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Himal: The South Asian Magazine Volume 12, Number 10, October 1999 Dixit, Kanak Mani Oct 31, 1999

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Probably the best beer in the world
 Vol 12   No 10
October 1999
> ?Kashiimor
Brute majority
Gods in exile
by Kanak Mani Dixit
~ Non-resident Nataraja
by Ranjit Devraj
An antique land
by Massoud Ansari
-The missing hand and other stories
by Farjad Nabi
' Where is the Bactrian gold 7
by Khaled Ahmed
...         26
, Thisftbelieuer was a communist
by Hasan Mujtaba
A tiouse.of. my own
■ by Zaigham Khan
Walio leaver-cpaf .   •
"bf Miresh Eliatamby
"Foreign' staff, English medium..."
* * .by Cassandra Balchin
ZB&rtglSdBSh bioscope
by Afsan Chowdhury
..Directors choice
Malayaiee avante garde
f"    by Rajiv Theodore
Earth Door Sky Door
reviewed by Ratan Rai
Intrusions, infiltrations and
Surinder Singh
by Ashok K. Mehta
Kashmir deadline
Fair is unfair
UN in Lanka
A bomb for a bomb
Are you a true South Asian?
Let them bs
The last nomads
,  .   by Joel Issacson
The year of >the earth rooster/Before the
rain/Carried from here/Love letter 19
by Tshering Wangmo Dhompa
 ,&■ *m w. mt
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
:0;eepak Thapa
Copy; Editor
i. Contributing Editors
i Colombo Mahik de Silva .
* gHAi«     Afsan Chowdhury.
I &HpfE*.   Beena Sarwar
»■ new delhi Mitu Varma" :,
Prabhu Ghate
2i®mko Tarik Ali Khan
Editor, litSA
*Anrndle Prasad
i: 'ft- .ft- '-''   ** '
Chandra Khgtiyvada
: Bilash Rat (graphics)
I inilra Shrestha
I. Suman Shakya- •
«AnMari# !»-•''
* Satnbhu Gutragaifi
;Avvadhfesh K Das
-Pranita- Pradhan
Website Manager
Salir Subecfr"
: Administration
i AnilShrestha
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' Briiida.Thapa
Marketing Office, Dhaka
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'Hef:+"880-2-812 954'
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Media Sales Representative, Karachi"
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Contributors to this issue
Himal is published and distributed by
Himalmedia Pvt Ltd
GPO Box 7251, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977-1-543333/34/35/36
Fax: 521013 (editorial)
http ://www
ISSN 1012 9604
Library of Congress Card Catalogue
Number 88 912832
ImagesetHng at: Polyimage
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Kathmandu
Ashok K. Mehta is a journalist, a former army officer, and founder-member of the Indian Defence
Planning Staff of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Cassandra Balchin is the head ofthe publicity department of Shirkat Gah, a women's resource centre.
Farjad Nabi is a filmmaker and occasional journalist from Lahore.
Farhan Haq is the Inter-Press Service correspondent at the UN.
Hasan Mujtaba is a journalist from Pakistan currently living in the US.
Joel Issacson is a writer based in Kathmandu.
Khaled Ahmed is the consulting editor of The Friday Times, Lahore,
Massoud Ansari is a senior reporter for Newsline monthly, Karachi.
Niresh Eliatamby is a freelance journalist based in Sri Lanka, and a contributor to several regional and
local magazines and newspapers.
Rajiv Theodore is ajournalist based in Delhi,
Ranjit Devraj is with the Inter-Press Service in Delhi.
Ratan Rai is an artist and social commentator who has worked extensively in the Mustang region.
S.N.M. Abdi is a journalist from Calcutta who covers eastern and north-eastern India for several
Sujoy Dhar is a Calcutta-based journalist, working with the news agency UNI as sub-editor.
Tshering Wangma Dhompa is a staff writer for the American Himalayan Foundation, San Francisco.
Her poems have appeared, among others, in Mid-American Review and Bitter Oleander.
Zaigham Khan is Lahore correspondent for Herald, Karachi.
Cover shows statue of Saraswati from Pharping in the southern rim of the Kathmandu Valley,
photographed by Juergen Schick in May and December of 1984. The stolen head was returned
to Nepal in August this year.
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+977-1-521013  or  <circulation@himalinag.cont..   For AMEX cards please include contact phone numbers.
 Vajra (literally-flash
of lightning), is an
artists' condominium,
a transit home for
many, providing a
base during months
of hibernation and
creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic
splendour and
peaceful ambience,
make an ideal retreat
from the clock of
Ketaki Sheth
Inside Outside.
I stayed a week at the
Vajra, by which time
I had become so fond
of it that I stayed
John Collee
The London Observer.
Vajra, a serene
assembly of brick
buildings, grassy
ivycovered walls and
Hindu statuary is a
calm oasis over
looking, chaotic
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
Swayambhu, Dallu Bijyaswori, PO Box 1084, Kathmandu
Phone: 977 1 271545, 272719 Fax: 977 1 271695 E-mail:
The Explore Nepal Group
■tfnrr nir
One of the finest and exclusive
Nepali restaurant which
serves traditional cuisine.
Located within the heart
of Dilli Bazar, an old
historical building restored meticulously and
converted into fascinating res- "^
taurant with intricate decor, subtle setting's and comfortable ambience within nostalgic atmosphere. Traditional
folk music and dances performed in full costume each
evening over savory meals. Bhojan Griha is open every
day for both lunch and dinner.
Instant reservation can be made at:
Bhojan Griha
Phone: 416423, 411603 Fax: +977-1-243250
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp
P.O. Box 536, Kamaladi, Kathmandu
Phone: 247081, 247079. 248942 & 226130
Fax: +977-1-224237 & 243250
■ Boating • Fishing * Jungle Hikes ■ Jungle Drive
* Cultural Excursions • Photographs • Sun Bathing • Swimming
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp
24 Bedded Luxury Safari Tented Camp
"Birds of Paradise"
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp- the very luxury safari tented camp within
Koshi Wildlife Reserve offers a unique chance to experience and view
almost 400 species of bird life and some of the rare endangered wild
games on the most peaceftland relaxing settings found anywhere in
Still unexplored and remote, fhe Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve first
gazetted back in 1979 was mainly established to protect the last of the
remaining rare endangered wild water buffaloes. Today the reserve
extends and the vast expanse of water formed by the
barrage has created marshes, lagoons, and mudflats which has favored
to create one of the best and finest bird sanctuaries in Asia.
The camp with 12 large deluxe safari tents with comfortable twin beds
has simple but modern toilet amenities including hot and cold shower,
restaurant with fully stocked Bar.Simple but tasty Nepali and western
cuisine is served on all occasion. An excellent alternative for nature
lovers who have already visited Royal Chitwan National Park and Royal
Bardia Hunting Reserve.
Special offer for local resident and expatriats. For further information and
reservation conracr
Kantipur Temple House
A unique property has been created within heart
of Thamel, Jyatha Tol for visitors who always
appreciate and love the art & culture of
Kathmandu Valley. Kantipur Temple House
has been built with typical architectural
blend of ethnic Newari Temple at
the center of cultural environs of
Thamel Tol, where for centuries
ornate temples and curious street
shrines have thrived to this day.
Kantipur Temple House has 32
rooms all delicately furnished in
true traditional decor with simple
but modern amenities, cozy
restaurant and roof-top terraced
garden with picturesque views of
Royal Palace against the back    ft
drop of mountains beyond the   yy,-Zfciftti
northern horizon. A true cultural  ^
experience with warm hospitality	
For reservation and inquiry contact:
Kantipur Temple House
Jyatha Tol, Post Box 536
Phone:250131, 248942
Fax: +977-1-250078
One of the major airlines of Europe has started direct flight from
Vienna, Austria to Kathmandu, Nepal since 24th September 1998.
The Airbus (A310-324) with 213 seat configuration arrives 11:40
hrs. and departs 1300 hrs twice a week.
Austrian Airlines has excellent connections for both Europe and
USA with impeccable inflight services.
For details and inquiries contact:
Austrian Airlines
GSA The Explore Nepal Pvt. Ltd.
P.O. Box 536, Kamaladi.Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: 241470,247078 Fax: +977-1-243250, 224237
OS4444 Tlmredav       KTM VIENNA 1200 1900
OS4446 .     Saturday.       KTM VIENNA 1200 1900
OS4444 Thursday       KTM VIENNA 1300 1900
OS44+6 Salartiy        K.TM VIENNA 1300 1900
WHAT DOES the fate of a small island in the
Pacific Ocean have to do with the conflict in
Kashmir? If the island is East Timor, the answer is everything and nothing, with the Indian and Pakistani governments apparently
unable to address the fate of the Indonesian-
occupied territory without looking at it through
the prism of their own battles.
No sooner had the UN-authorised intervention in EastftTimor, which led to the landing of
Australian-led troops on 20 September, been
carried out than it turned into a political football for India and Pakistan. The latter was quick
to draw parallels between the crises in East
Timor and Kashmir, while India, along with a
range of Western powers, sought to downplay
any such comparison.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz made
the most ambitious effort to pair the two situations in a speech to the UN General Assembly
on 22 September, in which he praised the East
Timor intervention. What the world had learnt
from the East Timor and Kosovo crises, he argued, was that "a people's aspiration for freedom cannot be suppressed indefinitely; a free
exercise of the right of self-determination is invaluable for peace; self-determination can best
be exercised in an environment free of fear and
coercion; (and) the United Nations is best
placed to oversee the exercise of self-determination."
Aziz went on to note that "these conclusions
were already accepted for Kashmir   ^^^^^
50 years ago". Just as the UN intervened to allow the Timorese to decide   I	
their fate in the 30 August referendum, Aziz implied, so too must nations intervene to allow Kashmiris to
determine their national status. "Human rights must be upheld, not only
in Kosovo and Timor, but also in
Kashmir," he argued.
That was a plea readily echoed
by Kashmiri separatists. The
Kashmiri American Council, in a recent lecture, drew parallels between
Indonesia's 24-year occupation of
East Timor and the Kashmir dispute.
The central principle, the group asserted, was that the UN had pushed
for the right to self-determination—a
key point for Kashmiris who have
wanted the UN to prod India to hold
a plebiscite on Kashmir's status, in accordance
with the 1948 UN Security Council resolutions
on Kashmir. (The resolutions asked for a complete withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the
territory of Jammu and Kashmir, while enjoining that India withdraw the bulk of its forces
before a plebiscite was held under UN supervision. India made a guarded acceptance of the
proposal but Pakistan did not, leading to a series of unsuccessful attempt at mediation by
the UN.)
But the idea of a parallel as broached by
Pakistan was quickly shot down for one, by
Foggy Bottom. "Kashmir is not East Timor,"
US State Department spokesman James Rubin
said, urging anyone who would make that
comparison "not to get trapped into facile
analogies that don't apply".
Why doesn't the comparison apply? For
Antonio Monteiro, UN ambassador for Portugal—East Timor's former colonial power —the
answer is simple: Kashmir is a disputed territory internationally, while East Timor's status
was never in dispute. "Indonesia's annexation
[of East Timor in 1976] was never recognised
by the UN," Monteiro noted, which means that
Portugal was, and continues to be, recognised
as the "administering power" of East Timor,
even after 24 years of Indonesian occupation.
By contrast, Kashmir is a disputed territory,
with no clear administering power ever established.
Of course, there is another reason as well.
Indonesia remains a quasi-authoritarian state
following Suharto's fall, with the military still
hovering ominously over the country's democratic transition. Moreover, due to its precari-
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1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
 il   *    I'   ■>,«::«      ^^     ."      ^,1'
Aziz at the UN. ous financial situation since the Asian financial crisis, Jakarta can do little to prevent countries like Portugal and Australia rallying support for East Timor.
In contrast, few world powers would want
to meddle with India's 'thriving' democracy
and 'promising' economy for the sake of Kashmir, any more than they would want UN involvement in Belfast, or in Chiapas. So India,
for the moment at least, has little to worry about
in terms of East Timor setting a precedent. But
that hasn't stopped South Block from rebuffing requests for Indian participation in the Australian-led peacekeeping force fearing precisely
such an antecedent.
On the other hand, Pakistan has smelt a
fresh opportunity and agreed to provide Pakistani troops for the East Timor force, its optimism midinvmed by its lack of success so far in
linking, the tiny Pacific island to the lush Himalayan valley. i
—Farhan Haq
It took New Delhi two days to respond to the
sharp rebuke administered in September by the
US State Department to the ruling Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) and its militant affiliates like
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa
Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD),
for rising violence against Muslims and Christians in India.
Obviously, the State Department was provoked into making the statement by the killing
of an Australian missionary and his two sons
in Orissa in January by a Hindu fundamental
ist (and suspected Bajrang Dal activist) who is
still at large nine months after committing the
crime (although he surfaced in August to kill a
Muslim trader in full public view), and the attacks on Christians in Gujarat, incidents that
received worldwide coverage. Its report also
dealt at length with the plight of Muslims,-as
"governments at the state and local levels only
partially respect religious freedom", and "local police and government officials abet violence against minorities". Significantly, the
State Department also noted that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister
L.K. Advani are members of the RSS, as are the
chief ministers of BJP-ruled states.
When the caretaker government finally did
respond, it dubbed the reprimand as an "intrusive exercise", and suggested that instead
of India, "where the constitution guarantees
religious freedom" and so on and so forth, the
US should "focus its efforts on countries which
remain under the pall of bigotry and intolerance, where religious minorities are discriminated against by law..."
This evasive response revealed that the
Vajpayee-led government —notwithstanding
illusions of superpower status and eagerness
to strut the global stage after last year's nuclear
tests—is simply unable to stand up to rich and
powerful nations even when they whip India
publicly. The Indian government did not dare
tell the US to refrain from sanctimonious
preaching and policing. It was left to principled*
votaries of secularism and equality to point out
that while it is true that India has to bear the
cross of the Sangh Parivar, the US too is
haunted by the spectre of right-wing militias
with anti-minority agendas.
The point is not to highlight America's de- '
linquencies so as to sanction the sectarian plank
of the BJP. Rather, it is to take note of the fact that
the consequences of the open encouragement
given by the Vajpayee government to the RSS,
the VHP and the BD is causing concern well beyond the country's borders. A senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Anil Biswas,
recently quoted from classified Home Ministry
files to reveal that there had been as many as
698 "communal flare-ups" in the country in 1998
and 1999 during BJP rule.
The campaign for the September-October
general election saw the BJP's anti-Muslim
movement back on track, corning as it did after
the country's tiny Christian community had
been targetted earlier in the year. Addressing
an election rally in Lucknow, the BJP chief miri-
ister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, is reported
to have called upon the Indian government to
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
 cross the line of control in Kargil "to change
history as I did on 6 December 1992 when the
Babri Masjid was razed to the ground".
The Kargil conflict is being exploited by
other parties too, but it is the BJT that has given
the matter an overtly religious colour. The party
has taken the lead in organising funeral processions for Hindu soldiers who died in Kargil
(during which anti-Muslim slogans were
known to have been raised). Even more dangerous has been the BJP's attempt to communalise
the armed forces. The RSS recently roped in the
army to organise a religious function in the disputed Kashmir region where anti-Pakistan, and
anti-Muslim, slogans were heard, while VHP
leaders visited an army hospital to distribute
copies of Hindu scriptures, and deliver religious sermons.
The BJP and its fighting arms - RSS, VHP and
BD —have already turned India into a soft
Hindu state. Further descent into fascism has
so far been blocked only by that marvellous
document, the Indian Constitution. But there
is always the fear that if the BJP ever gains a brute
majority in Parliament, it will amend the constitution to create the Hindu rashtra envisaged
decades ago by the BJP's forerunners —the
Hindu Mahasabha and the Jana Sangh. i
—S.N.M. Abdi
Orientation Course in South Asian Peace Studies
The Peace Studies Programme at South Asia
Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) is offering a
fifteen-day orientation course in Kathmandu, Nepal,
from 7-2i February 2000. The course is intended for
peace and human rights activists, media persons, researchers and academics in peace studies and diplomats involved in policy making in conflict resolution.
The course will include examination of themes such
as peace as value in South Asian cultures, traditions
of conflict resolution, peace accords in the region,
civil society in peace process in South Asia, refugee
and minority rights, sharing and common management
of scarce resources, bilateralism and regionalism as
the way to conflict resolution, economics of war and
peace* women in peace, media as a catalyst of conflict
and peace and evolutions in the notion of rights and
peace. Participants will have to support their own
travel. Registration fee for South Asian participants is
US $ 100 (or its equivalent in Nepali rupee) and participants from outside the region US $ 250 (or its
equivalent in Nepali rupee). Board, lodging and other
expenses for the selected candidates will be
provided by SAFHR. Travel grant is available for limited number of candidates for which they will have
to apply separately. The preferable age limit for
participation is 35 years. Women, members of mi
nority communities and refugees are particularly encouraged to apply.
Applications must reach Peace Studies Desk in the
South Asia Forum for Human Rights by November
15, 1999. Applications by fax or e-mail will also be
valid. Applications will have to be supported by full
particulars, 500-word summary of the relevance of
the course to the work of the participant, and names
of two referees whose recommendations should reach
independently SAFHR peace studies desk by November 15,  1999.
The application must include all necessary details
such as language skill, experience and nature of
current work. The summary has to include the
candidate's own idea of peace and human rights activism, and the relation of the applicant's work with
SAFHR's peace studies programme. In selection of
candidates the 500-word summary will be accorded
importance. The course will be participatory, and will
involve intense course and field work. Frontline activists and researchers will be sharing their knowledge and experience with the participants who will
leave the course with a critical understanding on issues of peace in South Asia.
South Asia
Forum for Human Rights
GPG Box 12855, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977-1-541026 Fax: +977-1-527852 email:
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
 Every piece of ancient religious statuary fromKathmandu
Valley that sits today in the West is stolen property.
The gods must be returned from their exile, and
until such time, those who presently hold
them are merely custodians.
by Kanak Mani Dixit
.:,.;.;. ' ..,.■.-.
