the most sullied departments in the country.



The Earth Citizen
The former United States president returns to India to share the sorrows of quake-hit Gujarat.



In Quest Of Numbers
There's a scramble for winning combinations, from caste-based alliances in Tamil Nadu to political pragmatism in Bengal and Assam.



Green And Bear It
The Delhi Government's complacency leads to a bumpy ride for commuters.



Free At Last
Removal of quantitative restrictions on all imports will transform the Indian market like never before.





This Is A Women's World

And Ismat Chughtai can afford to call Saadat Manto a finely shaped insect

Through Altered States
Desert Strokes
FIERY FEMINIST: Chughtai envisaged
an equal order of the sexes

Dozens of pages of my copy of this just-published book are already dog-eared. Every chapter bristles with words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs that clamour to be quoted. Witty, personal, descriptive, anecdotal and hectoring by turns, Chughtai's style has few equals in contemporary Indian writing. Chughtai's prose is supple, energetic, argumentative, funny, caustic, and colloquial. But what really distinguishes her from her peers is a bluntness that is often brutal, and a sarcasm that is always biting. This is high-voltage writing, it can be as vituperative as it is incisive, as polemical as it is profound. Unfortunately, in translation it sometimes turns out to be ungainly or unidiomatic. "Use your caustic literary material to destroy the germs that exist around you," she says, in what can be considered a statement of her literary credo. The idea is unmistakable in spite of the translated dullness of "caustic literary material". For Chughtai, the function of literature was to cleanse society by exposing its hypocrisy and decadence.


By Ismat Chughtai
Trs by Tahira Naqvi
Kali for Women
Rs 350
Pages: 284


Indeed, what makes Chughtai and the other progressive writers of Urdu so special is that they brought about a social revolution through literature. That is how Krishan Chander, Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas became household names. From the ruins of a crumbling, feudal and communalised history, they projected a free, secular and socialist India. That the country was partitioned is another matter-if the progressive writers failed, Chughtai makes it clear that theirs was a heroic, even tragic, failure. In Chughtai's book, most of the protagonists of the progressive movement figure prominently and memorably. The title essay, "My Friend, My Enemy" is about Manto, the eccentric, unforgettable, egoistic, brilliant, alcoholic genius. While Chughtai does not hesitate to call him a coward and an opportunist for running away to Pakistan, she also rises to his defence when he was criticised after his death. Only Chughtai would dare to describe Manto as "a man who gave the appearance of a finely shaped insect."


I don't know whom to blame for my being so impressionable. My paternal relatives believed that I had taken after the maternal side of my family. These poor wretches are Sheikhs, consumers of watery daal ... my maternal relatives were positive that I had taken after my paternal family ... What else could one expect from the descendants of Changez Khan? ... If someone asked my mother, "What happened to your daughter?" she would sigh deeply and say "It's all a trick of fate."

Apart from Manto, there are sharply etched portraits of stalwarts such as Patras Bokhari, Meeraj, Krishan Chander, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Suraiya and Majaz. Each is special, not only for the wealth of detail, but also for its deeply felt empathy. "The Lamps are Lit", on Krishan Chander, is a sensitive account, perhaps unparalleled in the entire biographical literature on that writer. Chughtai's sketch of the poet Meeraj, on the other hand, is laced with stinging humour. "In my family, poetry was regarded as the art of the hijras," she says, setting the tone.

What demarcates Chughtai from the other progressives is her burning concern for women. "This is a man's world, man has created and mutilated it," she declares. Yet this oppression and subjugation of women can be countered only through the revamping of the whole system: "You are imprisoned in purdah, your sisters are illiterate, the children of your country are hungry, the young men are unemployed and sick." The way out is not complaint or blame: "I always hated the griping, weeping, whining womanhood that bore bastards," she says. In the new order, as Chughtai envisions it, "Women won't have to crouch in putrid drains like starving bitches ... Men will be distanced from bestiality." There is also a section of "Reminiscences" which has the account of the Lihaaf trial and of Chughtai's passage to Pakistan. The first section of the book also has the utterly hilarious narrative of the Progressive Writers' journey, "From Bombay to Bhopal".

While we need to be grateful to Kali for Women and Tahira Naqvi for giving us so much of Chughtai over the years, we must insist on higher standards of translation and editing. This volume lacks even a rudimentary account of the author's life, and a bibliography is, quite predictably, absent. The book also has one of the worst covers I've seen in a long time. It makes Chughtai look like a four-eyed extra-terrestrial, precisely the kind of ogress her critics had turned her into during her tempestuous life.


New Century: Whose Century?
Compiled and ed by Manmohan Malhoutra
(UBSPD, Rs 595)
Interaction of technology, polity and society.

Globalization and Nationalism
By Baldev Raj Nayar (Sage, Rs 450)
The changing balance in India's economic policy.

With Honour and Glory
By Jagjit Singh (Lancer, Rs 595)
The wars fought by India between 1947 and 1999.

Breaking the Ice in Antarctica
By Satya S. Sharma (New Age)
India's first winter in the South Pole.

There's a Mouse in Roosevelt House
By Jacqueline Lundquist and Samuel Celeste
(Har-Anand, Rs 300)
Picture book from the family at Roosevelt House.


Care Today


Rock Solid
Here's the big truth for those who doubted the band's durability: Deep Purple is still together--and after 33 years of full-detonation rocking.


Looking Glass

Delhi Exhibition:
Ghislaine Aarsse Prins

Delhi Restaurant:
Art Diva Cafe

Mumbai Bar:
Starboard Bar


    Web Exclusives
  More and more elderly people are daring to break social constraints in search of companionship, reports INDIA TODAY's Namita Bhandare in Despatches.



India Today, April 9, 2001

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