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
 For 900 years, a sculpture of Uma-
Maheshwar, showing Shiva-
Parvati and attendant deities in
Mount Kailas, had stood in a shrine
at the Wotol locality of Dhulikhel
town, east of Kathmandu. The grey
limestone statue standing 20 inches was
stolen in 1982 and today sits on a lonely
pedestal at the Museum fur hidische Kunst
in Berlin.
A 15th-century Laxmi-Narayan, half-
Vishnu and half his consort Laxmi, was included in the 1990 sales catalogue of
Sotheby's, Dark granite shining under the
spotlights, the image was valued between
USD 30,000-40,000 and sold off for an undisclosed amount by the New York auction
house. The people of Patko Tole of Patan
town have not had the deity to worship since
it was lifted in 1984 and today make do with
a crude replica.
An 11th-century Uma-Maheshwar image, which for eight centuries adorned a hiti
water-spout in Nasamana Tole, Bhaktapur
town, is now a prize in the collection of the
Musee National d'Arts Asiatiques —Guimet
in Paris ("one of the largest art museums in
the world"). Since 23 May 1984, when the
sculpture was pried off its brick and mortar
backing and taken away, the celestial couple
has not received propitiation from the devout who come to collect water at the hiti.
Since the 1960s, thousands upon thousands of stone sculptures have disappeared
in this manner from the temples, monasteries, fields and forests of Kathmandu Valley
and nearby towns. The only way devotees
can view these deities is by travelling across
the oceans to see them displayed, spot-lit
and isolated in private drawing-room pedestals and museum niches. Others remain
locked up in storage vaults, and quite a few
still turn up for sale, advertised in glossy
magazines specialising in oriental art.
There are compelling reasons to
become emotional about the theft of these
Kathmandu Valley sculptures, wrested
from the lap of worshippers and their sites
of consecration centuries ago. In a museum,
the statue stands polished and alone, its surface cleaned of worshippers' grime of decades. An object of worship becomes an
object of ait. Says Chandra Prasad Tripathy,
a specialist at the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu, "When a statue is displayed in a museum, it is converted into an
archaeological item which has lost its current cultural value."
As the deities continued their journey
overseas through the 1970s and 80s,
Kathmandu Valley residents suffered the
loss but did little else. Meanwhile, the
Valley's cultural vanguard showed a singular passivity. Partly, this fatalistic inaction was due to the logistics of tracing stolen items in the murky arena of antique art
commerce. The larger explanation, however,
has to do with the severely disorienting fallout of headlong modernisation, under
whose weight the Valley's age-old communal institutions have crumbled, and the
value of ancient heritage become terribly
downgraded. While the citizenry watched
helplessly as the gods and goddesses went
into foreign exile, the cultural elite looked
the other way.
Four stone objects
Till even a couple of months ago, it would
have been difficult to conceive the idea of
stolen divinity actually being returned to
Nepal, but things have now changed dramatically. The beginning of August was witness to the first-ever voluntary return to
Nepal from overseas of three stolen statues
and a fragment (a severed Saraswati head).
The cache was returned by an American art
collector confronted with proof of their theft,
and the very act of willing restitution—welcome in itself— now holds great promise
for the thousands of statues still out there
in the occidental cold.
Going beyond the matters of international legality and obligations, the August
restitution was made on the force of moral
and ethical considerations by a remorseful
collector. This gives rise to the hope that
thousands of other collectors, connoisseurs
and dealers who hold their art treasures in
private—unlike the more transparent custom of museums which may be persuaded
more easily —may also follow suit if and
when confronted with the reality of theft.
There is now, more than ever, a need for
community activists, archaeologists and
other public and private custodians of
Nepal's heritage to work together to actively
seek the return of sculptural heritage that is
today scattered throughout the West, from
North America to Europe, Australia and Japan. Besides seeking the return of stolen
cultural property, it is important to note that
a loud and visible campaign would force
down the value of artefacts, enough to destroy the future market for ancient Nepali
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
 The gleaming Laxmi-
Narayan as featured in
the 1990 sates
catalogue of Sotheby's
(above) and in its
original place at Patko
Tole in Patan.
Fortunately, some solid groundwork for
such a campaign has already been laid by
Lain Singh Bangdel of Nepal and Juergen
Schick of Germany, thus far criers in the wilderness who have worked for long years
with commitment and courage against the
idol-lifters (see page 12). Over the course of
two decades, working independently of
each other, Bangdel and Schick photographically documented hundreds of statuary in their original places, and also took
subsequent pictures of the sites which had
been ravaged. Taken together, these 'before'
and 'after' pictures provide incontrovertible
proof of theft of more than 140 pieces.
The August restitution was itself the result—ten years later —of Bangdel's 1989
work Stolen Images of Nepal. Among other
things, the book contained before-and-after
pictures of four particular shrines. It was
Pratapaditya Pal, the US-based authority on
Himalayan art, who noticed that a West
Coast private collector held four of the
pieces included in Stolen Images. Says Pal,
"When I saw the sculptures in Bangdel's
book, I mentioned the problem to the art collector. The collector, who chooses to remain
unknown, immediately agreed to return
them unconditionally."
Alerted by Pal, Bangdel wrote to the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu,
which acted quickly with the help of
Nepal's embassy in Washington DC to have
the statues transferred to Kathmandu. Today, the four pieces are secure in the National Museum at Chhauni in Kathmandu,
and arc currently being displayed in a special exhibition (see page 13).
The Disappeared
The process of idol theft started soon after
Nepal shed the Rana era and opened up to
the world in the late 1950s. Western connoisseurs of Oriental art came upon a Valley which hosted a treasure trove of iconography in stone, bronze and wood - the
artistic outpouring of the Valley's prosperous and accomplished urban culture
going back beyond the 5th century. As
Bangdel puts it, "The early visitors found
Kathmandu Valley like an open museum
populated by tens of thousands of gods and
The theft of religious art began with
small items that could be easily lifted —
ritual paraphernalia, wooden articles, freestanding bronzes or those pried off torana
friezes, and pouba and thangka hangings. In
the early 1970s, the art smugglers shifted
their gaze to the Valley's ubiquitous granite
sculptures, and the trade in stone statuary
did roaring business over the next couple
of decades. Like the Nataraja images of the
Chola Dynasty of southern India (see following article), the Uma-Maheshwar images
seemed to have been particular favourites
of the collectors, for their reverential themes
and fine sense of artistic proportion.
Together with the museums and art collectors in the West, some Nepalis too had
come to realise the value of images that lay
strewn about their Valley. From the most
powerful in the land to the neighbourhood
thief, as well as functionaries of guthis (community trusts) and neighbourhood groups,
many colluded in the theft of Valley statuary. Besides this, the acceleration of idol theft
through the 1970s and 80s was made possible by the inaction of an entire spectrum
of the Valley aristocracy and national elite,
including the royal preceptors (gurujyu's),
the state-appointed administrators at the
Guthi Sansthan responsible for religious
property, and that very intelligentsia
which sees itself as heir to the Valley's glorious past.
Says a Western conservationist long involved in the restoration of Nepali cultural
heritage, who prefers not to be named, "The
worm is deep in the fruit on the Nepali side
too. Look at the way the Guthi Sansthan operates as custodian, and the private guthis
which are going to seed because of loss of
income and breakup of clans and families."
The period following the 1980 plebiscite
in Nepal (which gave a mandate for continuing the autocratic Panchayat system
under the king's direct rule) was one
marked by lawlessness and a lack of accountability among those in authority. This
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
 period saw a spurt in the disappearance of
the Valley's religious art. In fact, the bulk of
the disappearance identified in the Bangdel
and Schick books refers to the period between 1980 and 1986. Such was the extent
of this plunder that there are some who believe that almost all that was worth stealing from the Valley's open spaces was taken
away during this period. "There is nothing
left to steal."
Contraband deities
It can be said with confidence that, with
hardly any exception, every ancient stone
statue from Nepal currently adorning pedestals in the West —has been the subject of
loot. They had to be stolen because these
communally-owned religious objects in
public shrines could never have been gifted
or sold. Juergen Schick is unequivocal, "The
collectors in the West should know that almost all Nepali art that came into the market over the last 30-35 years was procured
through theft." Bangdel concurs: "Almost
all the idols in the Western collections are
definitely stolen."
Pratapaditya Pal prefers to make a distinction between the takng of art objects
from a site and their departure from the
country, "Some of the objects belonged to
certain communities, which may have had
the legal right to sell them," he says. "However, one can claim that most objects left the
country illegally."
While it is indeed possible that that some
of the smaller free-standing bronzes and religious wall-hangings may have been willingly given or sold by their Nepali trustees
or custodians, even these would have
left Nepal against the country's laws
governing ancient art (which prohibits
the departure of any item more than a
hundred years old). However, even this
fig leaf of minimal respectability is not
available for those who currently possess stone sculptures, all of which
would invariably have had to be pried
away from temples niches, altars and
shrines on their way to foreign exile.
Says Riddi Pradhan, Director General
of the Department of Archaeology in
Kathmandu, "There is no doubt about it,
nearly every one of our statues left the country as contraband, against our laws. They
are stolen goods, and hence remain the property of Nepal, owned by the country and
the communities where they were originally
"Thousands of pieces from the Valley
today fill up 25 museums of the world. The
Valley is bled white of its heritage, while
the museums' collections gain incredible
riches," says Schick. Adds Bangdel, "The
fact is that, while they may not know it, collectors, art dealers and museums all over
the West are in possession of objects which
have been stolen from their sites or illegally
smuggled out. Once it is proved that they
are stolen art objects, no one has the right to
possess them."
Push and pull
As with any cultural property, the attraction of Kathmandu Valley sculpture has to
do with the collector's need for rare artefacts
of ancient, exotic and unusual pedigree.
Shiva s mount Nandi
kneels in front of the
missing master atop
Mrigasthali Hill at
Pashupati, Kathmandu.
IT IS natural for neighbourhood residents to
want their stolen statues back. In Dhulikhel's
Wotol, elderly ladies crowd around a copy of
Lain Singh Bangdel's Stofen Images of Nepal,
which shows dearly the image ol their Uma-
Maheshwar as it was originally in fhe
neighbourhood shrine. They find it hard to
believe that the statue has been located years
after it disappeared, at the Berlin Museum.
"Do everything you can to bring it back,
please!" says 75-year-old Nanimaya (see
picture) as she studies Bangdel's book. She
then agitatedly points to the spot where a
rounded rock receives the flowers and tikas
meant for the Uma-Maheshwar. The nandi
bull is still there in attendance of Shiva and Parvati, even
though the godly couple are some thousands of miles away
Among the elderly menfolk gathered in
NasamanaTole in Bhaktapur's Ward No 13
to study Stolen Images is Ram Bhagat
Twayana. Unlike some ofthe younger
residents present, he easily recognises the
image ofthe Uma-Maheswar which
disappeared from above the hiri's water
spout on the night of 23 May 1984. When
the group is told that the icon is presently at
the Musee Guimet in Paris, every member is
emphatic that it has to be returned. Says
Krishna Gopal Hada, the Ward's representative in the Bhaktapur town council: "We
must get this statue back. We will go to the
airport when it comes and welcome it back
with baja gaja, with pomp and festivity. The whole town of
Bhaktapur will celeb rate the event!"
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
FOR THREE decades, while the Kathmandu
Valley public remained largely blase and
uncaring about the terrible loss being inflicted
upon its heritage by idol thieves, two individuals with origins elsewhere were unrelenting in
their campaign to document the loot.
Artist and art historian Lain Singh Bangdel
and juergen Schick, an art connoisseur from
Essen, Germany, emerged as guardians of
statuary in a Valley where modernisation
and breakdown, of community spirit had
left thousands of icons in the fields and
neighbourhoods virtually orphaned. Bangdel's
and Schick's writings and photographic records of important
statuary, the shrines before and after theft, as well as their
publication of endangered icons, have been the most potent
weapons thus far against the spectrum of art bandits which
stretches from the petty thieves in Kathmandu Valley to
faraway galleries.
Lain Singh Bangdel, born in Darjeeling in 1924, arrived in
Nepal in the early 1 950s after completing his study of art in
Paris and London. He was immediately impressed by fhe
Valley's ancient treasures, and set about studying them,
publishing several scholarly volumes. As art theft peaked in
the mid-1980s, he began preparing his book Stolen /mages
of Nepal. It was published by the Royal Nepal Academy
(which he had earlier headed as Vice Chancellor) in 1989.
Juergen Schick arrived in Nepal overland as
a budget traveller in 1 973, and he came back
to settle in 1980 with his Nepali wife. His plan
was to document the art heritage of this vast
"open museum"; but as he started travelling to
far corners photographing iconography he
realised that they were being stolen even as he
recorded them. Schick recalls, "With ever
greater frequency I would come across gaping
emptiness where just a few days previously I
would have photographed a beautiful god,"
Schick made his personal shift from art
connoisseur to activist in the spring of 1 984,
when idol-theft in Kathmandu Valley was at its
high-water mark. The robbery of two images hit
him particularly hard. One, an 800-year-old black granite
statue of Laxmi-Narayan in Bhaktapur which disappeared one
night, and the other an exquisitely carved 16th-cenfury image
of Veenadharrni' Saraswati, from the village of Pharping on
the Valley's southern rim. Schick had photographed the
sculpture in May 1984, but when he returned in December,
he found it decapitated. Unable to lift the whole statue, the
thieves hod severed the head with a sledge-hammer blow and
taken off with it. "It was then and there that I decided to
pursue this phenomenon of cultural crime," recalls Schick.
(This Saraswati of Pharping is pictured on the cover of this
issue, and the head is one of the pieces returned in August.
See opposite page.)
Working independently of each other, for both Bangdel
and Schick, the exercise in photographic documentation
rapidly evolved into a race against time. Their task was to
photograph as many images as possible so
that at the very least there would be proof of
origin of stolen statuary. Says Bangdel, "I felt it
was important to provide strong and authentic
photographic evidence of sculptures which
were stolen from the Valley and surrounding
It was important not only to document, but
also to publish the 'before' and 'after'
photographs, so that a) the fact of theft was
proven, and b) the market value of statues still
in place would plummet amongst museums,
collectors, antique shops and auction houses.
The same year that Bangdel came out with his celebrated
Sfofen /mages, Schick produced The Gods /Ve Leaving the
Country (published in German and only recently out in
English, by White Orchid Books, Bangkok).
As Schick says, "Both Mr. Bangdel and i produced our
books to bring down the market value of the images. Also, the
pictures would provide undeniable proof that the pieces were
stolen. If we do o good job of publicising the art that still exists
in shrines, then they will stop turning up for sale in
the West."
At a time when Nepali society as a whole, including the
Valley communities themselves, seemed unwilling or unable to
do anything about the flight ofthe ancient objects of worship,  .
a Nepali artist and a German activist thus
courageously took up the task of documentation.
Those were lonely and dangerous years for both,
as the autocratic Panchayat regime was at its
arrogant worst —- to the extent that robbers
connected to the most powerful in the land felt
confident enough to use a crane to try to pry the
full-size Bhupatindra Malla statue from atop its
pillar at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Bangdel, despite his stature as one of the
country's foremost artists and head ofthe Royal
Nepal Academy, was threatened with his life if he
kept up his photographic crusade, and foreigner
Schick was harassed, as is the custom, over his
visa. He spent one whole desultory year in
Germany with his family when he could not even
enter Nepal. Recalls Schick, "When I found Mr
Bangdel at the Academy, at last I had the one Nepali who
showed a sensitivity to this subject. No one else."
But both kept at it, and have ended up making a small
difference—the best proof of which is the return in August of
four pieces pictured in Stofen /mages. If a few more statues
remain in Nepal, credit must go to their books which brought
down the market value for them in the international arts '
bazaar. And if there is still a possibility to have the scores of
stolen statues returned to the Valley, it is because they have
documented the theft to such an extent that it is impossible for
any fair-minded collector not to return them. (The information
in the main story on the whereabouts of the idols in the
various museums was also provided by them.)
"I only wish I had come to Kathmandu a decade earlier so
that I could have documented much more," says Schick. "So
much art had already disappeared over the 1 970s."
HIMAL  12/10 October 1999
 This artistic inclination becomes a travesty
when the collector directly or mdirectly is
involved in the chain of events which surround the theft, transport, sale and accession of an Uma-Maheshwar or Laxmi-
Narayan, representatives of a living culture
far enough away to feel detached and
According to one Kathmandu scholar
who minces no words, "Idol theft is a demand-driven trade led by rapacious cultural
cannibals. The culprits are not the petty
thieves who in any case earn a pittance compared to what the art will fetch under the
gavel in New York City." The only way to
stop this trade in contraband deities, he
says, is by hitting at the demand so that impoverished Nepalis at the bottom of the
smuggling chain do not feel the need to
wrest statues from their moorings to ship
them off.
The overseas demand for Valley loot
constitutes the 'pull factor' as far as the
trade is concerned. The 'push factor' is located in the weakened traditional institutions of Katlimandu Valley, an absence of
social leadership, as well as the greed of
Nepali thieves right up and down the social ladder. "There is hardly any sense of
responsibility here for the incredible treasures handed down by history," says the
Western conservationist referred to above
resignedly. "There is a near-total absence of
outrage, and no thought given to reclaiming the statues." He has a point there, but
nothing to change the fact that every ancient stone statue currently held by private
and institutional collectors In the West is
stolen property. And if something is stolen,
simply and irrefutably, it must be returned.
There are, of course, international treaties which lay out the principles for restitution of stolen art (even though most of the
Western countries which hold stolen art are
not signatories). The most important instruments are the "1970 Unesco Convention on
the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the
Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and the 1995
UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. (UNIDROIT
is the Rome-based International Institute for
the Unification of Private Law.) There are
also elaborate modalities for the reporting
and return of stolen objects, using Interpol,
the World Customs Organisation, the Art
Loss Register, the International Council of
Museums, and other governmental and
non-governmental agencies.
However, it is the Paris-based United
Nations agency Unesco that is the point
organisation when it comes to requital of
cultural property, and the agency is clear
when it comes to smuggled Nepali statuary. As Lyndel V. Prott, who is with Unesco's
Division of Cultural Heritage, wrote in a letter to Himal, "Unesco shares your concerns
regarding thefts of sacred and ancient
works of art in Nepal and is naturally willing to assist in recovering this cultural heritage through wide dissemination of the information, education of the local communities, and sensitisation of dealers, collectors
and museums."
The 1995 UNIDROIT convention was developed to deal with some of the legal is-
The return of the gods: The four pieces of Nepali statuary that were brought back to
Nepal in August after their voluntary return by an unnamed American collector. The
head of the 12th-century Veenadharini Saraswati from Pharping's Kamalpokhari (the
image at top of the page), and (right to left) the 9th-century Buddha from Bhinchhe
Banal, Patan: the 14th-century Surya from Panauti's Triveni Ghat; and the 10th-century
Garudasana Vishnu from Hyumat Tole, Kathmandu. These are on display at a special
exhibition in Kathmandu's National Museum. "We hope everyone interested in our
history, culture.and religion will come to view them," says curator Rehana Banu.
■ ■■■
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
 Before and after:
The 15th-century
Siva-linga at
Bangdel's "Conclusion"
from Stolen Images of
A!! the stolen images published in this book arc religious objects.
For generations and centuries they have been worshipped and venerated
by rhe people of Nepal. For them, the sacred icons are !ive symbols of
gods and goddesses whom they worship and pray daily with deep
faith and devotion. The devotees offer them flower, Vermillion, honey,
milk, butter, grains, sweets and water as though they were alive and not
mere pieces of art to be admired. They go to their gods and goddesses
both in happiness and sorrow to offer prayers. They celebrate and
worship their deities on different occasions with great pomp 2nd festivity.
"When the devotees and people ofthe country are deprived of their gods
and goddess their hearts bleed. The stealing of such religious images is
an atrocity, a serious crime which the civilized wodd should take steps
to stop. Let us hope that some day these stolen sculptures will be returned
to their respective temples and shrines.
sues insufficiently covered by the 1970
Unesco convention and provides an international framework to enable claims of illicitly trafficked cultural property to be pursued
within national legal systems. Tire Convention states, as Prott emphasises, "that the possessor of a stolen cultural object must return
it regardless of personal involvement or
knowledge of the original theft". Additionally, the Convention denies any compensation for the return unless "the possessor neither knew nor ought reasonably to have
known the object was stolen".
Elgin Marbles to Uma-Maheshwar
These two international instruments and
various other modalities will come into use
in the larger campaign to have stolen Nepali
art returned to the country, and it will help
when 'the countries which host most of the
stolen artefacts (e.g., Germany, Japan, the
United Kingdom, and the United States) join
them as full-fledged state parties. However,
the moral and ethical imperative itself is
strong and impelling enough to begin
the campaign for the restitution of stolen
Kathmandu Valley art. Indeed, the voluntary
despatch of religious objects by the American collector in August is the first and most
eloquent example of the feasibility of this exercise.
Demanding the return of images and
icons taken away by Western
museums is hardly
anything   new.
One of the most
celebrated examples is that
of the so-called
Elgin  Marbles,
: statues     from
the Parthenon
which     were
transferred  to
the British Mu
seum for "safekeeping" more than a century ago. This campaign for restitution is
being pursued even today by both the Greek
government and independent activists.
However, inasmuch as there is compelling basis to demand the return of the Greek
marbles —or Tnca jewellery, Pharaonic statues or (much closer to home) Gandharan
Buddhistic art for that matter, there is a
significant difference with regard to
Kathmandu Valley iconography. For, the
smuggled Valley images were part of a living culture rather than merely part of
Nepal's archaeological heritage. As Lain
Singh Bangdel observes, these are not mere
objets d'art, but pieces made "alive" by veneration. Till the day they were stolen, these
idols were being reverenced and their loss
is still deeply felt. (The empty pedestals of
statues lifted decades ago still receive tika
in Kathmandu Valley to this day.)
There can be no questioning the suggestion that religious art which received
tika and flower offerings till the day (night,
mostly) of plunder should be returned with
an even deeper sense of urgency than archaeological loot. As far as Kathmandu
Valley iconography is concerned, the process of restitution can be said to have begun with the return of the four pieces in
August, but there are thousands of statues
out there which await recovery. A concerted campaign to return statuary would
have to start with the understanding that
because every ancient religious stone statue
originating in Katlimandu Valley and surrounding region is known to have been stolen, every person and institution possessing such statuary must consider himself/
itself to be in possession of stolen property.
Those who currently hold such cultural
property must regard themselves as a custodian holding the object(s) in trust.
The place to start with the campaign
for restitution seems to be bringing back
the stolen works documented by Lain
Singh Bangdel and Juergen Schick. Among
them, the whereabouts of the statuary taken
from Nasamana Tole in Bhaktapur, Wotol
in Dhulikhel, and Gahiti in Patan is known
- they are in the the Musee Guimet in Paris,
Berlin Museum fur Indische Kunst and the
Denver Art Museum, respectively. Also,
since it is known that the Laxmi-Narayan
from Patan's Patko Tole was sold in 1990
by Sotheby's of New York, the auction
house would be duty-bound to help trace
it. And if both the return of Nepali statues
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
 The 11th-century Uma-Mahesvara from
Kumbhesvara, Patan, and the gaping hole after
it was lifted in October 1985.
in August and the experience of India (see
following story) is any indication, it should
not be all too difficult to begin the process of
their return.
Before and after
The next step for the activists would be to
attend to the remaining more than hundred
figures, the fact of whose theft has been similarly photographically documented by
Bangdel and Schick. Identification, location
and return of these gods and goddesses will
require sustained investigation and activism by art and heritage lovers in Nepal and
elsewhere. Before-and-after images of the
burglarised shrines should receive the widest possible distribution, through individual mailings, magazines and newsletters, over the Internet, and so on.
Lastly, and on a global scale, art and heritage lovers would have to get involved in
the task of sensitising everyone engaged—
in whatever manner—with Oriental art that
each and every piece of stone statuary with
origins in Kathmandu Valley is presumed
stolen unless proven otherwise. Further,
those who hold stolen Valley art, must be
reminded that at most they are, as suggested
earlier, custodians or trustees of what they
hold and not owners. A high-volume, well-
documented campaign for restitution of valley statuary would serve tire dual purpose
of returning stolen artefacts as well as killing the demand which would lead to further thefts.
Given the state of insecurity even
today regarding openly-kept statuary in
Kathmandu Valley, it is not necessary (and
may not even be desi rable) that every recovered statue be returned at this time to the
shrine or site of origin. Indeed, the recent
spate of thefts in Patan (including the head
of a bronze Mani Ganesh stolen recently
from the heart of town) points to the need
for extreme caution in this regard. Only local communities which are united and confident in providing security may and receive
permission from the Department of Archaeology for complete restitution.
In the case of the majority of recovered
objects, given the overall state of Nepali politics, economics and societal inaction which
leads to an insecure environment, a 'partial
restitution' is probably advisable, where the
gods and goddesses are returned to Nepal,
to await a secure day in which to enter then
original shrines and abodes. The repository
for returned statuary till such time would
111 EASY
NUMEROUS STATUES oil over Kathmandu Valley can be found
today protected behind iron bars, locked in steel casings, orfixed
to unsightly cement. But better this than in a museum in the West.
Fewer stone statues from all over Kathmandu Valley would have
been stolen since the 1960s, had some innovations been tried in
times of security. Today, the security of deities is still left largely in the
hands of inadequate, often elderly, attendants. To the last one,
where there are even doors to temples, these are flimsy wooden
contraptions with latches that can come off with a simple hammer
blow or push. Temple doors could easily be backed by steel plates
without taking away from the aesthetics, electronic burglar alarms
and movement detectors could be used at affordable costs, and
shrines could be floodlit at night...
Stone statues, mostly in stele form, seem to have departed with
remarkable ease. This is because when they were carved and
consecrated in their spots, no one considered that centuries later
they would be the target of collector-bandits. As a result, most were
put in place with a simple backing of brick and mortar (see
above). All that is required to carry them away, therefore, is to
shake them from their moorings.
A majority of free-standing stone statues could be protected by
merely making it a little more difficult for a thief to carry them away,
something which would make him work on the theft, take some
time and make some noise. For example, the Uma-Maheshwars
steles can be secured by giving them full-size backing, in which a
rim of stone, cement or metal would overlap the edge ofthe statue
by as little as a centimeter. This would require the thieves to, at the
very least, use pick and hammer to pry the statuary lose. This would
be time-consuming and create a bustle enough in the majority of
cases to alert the neighbourhood and send the thief fleeing.
In other words, anything that prevents quick and easy theft will
help in securing the statuary of Kathmandu Valley, those that are
still left.
be the National Museum at Chhauni,
Kathmandu, where the Nepali army stands
guard. The National Museum already
houses scores of locally lost-and-found
images, and is also where the four
pieces which came back in August arc in
There will come a time when all the returned statues will have been restored with
confidence to their original homes. This time
will arrive when the market for stolen art
horn Nepal will have been destroyed, when
their spiritual value is understood by everyone and their dollar value will have
plumrnetted. This wil) not happen, however, before Nepal's social elites themselves
begin to understand and feel for their
gods in exile. A
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
There are many kinds of
thieves: smugglers, customs
and conservation officials,
museum staff, and your
venerable neighbourhood
by Ranjit Devraj
Nataraja (circa 915 AD)
from Siva temple at
Sikkil in Tanjore district.
is it the real thing?
When the American art collector Norton
Simon paid one million dollars to buy
a stolen 10th-century bronze Nataraja in
1973, he certainly had no idea tliat it was so
much money down the drain. For when he
sent the idol to the British Museum for repairs, it was impounded as stolen property
by the Scotland Yard, acting under pressure
from Indian officials. A protracted litigation
followed during which Simon pleaded "innocent purchase". Finally an agreement
was reached whereby the Norton Simon
Foundation in Los Angeles was allowed to
keep the idol for 10 years until 1986, after
which it was reinstalled at its original place
of residence, the Sivapuram temple in Tamil
Nadu's Thanjavur district.
It was only by good fortune that the
Sivapuram Nataraja returned home, and
credit for it goes to Douglas Barret and his
book Early Chola Bronzes. An expert with
the British Museum, Barret, during a visit
to India in 1964, happened to see the original idol in the possession of an executive
with a foreign company in Madras, a fact
he recorded in his book. This led to an enquiry by the Tamil Nadu government in
1969, which soon brought to light the fact
that the idol residing in the Sivapuram
temple was a masterly fake. But, by then,
the idol had already been sold and, changed
hands several times to end up with Norton
Simon in 1973.
The happy ending of the Sivapuram
Nata-raja saga is one that evokes hope
among those concerned about the fate of
Indian antiquities. But the very fact that a
saga is there to be told reflects the ease and
impunity with which art thieves have been
steadily depleting the Indian countryside
of the treasures it is strewn with—bronze
Natarajas from the Chola period being only
one among them.
Coveted idols
The Cholas were a powerful South Indian
dynasty who ruled over half of India between the 9th and 12th centuries from their
base in Thanjavur in today's Tamil Nadu.
They also controlled a sea-borne empire tiiat
extended to Sri Lanka and as far as Indonesia. Sri Lankan Tamils still revere the Cholas,
from whom the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Elam (LTTE) have borrowed tire emblem of
the tiger to signify ferocity and fearlessness.
But a more lasting and benign legacy of the
Cholas are the incredibly graceful Nataraja
idols they so favoured, which today rate as
collector's items alongside Ming vases and
Greek sculptures.
But what is it that makes these Natarajas
so special? "Siva's cosmic dance in magnificent bronze sculptures of dancing figures with four arms whose superbly balanced and yet dynamic gestures express the
rhythm and unity of life," is how Fritjof
Capra described them in his best-selling The
Tao of Physics. An eloquent description indeed, but one that hastened the speed with
which the Natarajas, and other Chola
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
 bronzes, left Indian shores for the sumptuous living rooms of private collectors and
respectable museums in the West.
These bronzes stand out for the emphasis of maleness in the gods and beauty in
the goddesses, says J.E. Dawson, an expert
on bronzes at the National Museum in New
Delhi. Chola artists breathed life into their
work by using the cire perdue, or lost wax
process, with minute details worked into
the clay moulds closely following the Silpa
Shastra texts. The craftsmen approached
their task with the right Dhyana Shlokas pertaining to the particular deity so that their
minds would be imbued with the essential
quality of the deity. Materials were chosen
with great care at every stage —fine beeswax, clay taken from termite mounds, and
of course, the delicate proportions in the
panchloha, or alloy, made out of five metals.
Because the mould is broken once the casting is complete, no two idols can be alike
and that essential uniqueness adds to the
value of each piece for the worshipper and
the modern-day collector alike.
Weak protection
Another famous Nataraja which went on a
world tour is one stolen from the Easwaran
temple in the Tiruvilakkudi village, also
of Thanjavur, in 1978, and traced with the
help of Interpol to the Kirnbell Art Museum,
Fort Worth, Texas. Recently, a Buddha head,
believed to have been sold by the Hindu
priest of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh
Gaya, found its way back from New York
after a senior official of the Archaeological
Survey of India (AST) spotted it in a museum
Restitution of stolen artefacts becomes
difficult unless the item in question has been
catalogued or documented as being in India after Independence in 1947. This is because during the colonial era, whatever was
taken out by Britain and other Indian
princely states, was done 'legitimately' and
so not returnable, and these include items
such as the Kohinoor diamond, the marble
bath of Shah Jehan, or the famed Amaravti
marbles. This also covers whatever is claimed
to have been taken out before 1947.
The Indian government is currently trying to prove that two gold mohurs, or coins,
weighing about 12 kilograms each lying in
the vaults of a bank in Switzerland were
taken there after Independence by the
present Nizam of Hyderabad whose ancestors received it from the Mughal emperors.
Because of the gaping loophole offered by
the colonial period, most antiquities stolen
from India reach the UK which is a nodal
point for further dispersion particularly to
the US. It is a well-known fact that the auction house Sotheby's conducts a thriving
trade in Indian antiquities.
But while the British may have plundered the country of its cultural artefacts
during two centuries of rule, they also set
up the A5I and began the task of excavating
archaeological sites and cataloguing items.
The task is still far from complete and is not
likely to end anytime soon due to lack of
funds and expertise. Open-air warehouses
set up in British times at the sprawling archaeological site in Khajuraho still exist,
and now contain several thousand pieces
of exquisite stone sculptures yet waiting to
be properly housed. That itself is partly responsible for the rampant idol theft, says
D.K. Sinha, retired director of the AS1. There
are so many archaeological sites and many
are situated in remote areas often inaccessible by road, which cannot possibly be
monitored by the AS1.
Sinha says the real enemy is the massive poverty and ignorance at home combined with the high prices that items like
Chola bronzes command abroad. Often foreigners, who are likely to be more aware of
the true value of antiquities than the impoverished villagers who live near archaeological sites, are involved in the thefts. Some
years ago, two Thai students were caught
with stucco heads of the Buddha
they had removed from Nalanda
in Bihar, site of the world's oldest university.
It does not help that laws
against cultural theft is very
weak. Last year, the CBI seized
42 heads of the Jain saint
Mahavira which turned out to
have been removed from the 2nd-
century Jain temple in Shivpur
in the Guddar district of
Madhya Pradesh. Nine persons
are now undergoing trial for it,
but if convicted they face imprisonment of just six months and a
fine of INR 1500 under the 1971
Antiquities and Art Treasures
Act. For tougher sentences, it is
possible to charge the thieves
with other offences such as, desecration of
public places, but that is left to the discretion of the prosecutor. "What we need is to
For sale: A Chola
bronze figure of
Goddess Bhudevi (circa
13th century) in
Sotheby's catalogue.
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
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As sure as taking it there yourself
 make the trafficking of antique items
a cognisable offence attracting far
more severe punishment," says M.
Ram, superintendent of the antiquities wing of the Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI), adding that it is
easier to tackle local thieves who are
at the root of the problem than chase
after items which have gone abroad.
Plunderer priests
It is possible that many idols that
are now in the temples of Tamil
Nadu may in fact be fake, with the
originals having long been spirited
away, says Ram. Sinha agrees, adding that the theft or disappearance
of ornaments used on deities are not
uncommon and simply cannot
happen without the knowledge of
priests, many of whom consider it
their sole right to dispose off temple
property. For their part, ASI officials
complain that they cannot verify the
authenticity of the various statues
since priests or owners of private
temples are reluctant to allow them
entry into the sanctum sanctorum
where the idols are kept. This is either because they have something
to hide, or, as happens in many
cases, the temple custodians are
afraid of offending the deity.
But CBl's Ram goes further and
says that temple priests alone cannot be blamed for the stealing and
export of "living idols", meaning
idols which are still worshipped.
Officials at several levels including
those from the ASI and the customs
are also involved, he claims. The
ASI issues no-objection certificates (NOC) to replicas of valuable
artefacts to be exported as ordinary
handicraft, and it is quite easy for
some ASI and customs officials acting in collusion to send out originals. In some cases, however, the
ASI is duped into providing NOCs
against a fake and the real stuff is
exported 'legally'. Photographs of
the original and the replica are
tagged to the NOC, but it takes a
trained eye to spot any difference, a
task the customs is hardly equipped
to deal with.
Both Ram and Sinha agree that
a major problem was the fact that
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
only 10 percent of exports are actually examined at air and sea ports,
and it is the case that customs officials are often in cahoots with art
smugglers. There are also known
cases of Indian antiques being
smuggled out in diplomatic bags
and the CBI is unable to proceed for
fear of starting up a diplomatic row.
Yet, over the years, the CBI has seized
so many antique pieces that there is
even a move on the part of the investigative bureau to establish a
museum of its own.
The CBI has also been taking a
close look at the activities of agents
for Sotheby's who have been scouring the Indian countryside with the
connivance of Indian art smugglers
for items for their famed auctions, a
fact that has been recorded by arts
reporter Peter Watson in his book
Sotheby's: Inside Story. CBI official
Ram says there exist networks of
antique smugglers operating in the
major metropolitan cities which
have contacts with foreign buyers,
the most notorious of whom are
Britishers Bruce Miller and George
Ram also say that customs channels are so porous that there have
been instances when items in the
possession of art dealers have left
India and were returned once suspected by the CBI. He gives the example of a terracotta panel depicting the fight of the monkey
gods, Bali and Sugreev, which was
promptly returned to an Indian art
dealer after a cautious buyer referred the item to the CBI before buying it in London. "We couldn't proceed because there was no proof that
the item, registered as being in the
legal possession of the art dealer,
had actually been sold in London.
Anyway, it was back in India," he
But for every item returning to
its land of provenance, there will be
hundreds leaving its shore. And the
exodus is not likely to to stop anytime soon. A
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Another Sotheby's
booty: a Gandharan
grey schist figure of
Buddha (circa 3/4
century AD).
Pick your favourite heritage site in Pakistan, get a
spade, and dig your way to
big money. The law is the
last thing that will come in
your way.
by Massoud Ansari	
Every second month or so, Azra
flies to Karachi from New York.
It is not love for her relatives that
brings her to Pakistan; her pur
pose is to buy ancient Afghan
jewellery and other antiques from the local
markets, and sell it off in the US. She has been
in this business only for the last couple of
years, but has already amassed a fortune.
Azra is only one among the many buyers of Afghan antiques available in Pakistani
markets. Sold at throwaway prices, these
articles fetch a handsome sum abroad. Afghan refugees who brought these artefacts
into Pakistan dispose them off without
realising either their historical value or material worth. Pakistani markets, especially at
Karachi and Islamabad, are brimming with
such 'merchandise'. Says Shahid, a shop
owner at Zainab Market, one of Karachi's
main business centres, "I don't know what
is legal or illegal. The Afghan refugees come
to our shops, sell us their belongings, whatever they could carry with them during the
war, and later on we sell these articles to our
customers." Most of his customers are either
foreigners or people from uptown areas.
"They take lot of interest in this jewellery
and offer us very good prices."
Another shop owner in Zainab Market
says he has stopped selling Afghan silver
jewellery. Instead he collects it for a lady who
comes nearly every three months, after confirming over phone about the availability.
The shopkeeper says the lady pays him a
"very good price" and sometimes extra as a
goodwill gesture.
Pakistan itself has a cultural and archaeological heritage dating back many millennia.
These include the Indus Valley Civilisation
sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, but it is
the hub of the Gandhara civilisation, Taxila,
with its Buddhist stupas, monasteries and
temples, art, architecture and sculpture, that
the country is most famous for. Gandhara is
the ancient name for Kandahar, the tract of
land on the west bank of the Indus river comprising Peshawar Valley and the modern
Swat, Buner and Bajuar. It was one of the 22
provinces of the Persian empire in the 6th
century BC. Buddhism came to the area
around the 3rd century BC, and the religious
art that took root and developed in this region came to be known as Gandhara, representing the life story of Buddha, and illustrating Buddhist traditions. Taxila, as the
centre for Gandhara, has bequeathed a
wealth of ancient artefacts.
But ever since Pakistan came into existence in 1947, the state has neglected its cul-
HIMAL  12/10  October 1999
 tural heritage. As a result, most of the
country's cultural monuments are heading
towards destruction, even as many a treasure remains undug. fhe few departments
set up to preserve historical and culturally
valuable items are passive. Almost no real
preservation work has taken place, and
unexcavated sites are left unguarded. Lack
of funds is the official explanation for what
is literally a case of monumental neglect.
The field is thus wide open to the wheelers and dealers in heritage, who dig into
these items to make a killing in the international market. A local at one of these sites
' had this to say, "So for I have collected more
than 300 ancient corns of copper during my
frequent visits to Jukkar jo Daro near
More revealing is the story of the Karachi
resident who hit upon a lot of ancient
Gandhara relics, including two large Buddha statues, on her land in Taxila bought two
decades ago. After keeping these in her
drawing room for some time, she says she
then took some of them to Canada and sold
them for "very good prices", while the rest
remain in her drawing room like so many
pieces of Gandhara art in so many rich Pakistani households.
The plunder is so blatant that a visitor to
a place like the Harappa ruins, some 100
kilometres southwest of Lahore, will have
any number of locals scurrying to sell statues freshly unearthed from the ruins, saying: "Sahib murti chahiya" (Sir, you need statues?), with no feai of any authority pulling
them up. Many of these items being sold will
just be clever replicas.
The Antiquities Act of 1975 punishes
smuggling in antiques by five to 20 years imprisonment. Not a single person till date has
been prosecuted under the Act, even as
heritage items are being sneaked out of
the country.
An official at Pakistan's Department of
Archaeology says it is the duty of the Pakistani customs to control the smuggling, not
theirs. In normal circumstances, the customs
is expected to inform the Archaeology department about impounded artefacts. But a
look at the Karachi customs warehouse
makes it clear that someone has not been
doing his job. At this warehouse, many articles of antique value have been lying
dumped for years, well on their way to ruin.
Either the customs officials have not informed the Archaeology Department, or the
Department has not found it necessary to
come forward and identify these items.
Around the world today, archaeologists
and others are involved in claiming back
icons to their original sites (remember the
uproar last year in India during Queen
Elizabeth's visit over getting back the
Kohinoor), but Pakistan's conservation officials have not even begun a token campaign
to get back the stolen art of Pakistan.
Says archaeologist Manzoor Baloch,
"The original statues of the King Priest of
Mohenjodaro and that of the Dancing Girl
are lying in museums outside the country',
and no effort has yet been made to get them
If the present rate of smuggling continues, they fear that Pakistan's children will
have to go overseas to take in their country's
historical and cultural wealth. And that is
very likely to happen given the official apathy towards antiques, as summed up by this
sneering comment from an archaeologist:
"When we cannot trace our children who are
kidnapped and sold to other countries for
the rich men's pleasure there, what are we
to do with tracing useless articles made of
clay and copper?" >
* vml&m&iti&xggmg
Archaeological treasure
trove at Taxila.
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
by Farjad Nabi
Tlhe train sped into the night and
the passengers struggled to stay
awake against the hypnotic
rhythm of the travelling sounds
which gently seduced everyone
into sweet sleep. I was at the very back, facing the inmates of the compartment as we
all gently bobbed as if performing some obscure Irish dance to an inaudible beat.
1 knew the young man next to me was
getting restless. Having already exhausted
his conversational ammunition with the
person on his right, he was looking for another captive. Which was me, of course. He
started by asking for the newspaper, went straight to the
ads for films and ogled at
the steamy sirens who
beckoned the viewer to
see more of them in the
"I've seen this
one," he said pointing
to one especially buxom
beauty standing next to
a snarling impression of
a man painted in blood.
I told him I hadn't. Which
was enough for him to
launch into his life story.
He worked in an antiques
shop next to a cinema in Islamabad. The shop was owned by two brothers who had literally brought him up since
he was a little boy. He was no relation to
them, no, they had found him somewhere.
He had paid back the kindness by serving
the family by running the odd jobs, graduating slowly to being a house servant. He
had his own room where he listened to
music, he said with obvious pride. When
he became a man, as he put it, the brothers
had other tasks in mind for him.
By now I had been sucked into his world.
He had the knack for story telling and one
couldn't help but listen with interest as he
animatedly moved his hands around. He
was weaiing a golden watch, fake but expensive, and joggers. The train sped on.
The brothers were dealers in antiques,
and not your average blackened-by-shoe
polish antiques either. The real thing, he
said with eyes gleaming. And what was the
real thing, I asked tentatively. Real antiques,
thousands of years old. Statuettes, figurines,
utensils, jewellery, things no one had ever
seen, not even in their dreams.
I had to sit up. Was this man trying to
impress mc? Was he exaggerating? What
was he upto? I decided to grill him.
So how do you go about getting these
unimaginable things? I asked casually.
Feeling important he got into tire story.
The brothers worked very systematically.
They bought small plots in areas where antiques could be found. They mostly operated in Swat in the North-West Frontier
Swat. A picturesque mountainous
land with an emerald green river running
through it. Once the Gandhara dynasty
stretched to Swat, and one can still go visit
stupas there.
So far the story was close to the mark. I
waited for him to go on.
After the plots were bought, labourers
were hired on daily wages and the digging
began. They never dug during the day, he
confided, only when the night was deep
and dark. The young man's job was to supervise the digging. Supervision consisted
of stopping work as soon as a sound was
heard. What sound, I queried.
"TunnV." came the reply.
The sound of a pickaxe hitting a rock.
Most of the times it was a false alarm but
sometimes it was not. As soon as a discovery was made, the labourers were paid their
wages on the spot and politely told that their
job was over. Now the supervisor took over
the excavation himself. He had dug up innumerable statuettes with his own hands.
What sort of statuettes? What era? What did
thev look like? I fired one after another.
He could not tell. All he could tell was
that they were old, very old. But then his job
was not that of a historian. His job was to
safely bring his bounty to Islamabad where
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
 the Big Book lay. What on earth was this
book, I had to know.
Again he was stumped for an answer.
All he knew was that it was some kind of
an encyclopaedia which listed various antiques and the estimated prices of each. How
could a book list such antiques if they were
not even found yet, retorted my logic. No
answer. His only knowledge ofthe Big Book
was that it was published in Japan and was
the bible of every antique dealer.
Never mind, go on, 1 urged.
Well things were simple after that. The
brothers had contacts outside Pakistan and
the goods were smuggled out at astronomical sums. How much was an astronomical
sum? He paused. Let me give you an example, he said with obvious relish. We have
this statuette of a goddess but one of her
hands is missing. As soon as we find this
hand, the goddess would sell for two crores
(20 million) rupees.
Bloody hell! Out of some instinct 1 looked
around to check on my fellow passengers.
They only nodded assent in their sleep. Although I knew it was a naive .question, I
had to ask it anyway. How did they smuggle
the goods out of Pakistan without getting
By air, by sea, by land, any which way
that was suitable. The consignments were
seized occasionally. But it was not a big problem, he hastened to add. Once when a
seized consignment was lying in a police
station, the brothers hired some artisans to
make replicas. One by one, the originals were
smuggled out of the police station and replaced by fakes. During the trial that en
sued, the fakes were presented as evidence.
Fantastic as it did sound I had to believe
him. Those artisans had to be damn good to
make exact replicas.
Oh, there was no dearth of talent in Pakistan, he said wisely. You know the Lahore
museum? I did. Well over half of it is fake.
Come on now, this was getting a bit out of
hand, I said uncomfortably thinking about
the times I had stood agog in front of antiques of breathtaking beauty marvelling at
the hands that shaped them thousands of
years ago.
No, I'm serious, it was his turn to sit up.
You know the Starving Buddha in the museum? I did, I said with growing dread.
That's a fake. I looked at him closely, checking for any signs of deceit. I couldn't see
any. I didn't have to believe him. But why
would this young man travelling by train,
having no allusions to archaeology or history, want to fib? Maybe he had good imagination. Maybe not.
The station was approaching. The inmates of the bogie were rousing and elbowing their relatives to rouse as well. Babies
started to cry, luggage began to be lugged. I
and my antique friend sat in silence. The
train slowed down and T got up to leave.
"Here, I want to show you something",
he said fishing out his wallet.
I stood frozen. What could it be? A certificate that the Starving Buddha was a fake?
A photo of the two crore goddess? His visiting card?
"Here, see this." I found myself staring
at a fading photo of a girl with black hair
and red lipstick. "This is my girlfriend."   A
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The war in Afghanistan started in the middle
of the excavation of six Kushan graves in
Tillya Tepe. Through the war, the world wondered about the Bactiran golden hoard'
excavated at Tillya Tepe thought to be as
valuable as the treasure of Tutankhamen.
We still don't know.
by Khaled Ahmed        __
Bactrian Aphrodite. The
Greekgoddess of love
sports wings of Bactrian
tradition and a tika that
shows Indian influence.
In the National Geographic of March
1990, Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi
wrote that he had discovered an an
cient city in Tillya Tepe (mound of
gold) in 1978. He dated it to 2500 BC,
making it contemporary with Mohenjodaro.
He saw traces of subsequent settlements
and noted its Hellenisation in 400 BC. He
was excavating layers related to 100 AD
when he discovered six royal graves. These
were of Kushan princes and princesses
decked out in Greek-style ornamented regalia. His team collected over 20,000 gold
objects, catalogued them, and transported
them to Kabul where the famous Kabul
Museum became their repository.
Tillya Tepe is in the Jozjan province (old
name Balkh), north of the Hindu Kush and
south of Amu Darya forming the frontier
with the former Soviet Union. This is the
region known to ancient history as Bactria,
the land of the Greek people whom fhe Persians employed as their soldiers.
As the Soviet archaeological team dug
through the graveyard, modern-day war
riors appeared and started plundering the
site. This was Uzbek territory, the bailiwick
of warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam and his
dreaded militia. Sarianidi writes that the
two remaining graves were opened by the
warriors and their contents sold in the international market "before we had a chance
to make plaster copies of the pieces, before
they could be studied or displayed, war and
confusion closed on Afghanistan." Continues Sariandi, "Today the priceless golden
hoard of Tillya Tepe is in Kabul, but its condition is unknown, and scholars have no
access. My efforts to have the trove fully safeguarded have so far met with disappointment." As the war progressed, Sarianidi
and his mission became the subject of a persistent rumour that the Russians had carted
the treasure off to Moscow.
Where is it now?
Kushans were a nomadic tribe from west-
erti China who had been pushed out to the
southern expanse of Siberia by the Huns.
There they had joined up with the Scythians
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
 and come down in 130 BC to Central Asia
to occupy the Bactrian Greek city of Tillya
Tepe, and learnt to live as city people. Here,
the Kushan kings were Hellenised and they
ruled in the land of Gandhara. Kanishka
was their "greatest" king who reigned over
an empire that stretched from the Aral Sea
all the way upto Bengal from Iris seat in
The Bactrian hoard contains evidence
of Silk Route commerce. It has the biggest
Greek coins yet found; it has Roman coins
(which have not been found in Pakistan);
and enough Chinese artefacts to prove tliat
it sat on the crossroads of a flourishing trading network between three civilisations.
Museums all over the world wondered
about the fate of the Bactrian treasure
throughout the Afghan war. The Kabul Museum, where it was supposed to be
lying, was one of the world
richest store-houses of ar
chaeological objects. During the  war, scholars
kept visiting Kabul in
the hope of finding out
the fate of the Bactrian
treasure. Theft and
looting were regularly
reported from the museum, but it was not
until the civil war of
the mujahideen that
threat to the security of
the museum became real.
In 1993, the museum
fell in the area which had
come under the control of
Hezb-e-Wahdat led by Ustad
Abdul Ali Mazari. That year it was bombed
and was gutted beyond repair. The world's
most precious treasures thus became vulnerable to wholesale plundering. In 1994,
Nancy Hatch Dupree, a scholar on Afghanistan, gave a lecture in Islamabad in which
she disclosed that hi November 1993, the
UN representative Sotirios Mousouris had
succeeded in persuading Mazari to let UN
experts examine the museum. This inspection revealed that almost all the boxes containing'the exhibits had been disturbed and
that theft was considerable, including disappearance of miniatures contained in
20,000 rare books.
Dupree gave the audience the first information about the Bactrian treasure since
Sarianidi's report in the National Geographic.
Writing in a Pakistani paper, she said: "Dur
ing the 1980s an oft-repeated rumour
started that the Soviets had carted off the
museum's treasures to an unknown destination, or more particularly, to the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. This was false.
The origin of the rumour was in the fact that
in April "1979 the contents of the museum
had been moved for safekeeping to the residence of Sardar Mohammad Nairn Khan
(brother of Sardar Daud) in Shahr-e-Nau.
The move was described in a letter from
Garla Grissman who was working at that
time in the museum and had helped with
the arrangement.
"But rumours that the gold had been stolen) either by the Soviets or by the government itself, persisted. About six months before the fall of President Najibullah, in April
1992, the Kabul government made an attempt to quell these rumours. The
Tillya Tepe hoard was put
on display in Kotli Baghcha
to which the diplomatic
corps was invited.
Following this special
showing, the gold was
packed in seven boxes
and placed in a vault
of the Central Bank
within the Arg compound."
Do we know whether the treasure is still
there? Did it survive the .
fall of the communist o
government? Who got to £
t first from among the |
mujahideen? And what is its 1
fate now under the Taliban? A
cash-strapped regime in Kabul would be
compelled to sell it for crucial funds. As it
is, religious leaders attach no importance
to 'pagan' objects relating to pre-Islamic
times. During the war against the Soviets,
and during the current civil war, Afghan
archaeological heritage has been heard to
be sold in Pakistan, in Chitral, Peshawar
and Islamabad, where Pakistan's own museum pieces are regularly sold clandestinely.
Like the old Silk Route finds, has this treasure too been taken out to the West? This is
what scholars like Dupree want to know.
Unless the present regime in Kabul arranges
another exhibition, the doubts expressed by
Sarianidi in 1990 will persist. 4
The goddess of
wisdom, Athena, on a
signet ring from the
Bactrian hoard.
[Adapted from  an  earlier article
Friday Times, Lahore.)
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
A READER from Bombay sends me this flyer from
Citibank, presenting "the first ever card designed specially for women". And so Ms Anita
Kumar, forward looking representative of Indian Womanhood,
what does she get for signing on
for the plastic? A free one-year
subscription to Tile, "the world's
largest-selling fashion magazine",
and "a special Pond's gift hamper". Further, Citibank
will contribute to two organisations helping women in
need, but we are not told what percentage of transaction. The best part is the form that asks the applicant to
fill in whether she is male or female...
NEWS ITEM like this warm the cockles of Chhetria
Patrakar's hardened heart. An 11 September article by
Amit Baruah of The Hindu datelined Islamabad, which
reports on Jatindra Nath Das, a forgotten hero of the
Indian freedom struggle. The story is from Pakistan because Jatindra Nath died in Lahore Central Jail on 13
September 1929 after a 63-day hunger strike. Why do I
like this item? Because it retroactively unifies the India
which was broken-up in 1947.
HOW DID Jatindra Nath Das die? Amit Baruah quotes
from the historical records of what M.R. Jayakar, a member of the Central Legislative Assembly, had to say the
day after the martyr passed away: "He died slowly, inch
by inch; one hand gone paralysed for want of sustenance,
another hand gone atrophied, for want of nourishment, one
foot gone, another foot gone, and the last of nature's precious
gifts, eyesight, gone; the fire of those orbs slowly quenched,
inch by inch, not by the sudden and merciful d.eath of the
guillotine, but with the slowness with which nature builds or
destroys. Oh, the anguish of this slow torture."
DO YOU know of
Gobar Times? It is
'environment for kids   published   by   the
same people who bring you Down to Earth, and it is
good. The tabloid-sized eight-pager is meant for children, and teaches them to be environmentally conscious,
such as about villagers creating wealth from wraste in
using gobar. How do you get Gobar Times? Contact
Rustam Vania, whose concept it Is, at
SPEAKING OF which (I mean, gobar), this is the opportunity to bring up a matter where I think there is
some kind of gender discrimination in this here South
Asia. Gobar is always translated as cowdung, but what
of bullshit? Would that not have the same ingredients,
consistency and sanctity? The cow and the bull, I am
sure, share the same metabolism. Because of my South
Asian upbringing, I feel all warm and mushy when
you say "cowdung", but because of the Occidental influence on my brain-cells, when you say "bullshit", I
say yukk. What to do?
SUNDAY SOLILOQUIES in The Deccan Herald, by columnist N.J. Nanporia, I recommend to anyone who has
access to that paper. I loved his lambasting, in a mid-
September column, of the certitude-laden Tim Sebastian
of BBC television's Hardtalk, whom every Indian
discussion host is trying to copy (other than in dull
Doordarshan). Here is what Nanporia had to say, "...
Sebastian asks his questions within the framework of
the values and political culture with which alone he is
familiar. And he does this with all the smugness and
self-satisfaction of one who makes no allowance for
any other kind of framework."
HERE IS a headline the kind of which I would like to
see more of, so that we can quickly convert ourselves
into highly effective communicators of the corporate
arena. Sarath Malalasekera's piece in Colombo's Daily
News of 24 August, is headlined, "Steeltec to manufacture high tonsile steel 'C purlins and lipped chanels".
May I curl my own lips in utter amazement at this
news, that Steeltec, the very company which has
"revolutionised the construction industry in Sri Lanka
by building factories of metal sheets instead of cement
mixture is now ready to face the millennium by manufacturing [aforementioned, and T seek forgiveness for
the repetition] high tonsile steel 'C purlins and lipped
channels using roll forming technique for the use of
construction industry".
THE IS simply a matter of simple, and what seems to
be unprejudiced reportage by Seethalakshmi S. for The
Times of India, that in the village of Bandri Bandri (in
Bellary) women "outdo men in consuming alcohol, so
much so that nearly 80 percent of the women are addicts". Ms Seethalakshmi goes on to interview the extremely voluble respondents in the persons of Roopa
(27), Thimmakka (70), Revathi (30) and Saraswati (26),
and presents the fact that everyone loves their tipple of
arrack, sold by the redoubtable Hanumanthappa (no
age given for this one, the vendor). Something tells
Chhetria Patrakar that s/he
should go to Bellary to confirm
this story, and also to confront 30-
year-old Revathi to see whether
she really said, "After putting my
children to sleep, I drink everyday.
That's the only way to relax."
Meanwhile, isn't Bellary die selfsame district where Madame
Sonia headed off to cast her ticket,
but lost her way getting there.
Could it be...?
MORE POWER to regional cinema! Anything to break the tyranny of Hindi film, Lata, Swiss
pastures and Mauritius beaches.
HIMAL  12/9 September 1999
According to a report in the 11 September Assam Tribune, Assamese producers seem to have finally discovered how to best Bollywood, and that is by spending on
elaborate    posters    and    cutouts.    Apparently,
Trikon Production's maiden venture Maharathi   has
pasted Guwahati and all other major towns in the
Brahmaputra valley with posters and oversize cutouts.
Apparently this publicity has resulted in great 'collections' in the first weeks of the showings. I can only cheer
Assamese cinema along, and tell others to hop on to the
publicity wagon. As Simanta and
Mridumoloy write in their piece,
"Hope this trend set by Maharathi
will give a wider reach to Assamese
cinema taking it to a new high."
Sri Lanka. Are things so bad for him in his adopted
home that he needed to throw this little sop? Oh yes, he
also has predicted that in 2005 the Dalai Lama would
return to Tibet. Highly unscientific, if you ask me. Science fiction, more likely.
I CANNOT seem to get off the case of Madame President on this one. Here is a letter in the Daily Nezus by A.
Waduge from Colombo, congratulating the president for
inviting the people to fax her directly if they had any
allegations of corrup-
Ttue President's request
- a good tiling
DID I miss something? When
Mahbub ul Haq was around, his
South Asia Human Development Report used to receive
a fan degree of well-deserved publicity all over. However, I read here in the 21 September Nation of Islamabad
that this year's report was to be released on 23 September, and that the theme for this year's report was the
lack of good governance. Tliat is very important. Was I,
then, hibernating when the rest of South Asian media
missed this good story op?
THE MAHARISHI Open University offers (as per ad
in The Times of India) under the auspices of the
Maharishi Shiksha Sansthan "Consciousness-Based-
Education which provides for the total utilisation of
the brain, and in that surpasses all existing universities". Name of course: Total Knowledge. Duration: 6
months, two days a week. Fees: INR 1200. Then there is
the next course, Creating Perfection in Human Life. But
then that is "only meant for those who have already
done their total knowledge". Well, that certainly screens
me out. Phew!
THERE IS only one country in South Asia where 'before' and 'after' maps like these are required, and even
relevant. These maps were printed by the Colombo
Daily News on 19 August on the 5th anniversary of the
Peoples' Alliance Government of Mrs. Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and show the "progress
made by our security forces in this struggle to usher in
peace for all". The shaded area in
the north signifies territory under
LTTE control.
'SIR' ARTHUR C. Clarke, science
fiction autiior and honorary citizen
of Sri Lanka had no need to do this.
That is, curry favour from Madame
President by writing in a futurology piece in Asiaweek that in 2007,
President Chandrika would get the
Nobel Prize for restoring peace in
In riiy opaasi. il Is a gsixi Usjflg that she Pnsi- Bm IMs WOUM ensure Tint only pubic action bv i
;Jt:;! ias rates sIwhb^so BKitowliiobHaiy Sip |ii«;[it but also p™idi!!a iini iiubiic. exposure I
TineprJoiB o( Domytlim ui the part of ministers, «l Rich alienations by tlltOWXHEtan ami jMinije-
KE*S iltiu public officials, /.jrhough ^ do nut know ij. action thi;! cnjjic" & Jaiten by tiie fatter Kvbe." tf^y
if anything: nuujdtotntr ttf il, tu obtain' lhe- best £&c& tn jwhuit
resiits it wuM-fe'Bixi fa tfgjfi of siich com-
riia&fc&E&jrffanisa- tn tiie Leader <tf tta o^posjtktii
Aa at November 1994
tion against her ministers and public officials. Now, Mr/Ms
Waduge is a sharp
person. S/he adds
that to obtain the best
results, "copies of
such complaints be forwarded to the Leader of the Opposition as well..."
THERE WAS a workshop on bananas held recently at
the Sri Lanka Mahaweli Centre auditorium. "The creating of awareness among school children on the importance of fruit consumption, preparing food items
from bananas at home, making use of bananas in the
tourism industry, and experiences in making banana
food preparations were discussed."
PROFESSIONAL, RELIABLE and luxury, non-stop
air-conditioned bus service between Rawalpindi and
Gilgit was inaugurated on 12 September, with "fully
equipped armed security guard", "complete life insurance" and two drivers, I presume in case one gets
bumped off to maintain continuity of journey. Boy, this
sure makes me want to go from Rawalpindi to Gilgit!
IN BANGLADESH, it says here in the letters column,
Mr Sunil Kumar Baruwa has moved to open an international organisation called Foundation for Moral Development Approach, with the very appropriate, pleasing and to-the-point acronymn FMDA. Now, FMDA has
developed a global programme to curb moral degradation as it is (moral degradation, not FMDA) the number
one enemy of mankind which is causing the following
evils: corruption, bribery, poverty, rape, human rights
violations, environmental pollution,
oppression and repression of women
and children, terrorism, drug abuse,
etc. Ataha, as they used to say back in
the days of the Vedas, moral development is the only solution, which is
why FMDA has sent a detailed proposal to the United Nations, "which
should take up the matter immediately" . I am sure it will. As they say
these days, nut-to-wari.
-Chhetria Patrakar
As at 20th July 1999
1999 September 12/9   HIMAL
When it snowed in Moscow, overcoats would come out in Karachi.
No longer.
by Hasan Mujtaba
There used to be a time when
the village Bulhereji near
Mohenjodaro in Pakistan's Sindh
province used to be known as Little
Moscow, so strong was the communist influence there. Today, Bulhereji
shows hardly a trace of the once-active Left movement.
The waning of communist
fervour is the same all over Pakistan.
Former members of the Communist
Party of Pakistan (CPP) are now a divided lot. Some have surrendered to
other political ideologies, some
have taken solace in Islam, while
there are also those who desperately
bank on the comeback of communism. Some praise Mikhail Gorbachev, others curse him; many have
nothing to do with their past and a
few proudly clutch on to it.
The collapse of the Soviet Union
may have shattered the belief of
many in communism, but not so for
the few who maintain that it was not
communism that fell but a "handful
of corrupt communist leaders". This
never-say-die group is no longer active in politics, but that does not prevent it from celebrating even a small
communist victory in any part of the
world, and being crestfallen when
reverses take place. It rejoiced when
the communists returned and replaced Lech Walesa in Poland, came
to power in Nepal, and maintained
then hold in India's West Bengal. On
the other hand, there was deep shock
when the Taliban hung the communist leader Najibullah (who, incidentally, was the brother-in-law of a
former Peshawar communist).
Lenins, Ches, Castros
In the Cold War past, entering the
Russian embassy or consulate meant
being hounded by Pakistan's secret
service. Successive rulers in Pakistan
declared communists a "serious
threat" to die country's security and
religion. But, despite bearing jail,
torture and punishment, Pakistani
communists persevered in their
'cause' and they would proudly
name their children after communist
heroes —Lenin, Che, Castro —or after characters in post-revolution
Russian novels —Tanya, Natasha,
Kibral, etc.
The communists were men
and women from every class background. Many of them had been to
Moscow for studies, mostly via Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka. Some
married Russian women and a few
even died hi Moscow. The communists had then own insular jargon,
culture, attitude, sects and factions,
whereby members of every faction
would regard themselves as the
genuine brand, while deriding competing factions as "CIA agents".
They were also said to divorce their
wives and abandon their families
due to political differences.
The only constant was in the form
of address —"comrade".
Not only politically and economically, the communists also
seemed to be connected to Moscow
in spirit. So much so that there was a
joke on the communists: "They wear
overcoats in Karachi when they hear
of snow fall in Moscow."
But that was a long time ago. Says
a former member, "After the 1970s,
the Communist Party gradually lost
its significance in die political sphere
and acted as no more tiian a marriage
bureau or travel agency sending
people to the USSR and serving as an
institution where men and women
But the lifestyle and politics of
the Pakistani communist was so secretive that the public came to know
of the full extent of leftist activity
only after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Until the collapse of the USSR,
there were only three declared
communists in Pakistan —Imam
Ali Nazish, Jam Saqi and Hassan
Nasir. Others referred to themselves as "Leftists", "Progressives",
"Marxists", or "Maoists". The term
'communist', however, was the convenient label by which politicians
slandered their opponents. When
the first supposed coup d'etat in Pakistan in 1953, led by the first
commander-in-chief, Maj Gen
Akber Khan, failed, it was promptly
dubbed a "communist conspiracy"
by the rulers. In what came to be
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
 known as the "Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case", General Khan and
some other army and airforce
officers were tried, along with
civilians and leftists including
celebrated Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed
Faiz, Sajad Zaheer (the first secretary general of the CPP) and Sobho
Gayanchandani. Following this
crackdown, in which the accused
were convicted, the CPP and its
sub-organisations were banned and
a manhunt for leftists was ordered.
It has now come to light that the entire episode was a government
Party partition
During the struggle for independence, the Communist Party of (undivided) India had supported the
formation of Pakistan. "This was
because the USSR was an ally of
Britain's during World War II," recalls a veteran communist, and supporting the idea of Pakistan was
equal to helping the British. A number of Pakistani communists, poet
Faiz included, even joined the British Indian Army. (It was only in 1976,
during the second congress of the
'underground' Communist Party of
Pakistan, the communists admitted
that their support for the formation
of Pakistan had been a "blunder".)
Following the creation of Pakistan, some CPI members were directed to relocate and start propagating communist ideology in the new
country. Sajad Zaheer, scion of an
aristocratic Indian Muslim family
(known as "Bunnay Bhai" to family friends Sarojini Naidu and
Jawaharlal Nehru), returned from
Oxford and took up the task of
organising the Left in Pakistan, leading to the formation of die Communist Party of Pakistan in 1948. He
became the party's first secretary
Zaheer was followed to Pakistan
by another young communist,
Hassan Nasir, who became the office
secretary of the party. While Zaheer
went back to India in 1954 after the
CPP was officially banned, Nasir
went underground. He died in mysterious circumstances in 1959. The
government of Ayub Khan claimed
his death was a "suicide", but many
Pakistanis did not buy that account,
and still believe that Nasir succumbed to torture at the notorious
Lahore Fort. (Pakistani communists
idolised Nasir, and his death for them
was comparable to Che Guevara's in
1967. Nasir's life became the theme
and metaphor for the poetry and
prose of many Leftist writers in the
country. Many named their sons after him and his death anniversary on
13 November is still observed by the
remnants of the Pakistani Left.)
Like communist parties everywhere, the underground CPP
too split into "pro-China" and
"pro-Moscow" factions in the
1960s. The differences between the
Communist forever: For Sobho
Gayanchandani (above) the collapse of the
Soviet Union reflected the failure ofthe
party bureaucracy, not of communist
ideology. Among the sernior-most
communists in the Subcontinent, Sobho
was a founding-member of the CPP. A
Hindu by birth, he refused to leave his
native Sindh after Partition and had to pay
heavy price for that. As Sobho himself puts
it, "I was told by an intelligence offfcial that
you are Hindu, Sindhi and communist so
you have to be jailed all your life." During
the 1965 India-Pakistan war, he was
detained and during the 1971 war, he had
go into hiding. He then gave up
membership of the CPP since it was
difficult to continue with party work
because of his Hindu background. Picture
on left from the 1940s shows Sobho
(garlanded) with other comrades, including
well-known Hindi film actor A. K. Hangal
(2nd from left). „_^
two widened when India and
China went to war in 1962, and came
to a head during the India-Pakistan
war of 1965. The pro-China communists supported the Pakistani government, and many pro-Muscovites
were jailed as "suspected enemy
agents". It was only when the USSR
threw its weight behind die Tashkent
ceasefire agreement between India
and Pakistan that the Moscow faction got a reprieve.
Meanwhile, with the banning of
the CPP, many communists and other
Leftists, had joined various mainstream political parties. The majority of pro-Muscovites became part
of Wali Khan's National Awami
Party, wftile most of the pro-Chinese
joined Maulana Abdul Hamid
Bhashsani's National Awami Party
based in East Pakistan. After Ayub
Khan's foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali
Bhutto resigned protesting the
Tashkent Treaty, a number of the
pro-Beijing communists, especially
from West Pakistan, supported
Bhutto and joined his newly formed
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
 features __
Pakistan People's Party (PPP),
Even as die communist cadre infiltrated other Tike-minded' political organisations, they never
admitted to being communists.
They would rather say they were
sympathisers, and preferred to be
vaguely called "Leftists". The communists had also formed "fronts" in
many professions and institutions
such as the Anjuman Taraqi Pasand
Musnifeen (Association of Progressive Writers), Anjuman Jhaniooriat
Pasand Khawatecn (Association of
Democratic Women), Kisan Party,
Sindh Hari Committee, Tulba and
Mazdoor Kisan Rabita Committee.
The last organised its "Conferences
of Democratic Forces" against the
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime in all big
cities of the country, which was attended by a large number of Leftists
in 1976.
Cigarette idealism
Like many of their counterparts elsewhere, Pakistani communists too
were cafe-sitters and drawing room
intellectuals. "We were day-dreamers. The dreamers of revolution,"
concedes one. Many idealists considered smoking expensive brands of
cigarettes as bourgeoisie indulgence, and stuck to the 'down-to-
earth' local brand, K-2. When those
from the upper classes gave up their
rich lifestyle, it was called "declassification" .
The communists had then own
press, periodicals and publishing
houses, setup with party funds. The
better known among them were
Lahore's People's Publishing House,
Standard Publishers in Karachi and
Hyderabad's Qaumi Kitab Ghar.
Along with Russian fiction, the
People's Publishing House brought
out Urdu translations of political
treatises of Marx, Engels, Lenin and
Stalin, while Standard Publishers
and Qaumi Kitab Ghar mainly sold
communist literature published in
English and Urdu from Moscow.
Aided by Urdu and Sindhi translations, Mao's Red Book and Che's Bolivian Diaries were widely circulated
among young comrades.
After Bhutto came to power in
December 1971, the administration
came down heavily on the communists (whUe also purging the PPP of
Leftists like J.A. Rahim, Mairaj
Muhamrned Khan, Khurshid Hassan
Mir and Mubashir Hasan, all of
whom were once Bhutto's close associates). But even in those days,
serious radical literature was being
produced by communist ideologues
like Syed Sibte Hassan and Abdullah
Malik. The books written by them
were bestsellers among Pakistani
leftists. Hassan's famous works
M.oosa Se Marx Tuk (From Moses to
Marx) and Secularism KyaHay? (What
Is Secularism?) bear particular mention because they helped define
"communist" for a Pakistani mass
fed on the idea that it meant
Though die ban over the CPP had
unofficially been lifted by the early
1970s, the communists remained underground. From 1973, the CPP began secretly circulating underground publications with mostly
anti-American and anti-martial law
content, and provided an alternative
to the censored press. This was
when the communists were able to
show their expertise in producing
dissent literatu re in the form of hand
bUIs, pamphlets and graffiti.
Zia years
When General Zia-ul Haq overthrew
Bhutto and imposed martial law, the
CPP and other Leftist groups, whatever their opposition to Bhutto, condemned the act. "We looked upon
Bhutto as a representative of the rising bourgeoisie against the monopoly of capitalists or ruling o) igar-
chy, the clergy and military bureaucracy," says a former comrade. "The
people of Pakistan know that Bhutto
was toppled and killed because he
opposed America, and called it a
'white elephant'."
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave Zia an excuse to persecute
the communists. "Though there were
only a handful of communists in Pakistan, Zia convinced America that
they posed a serious threat to American interest in the region," says Mir
Thebo, an ex-communist. "Hiis way
he not only succeeded in getting
approval horn the West for his unpopular rule, but also exposed communists as paper tigers at home."
During Zia's rule, a large number of communists were jailed, or
went underground or left the country. There were also tiiose who opted
for Afghanistan after the communists
came to power there, and later made
their way to Western Europe (where
some of them have now become rich
businessmen). Those that stayed
back in Pakistan, meanwhile, published a mimeographed handbill
against Zia titled "Snatch Power
from the Usurpers". On Bhutto's first
death anniversary, the party raised
slogans such as "Welcome,
welcome, Russia, welcome"; and
"Snatch, snatch Pakistan, as you
have snatched Afghanistan".
Afghanistan's communist regime
allegedly used many communists
from the NWFP and Balochistan to
work against Islamabad. Many of
them became rich overnight, apparently from money distributed by
Khad, the Afghan secret service, a
fact that led to rifts among the Pakistani comrades.
It was during this period that Jam
Saqi, "die only self-proclaimed communist in Pakistan", was arrested in
December 1978. Within a year
of his arrest, the government raided
two rented houses in working- and
middle-class Karachi and netted
Jamal Naqvi, a communist
ideologue, Ahmed Kamal Warsi, a
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
 Jam Saqi the preacher, and, above, in prison during his communist days.
labour leader, journalists Sohail
Sangi and Shabir Shar, writer Badar
Abro and student leader Nazir
The arrested communists were
tried by a special military court in
what has come to be known as the
"Jam Saqi Case". The trial was
widely covered by national and international media, and Saqi and his
associates benefitted by airing then
views in the courtroom. They sought
as their defence witnesses some of
the country's top leaders, including
Benazir Bhutto, and a number of intellectuals. Saqi even wanted Zia as
his defence witness, but the request
was turned down. Benazir Bhutto,
who was under house arrest, was
brought to court to record her statement. She said later, "Zia probably
wanted to show me as a collaborator with the communists." The accused were given prison sentences
of 8-10 years, and were only released
folio whig the restoration of democracy in 1985-86.
In the meantime, an incident occurred that showed the intransigence
of the communist prisoners towards
any compromise on their fate. In
March 1980, a PIA plane was hijacked,
and in die list of prisoners whose
release was demanded by the hijackers,, the names of the accused in the
Jam Saqi Case also figured. The martial law authorities complied with
the demand and prepared to send
the prisoners to Damascus. But Jam
Saqi and his comrades, despite hav
ing been tortured to make them
agree, refused to board the plane.
"General Zia needs to be sent,"
they said.
Don Quixotes
Ironically, martial law's departure
also signalled curtains for communism in Pakistan. A number of factors contributed towards this end:
ruthless torture during Zia's rule; the
restoration of quasi-civilian rule
under Muhammcd Khan Junejo;
Junejo's signing of the Geneva accord leading to the withdrawal of
Soviet troops from Afghanistan; and
Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost.
"When we came out of jail, we found
ourselves standing nowhere," says
one of the accused in the Jam Saqi
Case. "Our Don Quixotic saga came
to an end by the crumbling of the
first brick in the Berlin Wall."
"There were no more perks they
were receiving as part of the party,"
says a former party member. "No
more roubles, Russian books or trips
to Moscow, Sofia and east Berlin."
"With the demise of communism
in the mid-80s and early 90s many
of us became 'politically unemployed' and this came as a 'culture
shock' to us," says another.
Many of the former communists
picked up mainstream journalism,
while others turned to human rights
organisations and other NGOs — over
a 1000 foreign NGOs working in
NWFP and Balochistan after the end
of the Afghan war accepted Leftists
into their folds. The communist missionaries returning to lead normal
social lives between 1980s and early
1990s was akin to the hippies tripping back home to the West in the
late 1970s.
Perhaps the most striking metamorphosis of the Pakistani communist is seen in the lives of those who
sought refuge in religion and religious preaching. People like the late
Shaikh Ayaz, the Sindhi doyen of
poetry and prose who inspired generations of communists (and atheists) and who once said, "Be it the
dyed beard of the mullah or the black
pony tail of the pundit, to me both
are the same because the two deceive the masses by preaching religion. T do not accept them because I
am a rebel." When Ayaz passed
away on December 1997, the possessions he left behind included a
book of prayers; Ayaz had turned to
religion in his last days.
Until a few days before Ayaz
passed away, Ghulam Rasool Sahito,
the former peasant leader and member of the Sindh Committee of CPP,
had been saying, "The ideology still
possesses the romance and appeal
of dying for die cause." But Sahito
these days goes by Ayaz's book of
prayers and preaches to his erstwhile comrades the "right path, the
path of religion". As for Jam Saqi,
once the general secretary of the CPP
and the proudest of communists, he
is today a sufi preacher.
The decline of communism in Pa-
kistan is mirrored in the isolated
lives led by those who refuse to give
up the ideology. Before he died,
some months back, Imam Ali Nazish
spent lus last days as an inmate at
Karachi's Ojha TB Institute. Hardly
any of his former comrades used to
visit him. For them, Nazish might
well have been a ghost, much like
the party they had given up on, but
Nazish continued to claim to be the
secretary general of the Communist
Party of Pakistan. By then his party
didn't even have the members to
contest that claim. ^
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 A house of my own
by Zaigham Khan
The empty expanse of the Lahore-Islamabad highway.
Mega projects and Nawaz
Sharif seem to be made for
each other, Sharif has to his credit a
16-bdlion-rupee yellow cab scheme
and a 40-billion-rupee Lahore-
Islamabad motorway. And now he
has come up with Mera Ghar (My
Home), a project so big that his two
previous ventures stand dwarfed in
Estimated at PKR 400 billion (c.
USD 8 billion), Mera Ghar is one of
the largest development schemes in
Asia. It envisages constructing
500,000 housing units for lower -
and mid die-income groups on
20,000 acres of state land in different cities within the next three years.
According to the plan, the government is to provide land free, while
the buyer has to come up with 25
percent of the cost of the house, with
the remaining 75 percent to be paid
in installments spread over 15 years.
Sounds grand indeed, but economists fear that if the scheme flops it
will take the whole banking system
of the country and the economy,
along with it.
Officially inaugurated in August, the programme is running
with the unholy haste that has
almost become the hallmark of
Sharif's style of governance. No less
than 300 sites have been identified,
and prehminary development has
already begun on 120 of these sites.
The housing authority says
that contracts for construction of
100,000 units, amounting to PKR 50
billion, will be awarded within the
current financial year.
The government is optimistic
that the sheer size of the project
will help jump-start the sluggish
economy. Since the housing sector
has no less than 40 other industries
attached to it, it says the project
would help three million people
find work. Consider the other merits touted: helping overcome the
massive housing shortfall; intro
duction of industrialised construction; promotion of mortgage culture
for housing loans; checking unplanned urban growth; and so on.
A tall order, but made taller only
by Sharif's earlier mega-follies. The
yellow cab scheme, initiated during
Sharif's first prime ministerial tenure (1990-1993), was to provide employment to thousands and a decent
means of public transport. Instead,
it left banks reeling under unpaid
debt as the well-off made off with
the taxis for private use. And, the
Lahore-Islamabad motorway, begun in the same period, promised
the sky to all those living in the areas it cuts across. But in its third
year of operation, the majestic highway is not generating the revenue
to pay off the investment.
Now with Mera Ghar, the government is thinking big once again.
And as usual, proper methods and
procedures are being ignored. No
laws are yet in place to monitor the
newly formed Prime Minister Housing Authority (PMHA). "Much to the
people's dismay, the newly established FMHA is fast emerging as the
biggest and most powerful land
grabber in the country," commented
an editorial in the daily Dawn.
Almost everyone outside of the
ruling party is certain that the
project will be shelved once the government falls, a fact that is driving
fear into most would-be investors.
But even if it were to be a success,
some economists are afraid that it
will ring the death knell for the
banking sector. This is because the
PMHA is adamantly keeping the
mark-up on the loans at below 10
percent. Since this is lower than
what it costs the Pakistani banks to
generate the money, a whole system
of cross-subsidies will have to be devised. "Private banks wdl be unwdl-
ing to give soft loans while government banks are already very weak,"
says Shahid Kardar, a well-known
economist from Lahore. "If soft
loans are taken out of government
banks, the government will not be
able to privatise them as it intends
to do and the whole banking sector
as well as the State Bank of Pakistan will be in serious trouble."
If one were to ignore the economic niceties, the programme
seems quite impressive. Pakistan
has a backlog of 6.5 million housing units required, and a shortfall
of 150,000 pile up annually in a
country where affording a house is
becoming increasingly difficult.
"This scheme brings housing to the
people who can't afford it otherwise," says Lahore-based Nayyar
Ali Dada, one of the country's leading architects and a consultant to
the project.
Even if one were to grant Dada's
argument, it would be true only for
the middle classes. The debate so far
has not addressed the increasingly
shelterless poor. Less than 5 percent
of the housing units appear to be in
the reach of the low-income group.
(The cheapest is priced at around
PKR 100,000.)
Activists like Karachi-based
Tasneem Siddiqui, a well-known
expert for low-cost housing, hold
that the poor do not need built-up
units. What they need is a piece of
raw land with the minimum of services where they can build their
house with their own resources incrementally. "Our planners," says
Siddiqui, "are woefully ignorant
about the economics, culture and
sociology of low-income people.
Their approach lacks the human
angle, rather than trying to bring
about a qualitative change in the
lives of the target groups, they lay
emphasis on physical outputs and
quantitative results."
Someone should try telling
Sharif that. Megalomania without
merit is just that and nothing more.
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
In a hole over coal
A controversial power plant pits a bishop's
word against a president's silence.
byNiresh Eliatamby
Sri Lanka's most senior Catholic
bishop recently made a startling
annou ncement at the country's biggest annual Catholic festival. President Chandrika Kumaratunga had
scrapped plans to build a controversial coal-powered power station
on the west coast 100 kilometres
north of Colombo, said Bishop
Frank Marcus Fernando,
who claimed that he was
informed personally of
the fact by the president.
The crowd of several hundred thousand
faithfuls, gathered at
the feast of Saint Ann in
the town of Talawila in
August, burst into thunderous applause. National
newspapers reported  the
speech on their front
pages the next day, for
it meant the end of
years of acrimony between the church, environmentalists and residents of the area on one
side, and the government on the other.
But strangely, the
government stayed
tightlipped on the issue. Journalists who
tried to get comments
from the president's office, got none. A few
days later, came a statement from the Ceylon
Electricity Board, the
state-owned power company that is
building the 600 million-dollar station, that contradicted the bishop's
announcement. "We have not received instructions to stop work on
the Nuraicholai project," said D.C.
Wijeratne, additional general manager at the CEB. "Work is continu-
Bishop Fernando, however, stuck
to his statement. "She said the government is returning the 600-million-
dollar soft loan to the Japanese," he
told reporters. But the president continued to remain
The       conflicting
claims    underline
the intensity of the
struggle over an issue that is threatening   to   derail   Sri
Lanka's already-fragile
economy. CEB officials
Soldiers patrol Nuraicholai after the 1997 protests. Bishop Fernando (top).
say that increasing demand for electricity, rising by an annual 8 percent,
will cause a shortfall in supply by
2004, even with the construction of
several more oil-fired stations. Com
pounding the problem is the government instruction that the CEB
provide power to 80 percent of the
island's houses by 2005, up steeply
from today's 52 percent. A coal
power station must be ready by then,
the CEB says, or there will be daily
power cuts. That will surely destroy
the economy since foreign investors
are not likely to be interested in a
country that doesn't have a reliable
power supply, which, as the CEB
says, means economic disaster.
But villagers at Nuraicholai,
where the coal power station is being built, are staunchly opposed to
the project, which they say will bring
acid rain and soot down on them,
and ruin their fields. This area,
bound on one side by the sea, is predominantly Catholic, and the clergy
rushed to die defence of its flock. The
possibility that the power station
will cause acid rain and harm the
150-year-old St Anne's Church, 20
kilometres away, galvanised the rest
of Sri Lanka's Catholics, who form 8
percent of the population.
Environmental organisations are
also in the thick of protests, lending
scientific weight to the opposition.
The southwest monsoon winds,
blowing for half the year, may
spread the acid rain as far as the
ancient Buddhist holy
city of Anuradhapura,
while affecting the
much-nearer Wilpattu
National Park, the
country's largest wildlife sanctuary. CEB officials, however, disagree
with such assessments,
and have promised to
install state-of-the-art
systems that will remove almost all harmful chemicals from the
power plants' emissions.
Unfortunately for all
concerned, with presidential and general
elections scheduled in less than a
year, the politicians are trying to placate both sides, rather than deal with
the issue once and for all and be done
with it. With a one-seat majority in
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
 the 225-seat Parliament, President
Kumaratunga can't risk alienating
the Catholics. But neither does she
want to be blamed for the possible
economic crisis in 2004, predicted by
those in favour of the project, if the
power station isn't built.
Rumours and fear rule Nuraicholai, With no clear government
policy, politicians and officials in
the area are unsure of themselves
when they face the, protesters. Protests at the site have often turned violent, as happened two years ago
when police fired into a crowd of
demonstrators, killing one person.
Threats to call in the armed forces
and push the project through, made
by Minister of Power Anuruddha
Ratwatte, who is also the deputy
defence minister, have only served
to strengthen the resolve of those
opposed to it.
Energy urgency
For more than a century, Sri
Lankans depended on the hydro-
electricity generated by the
country's plentiful streams and
large rivers. Ranging in size from
tiny village turbines producing a
few kilowatts to power stations at
huge dams providing up to 250
mega-watts, hydroelectricity powered everything from street lamps to
But by the mid-1980s, almost all
sites suitable for damming rivers
had been exhausted. Alternative
sources of energy were needed and
needed fast. That was the time when
the country was surging ahead economically. Diesel power was one
option, and a series of diesel-powered stations came up. More are under construction at present and by
2003, oil-fired stations will account
for about 40 percent of the nation's
power, an alarmingly high dependency for a country that doesn't
have its own oil. These power plants
come with a heavy price tag, for although they are cheap to build, running them is another story. "Sri
Lankans already pay a very high
price for electricity. The more we add
oil-based stations, the more the price
will increase," says CEB's Wijeratne.
Since other sources, such as
wind, solar power and natural gas,
are also expensive, coal seemed to
be the only choice left. Coal is cheap,
and available in plenty in India,
Australia and many other countries
bordering the Indian Ocean. The
CEB thus drew up a plan to build a
series of coal-powered stations, according to which, coal will supply
65 percent of the country's power
by 2012. That will be as much power
as the 1200 megawatts produced by
all of the hydro and diesel power
stations today.
Initially, in the mid-1980s, the
project was to be located at Trin-
comalee, the huge port on the northeast coast. But international financiers shied away, since the area was
in the middle of Sri Lanka's ethnic
conflict. Next, a town on the south
coast was found, but a Marxist uprising against the government with
roots in the south, convinced the
then President Ranasinghe Premadasa to abort the plan. Other sites
which were scouted were found to
be unsuitable.
Finally, the CEB picked Nuraicholai, and the government gave the
green signal. The Japanese government pledged to fund the entire
project. Preliminary work has now
almost been completed, and the
power plant is scheduled to be in
operation in 2004. The Nuraicholai
station would initially generate 300
MW of electricity, and later be expanded to produce 900 MW. A second power plant is planned for the
south coast, but it has already drawn
opposition from environmentalists.
The activists say there is still time to
look for alternative sources of energy. CEB officials do not refute this,
but neither are they seeking alternatives. They haven't received instructions from the president, they
"We are banking on the Nuraicholai project. The increasing power
requirement, and the lack of hydro-
power makes it essential that we go
ahead with the project," says
Ananda Dharmapriya, senior assistant secretary at the Ministry of
Power. The CEB and the government
say there isn't enough time now to
find another location. "It takes about
eight years to plan a power station,
do the feasibility studies, find the
money, and then construct it," says
Wijerajiie. "We originally planned
to have the first 300 MW coal plant
ready around 1998. We are now six
years behind schedule. We have already taken most of the stopgap
measures that can be taken, like
building more thermal plants."
The indecision even has the
Japanese worried, and getting funding for another site will be difficult.
Officials of the Japanese lending
agency, Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, which has pledged an
interest-free loan for the coal power
plant, have expressed concern over
the bishop's statement. The controversy does little good to attract loans
and investment.
Sri Lanka's economy, once the
envy of the Third World, and held
up as a model to emulate by poorer
countries 50 years ago, is in no shape
to face a power shortage. The civil
war in the northeast continues to
sap the economy of its resources,
consuming a quarter of government
revenue. Sri Lanka's main money-
spinning industries are also suffering. Tea exports are tottering due to
low world prices. Garment factories
that employ a large percentage of
young men and women are shutting down, unable to cope with
competition from China and other
Asian nations where low wages
keep production costs at a minimum. With the United States set to
scrap its quota system in 2004,
which was the only reason Sri
Lanka managed to compete with
China all these years, the future is
even more grim. Tourism, shattered
by Tamil guerrilla bomb blasts in the
capital in 1995 and 1996, driving
European tour operators away, is
only just getting back on its feet.
The energy clock is ticking for Sri
Lanka, and the dithering of politicians, more interested in votes than
in announcing a clear-cut policy, is
doing nothing to help. >
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
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 "Foreign staff, English medium,
Quranic and Islamic studies"
Pink-cheeked, top-hatted schoolboys walking across vast playing fields surrounded by medieval
stone buildings: surely that's what
Eton Hall is all about? Wrong. Eton
Hall is a concrete suburban bungalow with a couple of swings rooted
in the dusty earth along its frontage. The pupils are definitely not
pink and they do not wear top hats.
At least, not in Eton Hall, Lahore.
Eton Hall is just one of the thousands of private schools to have
sprung up in this city of four million over the past 15 years to fill the
yawning gap between the collapsing state education sector and the
inaccessibly elitist, colonial-style
private schools.
Pitched largely at families with
new wealth earned by migrant
workers in the Gulf, and in more recent years illicitly through corruption, the private schools wage a
cut-throat battle for customers — and
profit. As with all commercial products, image is everything, and the
names of many schools read like an
audit of social aspirations in today's
The yearning to be admitted into
the elite is reflected in names which
hark back to colonial times: there's
an Oxford Public School and
a Cambridge Public School (although no annual boat race), hi fact,
anything goes, however irrelevant
to the local environment, as long
as it sounds English: Kimberly
Hall School, Comprehensive Aims
School System, Balsam House, Regent Grammar School (whose newspaper ad promised "Eoreign Staff,
English Medium, and Quranic and
Islamic Studies"). Legend Hall
School (housed not in a castle but
in a circa 1980s bungalow) promises hoards of young King Arthurs
and Queen Guineveres charging
out after hours on their trusty steeds.
The name of Bloomfield Hall, one of
the more expensive of the private
schools and whose English principal is a refugee from Britain's state
school system, was reportedly decided on by the owners as they were
passing a block of council flats in
down-market Walthamstow in London.
In case the Americans should
feel left out, there are the Disneyland
School ("admission in Senior
Classes only on merit basis") and
the Snow White Montessori. The
French, too, have not been forgotten,
with Les Anges Montessori — even
if no one has a clue what the
school's name actually means. And
finally, for true internationalists,
there's the International School System (which opened with a single
building for play-group through
Class VII and a promise of "Instruction Based On Latest Educational
Research; Air Conditioned Class
Rooms"). Occasionally, colonial aspirations are moderated by a sudden recollecrion of national pride,
giving us the Sir Syed Cambridge
School, named after the founder of
the Aligarh Muslim University.
Intellectual aspirations are reflected in the outrageously expensive Kids Kampus, the middle-class
professionals' Toddlers Academy
and the decidedly down-market
Tiny Tots Academy, all nursery
schools producing
PhDs of an average
age of 6. The Nobel
Grammar will
obviously boost
Pakistan's number of prize- winners up from the
current total of
one, while Scholars'
Inn Cadet School &
College offers the prospect of some
very bright, militaristic but drunken
The oldest and most successful
private school, Beaconhouse, which
was established by the Kasuri industrialist family and which largely
caters to middle-class professionals, has spawned its own set of
lower income copycats. From the
names one would believe that education in Pakistan has a bright future: The Gleaming Way, Lighthouse Hall, Beaconsfield House,
Gleaming House...
Finally, there's the category of
too cute for words: Little Angels,
Pixie Land, Little Darlings, again all
nursery schools for children of
over-optimistic parents. The most
recent nursery school to pop up in
the city is Mushrooms —perhaps a
name that most appropriately
captures the spirit in which new
schools come up. ^
by Cassandra Balchin/
Women's Feature Service
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
Bangladesh bioscope
Talent drain to the west: Bangladeshi
actress Champa in Buddhadeb
^      Dasgupta's Lai Darja.	
by Afsan Chowdhury
Mid-shot of a row of men
sitting and looking bored
in the middle of nowhere in Bangladesh. Camera pans the faces.
It was raining hard as they
trudged through the muddy lands
of rural Bangladesh searching for
women who had suffered and survived 1971. They are shooting a
documentary on the role of women
in the liberation war. But insistent
rains had put a brief halt to their
work. They are sitting on the plain
wooden chairs so kindly offered by
the hosts —total strangers naturally—who are being the typical
generous rural people who let urban people, any urban people,
muddle through their courtyard and
life, and never receive a word of
apology. Lazy conversation flows.
What's the biggest problem in
making a video?
Shortage of common sense.
The very desire to do it.
Crowd control. See them wait till
the rain ends so that they can come
around and watch us shoot. Just
imagine what happens when a full-
fledged film is done. It is a massive
Don't worry. There won't be any
crowd left very soon. What's the
Because at 3 pm sharp Bangladesh Television will start showing
the weekly Bangla film and that's
when the crowd goes home to watch
something more interesting than
makers of a video.
Close shot of rural Bangla salons
watching the mini screen. Hundreds
of people are fading into homes and
neighbour's homes. They forget to
brush muddy feet, and enjoy
themselves to the hilt. The most
popular programmes of Bangladesh
Television are the film shows.
The next most popular is the
movie song show. There's an irony
somewhere but it's lost in the
sound of the first song-and-dance
CUT TO Ahmed Zaman Chowdhury (AZC), editor of Chitrali,
Bangladesh's oldest cine weekly.
Chitrali was established even before
films were produced in Bangladesh.
AZC is not just an editor but a dialogue, script, story and song writer
as well. He has now forayed into
film and TV. "If you take South Asia
I would say that the Bangladesh
film industry is the most successful
one after Hindi and South India.
We are better off than Pakistan
and other SAARC countries and
much bigger than most Indian
regions, including West Bengal.
Calcutta's Tollywood is nowhere
near Dollywood."
How many are produced every
year? What is the size of investment
per film?
"In 1993-94 the industry produced over 70 films. The figure
would be higher now, certainly
more than 80 films. There are of
course a number of films which get
started but never finish because
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
of so many reasons."
That would take a lot of cinema
halls to show, right?
"Of course. In 1972 there were
around 300 cinema halls, that figure now stands at around 1200. If
you take the thousand who watch
every day, day in day out, you will
see that it reaches more people than
any other medium. TV hits its highest ratings when they show
films. This is a cinema-driven mass
CUT TO rural and rainy Bengal
filled with the depressed TV crew.
The cameraman is a Poona FUm Institute graduate of two decades' vintage. He is a seriously respected veteran with many tales of the movie
world. He says it's a world of its
own with its own sub-culture and
hierarchies. It seems that the movie
CUT TO AZC holding forth with
great relish. "The cost of film-making is high here but it attracts a huge
number of people because there is
the promise of instant money and a
few other things."
What are these other things?
"Well, there is the glamour factor for one thing. And the proximity to stars, pretty women in general
are rather heady inspirations for
many, especially with some extra
and sometimes unaccountable cash
to spend."
So how much does it cost to produce a movie? How many actually
make a profit?
"The average cost of production
is 1 crore [10 million] taka, that is
over 200,000 dollars. About 30 percent of the films manage not to lose
money but the rest are just break
evens or lose some money."
world is a fertile ground for anthropological studies with its gradations, fraternities, conflicts and
classes. Some suggest it is not
anthro- but ethno-graphy. Meanwhile the crowds have melted away
to many homes and the TV sets are
blaring away. The rain threatens to
stop. A solitary kid with school-
books under his arm has still not
given up hope. He hangs around to
watch the crew.
So why invest if it's so insecure?
"It's not insecure at all. About
five to seven movies are mega hits
every year. That means they make
three to four times the investment.
Another five-seven films return
double the investment and generate
more films. Say 10 films just make
it. Of course half of the films made
never make any money. But if
you have the right stars, right
amount of pre-release publicity
and connections, you can be assured of 70 percent of your initial
investment. And that will keep a lot
of people corning in and those who
enter rarely leave. You have to admit it's got a narcotic effect. Filmmaking is an addiction."
CUT TO the TV crew feeling more
cheerful as the rain drifts away.
Some kids who have probably not
been allowed to watch the film on
television edge closer. A few women
step out to finish chores, but otherwise the village scene is deserted.
Do you watch movies?
The boys nod their head.
Whom do you like?
Villains. They smile happily as
they answer. (Great intellectual debate ensues on the role of villains in
movie history).
CUT TO Chinmoy Mutsuddi, editor of Binodon Bichitra, a cine magazine and author of a large volume
on the history of Bangla dim. A journalist who dabbles in development
activities, he was close to Zahir
Raihan, the man who made "art,
commercial and polemical" movies
with great success. The great icon
of the tinsel world. He died in 1972.
He was killed when he went to look
for his brother who had been abducted by Pakistani partisans holding out in a Dhaka suburb. "Zahir
Raihan was the stuff with which
legends are made. His commitment
was not just to the art form but to
the cause of people. His documentary Stop. Genocide on the plight of
the people in 1971 is a classic and
is still the best work on that period.
In that film, created under great difficulties and limitations, he showed
the talent he had.
"Had he survived, he would
have been able to lead a new wave.
He did leave behind a stream of followers like the late Alamgir Kabir
who tried to make commercially
valid quality films but the mainstream is very different from what
can be national cinema. It is a market sensitive sector and caters to an
audience which is interested in
passing time. I believe such films
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will naturally be made but other
types of movies should flourish
as well."
CUT TO AZC who nods his head.
"To be honest the movies made here
are mostly copies of Hindi^ films.
There is no demand for original
But cable TV allows them to see
the real ones, why do they want to
see reconstructions?
"Because it's in Bangla and they
can understand. Because the stars
and locations are their own and
they can identify with them. It's the
psychological frame of the mass culture, a subject I taught at the university for a period."
JUMP CUT to the video crew now
getting ready to start shooting. This
time the crowd control effort is minimal but light is fading. Most of the
crew members are earnest young
people who are members of the
Short Film Forum (SFF). They are
driven by the adrenalin of youth
and dreams. One day they all
hope to make that definitive film
which will leave a mark, will be in
the grand tradition of Satyajit,
Mrinal, Eitwick... Meanwhile, they
lend shoulders to such efforts
working without payment or for a
meagre amount, happy to turn
idealism into practice.
But members of the SFF haven't
done too badly. A number of their
films have won awards. They are
certainly very competent with documentaries. Tareqe Masud is a good
example, whose Muktir Gaan is one
of the best-known documentary
films in the country, made by cutting
a quarter-century old archive. Some
others like Morshedul Islam (Chaka),
Niyamat Ali and Mashiuddin
Shaker (Surya Dighal Bari) and a few
others have won prizes at home and
abroad. Humayun Ahmed, the
country's leading TV playwright
and best-selling novelist, has produced films which have won national awards and have collected
money as well. And there is a growing list of f j Ims which are of the parallel variety. It's always this way at
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
the beginning. Their face brightens
as the sun appears and the camera
goes into action silently.
CUT TO AZC who is relaxing with
the plot of a commercial he is planning to make. "You are right. The
growth of the unofficial Bangladeshi film market in West Bengal is
a strange but interesting scenario. It
began with Beder Meye Jotsna, the all-
time greatest hit made in the mid-
1980s. The story line is a folk tale
which touches everyone. After it became a hit here, a producer there
recognised the potential and remade
the film with the heroine Anju
Ghosh and it was a mega-hit there
as well. And then came the deluge.
Now Bangladeshi remakes are a
serious growth industry there."
But West Bengal film makers
there are protesting about being
swamped by cheap Bangla products. "Actually Tollywood was
in serious trouble after the super
growth of Hindi films. They were
making only
15-20 films a
year although it
costs only about
40 lakhs at the
most. And what
they do now is
remake Dhaka-
made Bangladeshi remakes of
the Hindi movies. The industry
there simply
can't compete
with Bollywood.
The golden era of
Uttam Kumar-
Suchitra Sen is
long over."
And we hear
that many Bangladeshis have
shifted there?
"Yes. Anju
Ghosh and a few
other actre-sses,
Narayan Ghosh,
Dilip Biswas, etcetera, are all
working there
full time. In fact,
some have even migrated to India.
Many already had their families
there. They had connections from
CUT TO Chinmoy Mutsuddi supervising the pasting of the centre-
spread. It's Ayesha Julkha, the
Bollywood starlet who is acting in
a Indo-Bangla joint production. She
had said that Dhaka and Calcutta
are miles behind Bombay in terms
of production value.
"Calcutta cinema is also playground of people who have drawn
the face of Indian cinema. Ray, Sen,
Ghatak, Utpalendu and others including Buddhadeb who has made
films with stars from Bangladesh."
CUT TO the video crew walking
back to their temporary shelter in
some remote part of Bangladesh.
Their dreams grow large as the night
falls and they talk of the film they
must make. Night falls. Insects blare.
TVs blare. Dreams blare. i
■ft: .. '70007
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Director's choice
For long years, the rest of India
and the Western world identified Bengali cinema with either the
pain and poverty of Satyajit Ray's
pathbreaking Father Panchali or
with the strong political celluloid
dramas of Mrinal Sen and Ritwick
Ghatak. Not without reason too,
given the themes that permeated
films of that generation (even though
it ignores the fact that most of Ray's
films did not deal with poverty). But
with the changing socio-political
situation of West Bengal, as also in
the rest of hidia, by the 1990s the
audience had begun to move away
from topics of social discontent.
Their concerns now had more to do
with the onslaught of a consumer-
ist society, and to represent this
angst, a new brand of ax:ante, garde
Bengali filmmakers zoomed into the
The turning point may have
come in 1994 with Unishe April.
Bengali moviegoers, fed up with the
diet of 'intellectualese' in the 'art
movies', and weary of the shoddy
talcs in the 'commercial' ones, suddenly discovered in former adman
Rituparno Ghosh a director capable
of representing the society they lived
in. Themes of feminism, male chauvinism, modernity and consumerism, all find play in his movies.
Unishe April was breaking new
ground in its exploration of the
love-hate relationship between a ce-
lebrity single mother and her
misunderstood daughter through
events on the death anniversary of
the girl's father.
Ghosh did a repeat with his second offering, Dahan. Released in
1998, the film opens with a horrific
molestation attempt on the beautiful wife of a junior city executive on
the streets of Calcutta. Whi Ie the ruffians beat up the husband senseless,
the wife is rescued by another young
woman, a school teacher, who is
promptly made a 'hero' by the me
dia. What looks like a tragedy
averted, however, soon snowballs
into a complex drama, causing upheavals in the conservative, middle
and upper middle class families to
which the two young women belong. As the film progresses, the
masks of the progressive Bengali
facade peel off, and, in what is the
first depiction of marital rape in a
Bengali film, the husband gives vent
to his anger and frustration by raping his wife.
Rather than focusing on the perils of the jungle that is the modern
city, Ghosh takes the battles of the
sexes from the streets to the tranquil
world of a traditional Bengali family. Dahan was a box office hit, and
this despite the lack of staple ingredients of the regular potboiler. Both
Unishe April and Dahan not only
won national and international
awards, but more importantly, the
films marked the return to the
theaters of the discerning audience
who had stayed away from Bollywood imitations and other ludicrous excesses.
Ghosh came and conquered
Bengali cinema of the 1990s, but
there were others, like his mentor
Aparna Sen who had been making
films in a class of their own.
Sen's 1981 maiden venture, 36
Chowringhee Lane, dwells on the
loneliness of an Anglo-Indian
woman in a self-centred society,
while her second film Paroma is
about a housewife's search for
self-identity through an adulterous
liaison, for which the director was
much pilloried for 'glorifying' adultery. In her last film, Yugant, Sen used
a conjugal partnership to look at tire
tension between the sexes in contemporary society and her yet-to-be-
released Paromitar Ek Din, explores
the traditional stress-ridden relationship between the mother-in-law
and daughter-in-law, and depicts a
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
unique empathy between the two
women whose ties survive even after the daughter-in-law gets divorced.
Moving away from the routine
theme of intellectualism, Sen and
Ghosh have been projecting issues
that concern the educated middle
and upper middle class Bengali. In
their movies, the women characters
are never hyped-up feminists, but
ordinary people with whom the audience can easily relate to. Yet, for
all that, the recurring take-off point
in these films tends mostly to be the
strains that mar modern-day marriages. If the protagonist in Paromitar
Ek Din leaves her first husband to
marry a filmmaker, then Yugant calls
for an end to the antagonism between men and women.
Reality reels
Perhaps the old master, Mrinal Sen,
had anticipated the approaching
change of mood much earlier, for his
films made hi the late 1980s are more
introspective than his earlier ones,
and echo the subjects the younger
directors are now dealing
with. Thus in 1988 he made Ek Din
Achanak, in which a professor leaves
his home one rainy evening never
to return, leaving Iris family to dissect the idolised father's failures.
And Antareen (1992), so far the last
film from the reclusive director, addresses the subject of a woman's
confinement and alienation in a
desolate house.
There are others such as Goutam
Ghose, whose oeuvre include films
like and Padma Nadir Majhi. But
unlike Ghosh or Sen, Ghose's beat
is not relationship movies. Rather
he revels in creating meaningful
documentaries and adapting complex works of literature. One such
is Padma Nadir Majhi, based on the
'classic' novel of the late Bengali
writer Manik Bandopadhayay,
which describes the struggle of boatmen against the elements as they
ply the River Padma, that great
expanse of water that flows through
Possibly the most accomplished
among contemporary Bengali directors who are probing the effects of
blind consumerism, crumbling family bonds and receding innocence
in modern lives, is Buddhadeb
Dasgupta. Dasgupta's films can be
placed in the same genre as that of
the late Soviet filmmaker Andrei
Tarkovsky's, marked as they are by
a non-narrative poetic style. His earlier films, such as Grihayuddha and
Andhi Gali of the 1980s, were political in nature, but his works of this
decade attempt to characterise man
in a new version of reality. Perhaps
there is no better testimony to
Dasgupta's skill than his internationally acclaimed Lai Darja (1997).
Based   on   his   own   poem,
"For Hasan", Lai Darja is a response
to the sadness the director feels
at the inevitable loss of innocence
and freshness in modern life. Dasgupta's protagonist is a successful
Calcutta dentist whose dull life of „
middle-class respectability is sud- S
denly shaken up by an impending §
collapse of his marriage as his wife I
decides to break out in search of a 3
new life. As he struggles in his bewilderment, he notices the contrast
he stands in with his driver, a
happy-go-lucky polygamist. Ultimately he finds escape from bourgeois boredom through a journey of
fantasy into the lost world of his
innocent childhood. Delving deep
into the problems of urban life domi-
nated by relentless consumerism,
Dasgupta tries to rescue a place for
spiritualism in our lives.
The quest thus continues as contemporary Bengali directors adapt
themselves to the changes in society and strive to 'reelise' modern life
in all its complexities. It is a sign of
the times that with the death of political idealism, and much too much
political opportunism in public life,
the audience perhaps love to watch
the political circus on the small
screen of then cable TV, leaving the
theaters to the fine practitioners of
celluloid art. i
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
avante garde
by Rajiv Theodore
,nce upon a time, Malayalam
cinema played to the tunes of
the incredible hero, the ever-green
Prem Nazir, who never tired of wooing heroines, running around trees
with damsels half his age, and wiping out a dozen villains single-
handedly as the film climaxed.
Those were the early 1970s, when
assembly-line formula films had
rubbed off from Bollywood to the
South of India, complete with hackneyed story-lines the future course
of which could be predicted with
ease. The only other choice was to
view fares doled out by directors infatuated with Marxist-Leninist
ideology who produced absolute
tear-jerkers on the rich-poor divide.
Today, a new wind is blowing
over Malayalam cinema. Call it
fresh, avante garde, or whatever,
it is fetching golden moments for
Malayalam films. The brightest
could be Mar ana Simhasanam that
saw Murali Nair bag the coveted
Camera d'Or Award at Cannes ear
lier in the year. The movie tells the
tale of a poor labourer who is apprehended while stealing coconuts,
and then slapped with murder
charges. The 33-year-old London-
based Murali now has production
offers pouring in, and is receiving
invitations to prestigious film festivals across the globe. Says film historian P.K. Nair of the younger Nair,
"He has a certain vision that is different from other filmmakers. He
captures visuals and moods rather
than being stuck in dramatic developments."
Then there is Jayaraj, whose
Kaliyaatam, based on the Shakespearean play Othello, attracted rave
reviews at the International Film
Festival in Mew Delhi in 1998.
Visual opulence takes centrestage
in Kaliyaatam where the characters
are exponents of Theyyam, the
spectacular ritual dance of
northern Kerala. Aided by a tight
script and some brilliant performances, Jayaraj and cinematogra-
Murali Nair and
his film.
pher Radhakrishnan have expertly
exploited the bizarre, stylised costumes of Theyyam.
Shaji M. Karun is another Malayalam director who has been making waves in international
circles. Acclaimed for his Piravi and
Swaham, Shaji's latest offering is
Vanaprastham, an Indo-French
production, and the costliest
Malayalam film to date (USD 1 mil-
lion/INR 42 million). The film is
based on Kerala's well-known
Kathakali dance, and as Shaji says,
"My major challenge was to make a
film which was not just a documentary on Kathakali and to ensure that
the form did not overshadow the
Social change
Kathakali dancer Kunjukuttan is
at the centre of the movie, who
finds himself an odd victim of
art colluding with reality. Kunju-
kuttan's fiancee Subhadra is
enamoured of his dancing role as
the legendary Arjun, and not him.
Things come to a head when
Subhadra does not allow him to see
their daughters unless he comes in
his stage finely. Unable to cope with
the series of tragedies piling up,
Kunjukuttan kills himself. This is
his vanaprastham (the last dance).
For top-notch hero Mohan Lai,
who took Kathakali lessons to understand the spirit behind the dance,
it is a "life-time role", an attempt to
"break the tradition of people from
mainstream cinema investing only
in commercial projects".
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the
Satyajit Ray of the South if you will,
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
has always been quietly subversive
in his work. So quiet that you have
to magnify A door's cinematic murmurs and gentle probing into the
nature of oppression to understand
the true import of what he is saying.
Kathapurushan (Man of the Story),
co-produced by nhk of Japan, is perhaps his most subtle and cinemati-
cally, the most stunning. And paradoxically enough, the strongest indictment of authority as well as an
eloquent plea for the human spirit
and individual freedom, a pat on the
back for idealism in an increasingly
cynical age.
Adoor is undoubtedly traversing
a ground he and other filmmakers
from Kerala have often trod before —
changing social orders. But what
does make Kathapurushan such an
outstanding film is its scope, and
the control the director has over the
medium. It is not the story of one
man in isolation as the title may indicate, but of a generation of men
growing up in post-Independence
Kerala. For someone whose cinema
has always been elliptical, and
admirably restrained, it is also perhaps Adoor's most abstract film so
far, and his most personal —the
protagonist's father leaves his
mother before he is born and we
never find out why. "My father and
mother separated and till today I
don't know why," says Adoor.
More recently, Balachandra
Menon, known more for his 'commercial' ventures, has broken his
own mould and come up with
what he says is his magnum opus.
Sammantharangal, which Menon
produced, directed, edited, wrote
the screenplay and music for, and
also played the lead in, is devoid of
stereotype. The actor-director plays
an upright and principled railway
stationmaster who is in conflict with
the unscrupulous world outside.
Both in content and form, Samaan-
tharangal marks a distinct departure
from Menon's earlier films.
But even as these filmmakers experiment with different modes of
expression, there is a pack of savvy
Malayalam dhectors infusing their
style and professionalism into
Bollywood cinema. They are experimenting with both content and
form, and having been toasted commercially and critically, they are becoming marquee brand names. This
heavily Hollywoodised generation
has created a vigorous cinema of visual nuances and exuberance and
are the ones almost single-handedly
responsible for Bollywood's adoption of song-as-setpiece (that is, using fantastic locales to picturise
songs, regardless of the story).
For these directors, the crossing
over makes perfect sense. Bollywood
is a great chance to go global, with a
bigger market, more budget and arguably better crew. And all this with
a super-fast work ethic—films are
finished within a stipulated time
frame, and reshooting is almost unheard of. Says Keralite director
Priyadarshan, "Cinema needs no
languages. Only feelings... There are
26 cultures in 26 states. You have to
think like an Indian and find universal themes."
Therein lies the contradiction of
Malayalam films. While one set of
directors are busy rewriting the
rules for commercial cinema, their
peers are creating waves in the film
festival circuit. But then, contradictions are what Malayalam cinema
is all about—it comes up with all
kinds of movies. At 12 noon, in front
of many halls in Kerala, you can see
an intense all-male queue (with the
exception of those plying the oldest
profession) beating the heat to
get to watch an "A" movie, where
the rape scene is goaded on by
whistles; and at the matinee, you
can find the serious types trying to
size up an Adoor Gopalakrishnan
presentation. 4
Mohan Lai and Mammooty
WHILE    THE    Rajesh
Khannas and the Dhar-
mendras were busy stealing the thunder up north
with their fair-handsome
looks, the Malayalee hero
was at best portly, dressed
in  the simplest attire,
sometimes in a printed
lungi and bare torso, a
specimen that could not
be digested by the Hindi
film fan. But the superstar
syndrome did not escape
the Malayalee, who found
in    Mohan     Lai     and
Mammooty two different
personalities worthy of
hero worship.
Thick at the waist and sporting moustaches and hairstyles that
have the coconut oil sheen, their faces reflect what the audience want—
a whole gamut of emotions from anything between a love-struck young
man to a hen-pecked husband angling for another woman. Both also
have a sizeable fan following among the Malayalee migrants in the
Gulf, whose nostalgia is fed by the lush green native setting in which
their heroes operate. Well entrenched in the roots of Kerala's tradition
and history, the characters played by both Mammooty and Mohan Lai
could be any of your Malayalee next door. Which is the reason for their
earthy appeal.
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
 Earth Door Sky Door
paintings of Mustang by
Robert Poweril
Serindia Publications
London, 1999
180 pp
ISBN 0 906026 53 9
reviewed by
Ratan Rai
Earth Door,
Sky Door
Chorten on a
mountain saddle
near Syangboche
village in Mustang.
Robert Powell is an Australian
architect who came to Kathmandu
in 1980 and has lived here since, painting
extremely realistic art based on Himalayan architecture. Recently, as part of
the Nepal-German Project on High
Mountain Archaeology, he was given
the task of making technical drawings
of buildings, cultural monuments and
excavated sites of the Mustang region.
The Mustang architecture and
landscapes pictured here are a result
of this work, as printed in the book
Earth-Door-Sky-Door (1999). (Of the
43 colour plates in this 110-page book,
19 were being exhibited at the Sackler
Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution,
Washington DC, till September).
The region of Mustang was kept off
the map for international visitors,
and with limited touristic interest
among the Nepalis themselves, had
been allowed to survive in isolation, behind the Annapurna massif
at the headwaters of the Kal
Gandaki River. While politically
within Nepal, Mustang has an
essentially Tibetan culture, whose
guardian is the present Raja Jigme
Parbal Bista, whose dynastic
origins obviously trace back to
the nomads who roamed the
Chang Thang steppe.
Powell deliberately
does not provide
context to his works.
For example, he does
not include the sky nor
people in his compositions. As a reviewer in
The Washington Post
wrote about Powell's
work, this lack of setting
and context "has an
almost hallucinatory
impact". As another
reviewer wrote, the
buildings and walls arc
drawn "in such an
animistic way that their
walls heave with breath
and flush with feeling,
despite the superficial
formality of Powell's
inanimate subject
Indeed, if anything,
Powell is precise about
detail. He firmly picks up
red-ochre, white, grey
and yellow paints and
drips them on the paper
just as the natives would
while painting their
houses and public
In terms of technique, it is important to note
that Powell does not work in situ. Rather, he
brings the sketches and notes back to his quiet
studio in Kathmandu, where he uses supplementary support such as technical drawings,
photographs and samples of earth colours and
pebbles collected at site.
The caves at Yara (fight, above): Of the many
ancient cave sites in Thak and Mustang, this
section of caves is to be seen on the right side of
the trail leading to Yara and Ghara villages and
further u p to the famous Luri cave and the
sacred lake of Damodarkunda. These caves
have been occupied by people of debatable
origin since the Neolithic and Charcolithic
periods (about 10,000 years ago), and in fact
some are still inhabited in the Chosar Valley
further north. Deiter Schuh, team leader of the
High Mountain Archaeology Project, has
postulated that the early occupants of these
caves may have been none other than the
Kiratas mentioned in Vedic literature.
House at Tsele (right): This little windblown village lies on a ridge that separates the
vast expanse of the Kali Gandaki to the south
from the rest of the Mustang to the north.
Powell paints the north facade of the house of
the late Hisi Gyaltson, who was a builder,
wood-carver, furniture-designer, toy-maker and
artist. Hisi Gyaltson had not only built his
elegant house with its lamaist chapel room, but
also adorned it with carved windows, doors
and frescoes, which survive to this day, Pres-
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
 Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), Bangkok
Urban Information & Organizational Networking Manager
Asian Urban Disaster Mitigation Program (AUDMP)
The AUDMP is a six year regional program designed to respond to the need for safer cities in Asia through disaster reduction and is being implemented in
India. Indonesia, Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Bangladesh.
The Urban Information and Organizational Networking Manager will be responsible for developing, strengthening and managing
networks and associations of professionals involved in disaster reduction; developing information products such as newsletter,
technical reports, event summaries, etc. S/he will also be responsible for managing regional networking events such as regional
policy workshops, regional urban disaster management conferences, working group meetings, etc. S/he will have more than five
years of relevant experience, demonstrated research and information analysis skills, excellent desktop publishing skills with good
knowledge of the Internet, excellent English writing and communication skills, team-oriented work style, minimum 2 years of
international work experience and ability to work in a multi-cultural environment. Preference will be given to Asian citizens.
Academic qualifications: Masters degree or equivalent in information systems, mass communication, disaster management/mitigation, international development or related fields. The position is for a period of two years; salary commensurate with experience
and benefits include housing and resettlement allowance, education allowance for dependent children, medical care and insurance.
Applications along-with curriculum vitae should be sent to AUDMP/ADPC, Asian Institute of Technology, P.O. Box 4, Klong
Luang, Pathumthani 12120, Thailand. Fax:66-2-524-5350/524-5360,, before 10 November 1999. Visit ADPC
web site <http://www.adpc.ait,> for more information. Note: Only short-listed candidates will be notified.
The Scholar of Peace
Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) is a new initiative committed
to promoting an alternative, gender sensitive discourse on a range of issues related to peace and
security. Planned as a South Asian programme, WISCOMP in its first year invites applications
from Indian professionals and scholars under the age of 45* for its Scholar of Peace Fellowships.
Awarded annually, the Fellowships cover a period ranging from three months to one year.
Candidates interested in conducting high quality academic research, media projects or special,
innovative projects may seek further information from:
Foundation for Universal Responsibility
Of His Holiness The Dalai Lama
India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road
New Delhi -110003, India
Tel: 011-4648450    Fax: 4648451
Age limit may be relaxed in exceptional cases
cntly owned by a
gentleman named
Dull, this house at
Tsele is in need of
urgent repair. On the
roof are seen neat
piles of fuelwood
and thorny shrub,
signifying the all-
important role of
firewood in this cold,
arid land. It is little
wonder, then, that
large piles of firewood on the roof is
linked to prestige.
Houses in Ruins,
Tangye (right):
Ruins of castle-forts
of long ago form the
skyline of many a
Mustang landscape.
These ruins may
have been the result
of fierce regional
feuds, loss of water
sources, or monastery bastions mercilessly erased
as patronage of the faith shifted from one warlord
to another. The area east of the old salt route,
which includes Tangye, is relatively impoverished,
given the reliance on meagre one-crop farming.
Whereas the nobles and wealthy lived on lucrative
taxes levied on salt, wool and gold flowing
through the Kali Gandaki Valley, the villagers of
Tangye as well as Di, Surkhan, Yara, Ghara and Te
lived a more impoverished lifestyle.
Walls of the Protectors, Lo Manthang (right):
This particular facade with a dog- and ram-skull
talisman each lies west of the royal palace inside
the walled capital city of Lo Manthang. These
talismanic motifs have clearly captivated the artist,
enough for him to name his book after sago namgo
(Earth Door, Sky Door). The skulls of the ram (on
the right, with horn) and dog are fastened at either
side of the main door of a family which has
recently lost a member to early death. The "Earth
Door" is symbolised by the ram's skull, which
faces 'earthward' and the "Sky Door" by that of the
dog which is turned upward. These motifs also
serve as highly decorative symbols with coloured
ribbon and thread traps, offerings of grains, arrowlike sticks and wood-block prints representing the
deceased child. Each motif is fastened to the centre
of a thick ring made of stalks of threshed wheat or
barley. As a whole, this paraphernalia represents a
ritual 'trap' for unseen but harmful forces or
demons, both 'earthly' and 'aerial', should they
ever pass by the house . These traps are called
segu-nagu in the local dialect and probably owe
their origins to remote native cults. ^
1999   October 12/10   HIMAL
"' WM
..ft ■'...     ■■'.■'■
 %7 77 j* *
Intrusions, infiltrations
and    inner Sim
Much after the fighting in Kargil had ended, came press reports that the intrusions happened
because the warnings of the Kargil sector Brigade Commander Surinder Singh had been ignored
by his superiors. It was said that the brigadier had, in letters to his immediate seniors sent between
August 1998 and March this year, informed them of "increased threat perceptions and possibility of
incursions" by Pakistan-backed infiltrators across the LoC in Kargil. These include Singh's
communication to the Chief of Army Staff, which stated that his "requests and urgent
communication to GoC 3 Infantry Div in view of the enhanced threat perceptions have been turned
down in writing". These revelations caused an uproar in an India going into parliamentary elections,
even as the army command refuted the press writings. Maj Gen (retd) Ashok K. Mehta argues that the
whole matter was something cooked up by the media.
The villain of Kargil has been made
into the hero. The press believes that
the army has made Surinder Singh
the fall guy, when in reahty what the
journalists did was to literally put
words into the Brigadier's mouth,
fabricating or doctoring letters on his
behalf where none existed. It attributed to him the profundity and clairvoyance of predicting the Kargil intrusions.
The Congress party of Sonia
Gandhi went one step further saying that Kargil was stage-managed.
This is a rather absurd interpretation
of the facts at Kargil, but one that is
leading to the politicisation of the
bid ian army.
Anyone familiar with military
procedures, chain of command, and
the system of processing threat assessments will understand that
Singh was at best exaggerating the
threat, at worst, missing the woods
for the trees. For journalists reporting the Singh episode, some knowledge of operational procedures was
essential to sift the wheat from the
chaff, especially in the no-war no-
peace LoC environment of Jammu
and Kashmir.
Equally important is to understand the difference between infiltration and intrusion. For the last 10
years, in its third proxy war in Kash
mir, Pakistan has been the post-master of infiltration. Intrusions, on the
other hand, although not a routine
occurrence, have occurred in areas
where delineation of
the LoC is disputed or
are close to the LoC,
but never 10 or 15 km
inside Indian territory, and never more
than one at a time, and
certainly not on the
scale demonstrated in
The customary
alarm bells Singh was
ringing related to infiltration and infiltration alone. The enhanced threat was
sourced from 500 Afghans reportedly training in
Gunikote in Pakistan-occupied
Kashmir who posed a danger by
infiltration through his sector
mainly to the Srinagar Valley.
At no stage, ever, either in briefings or wargames, was Singh known
to have spelt out an enhanced threat
to the LoC of large-scale intrusions
and that too, by Pakistani army regulars. In fact, he admitted in his one
and only letter of 28 June 1999 to the
Chief of Army Staff Gen V.P. Malik
(who has incidentally said that he
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My re^Mf*[5 fiitl ti^eifr
kaitaul tfcrvttt
it* mybriefyM
has not received the letter quoted in
the introduction), that he had no inputs whatsoever about the clandestine intrusions carried out by the Pakistani army.
What Singh had
been tomtomming
was the threat of infiltrators to the Leh
road and to his rear
areas 50 km awray
from the LoC in the
Padam Valley. When
the intrusions did
take place in areas
under his command,
they surprised Singh
as much as they did
the army chief. No
one in the chain of
command had anticipated intrusions involving wholesale violation of the LoC, 27 years
after it was sanctified. The truth is
Pakistan's operational expertise
outfoxed the defensive, laid-back
forces in the Kargil sector. The military high command failed to cope
wtith this unexpected contingency
because it had not factored it in its
operational planning. It cannot be
anyone's case that Singh's divine
warnings were ignored by his superiors to invite Pakistani intrusions.
HIMAL   12/10 October 1999
 In view of this, the rest of Singh's
complaints regarding denial of additional resources become peripheral. No professional soldier will
accept denial of a helicopter or one
company of soldiers or even some
winter gear, as an alibi for permitting deep seated intrusions to take
place. The elementary question is
what ground surveillance and patrolling w7ere the four army and one
BSF battalions doing in Kargil? The
most bizarre claim is that Singh was
refused permission to patrol.
Lessons for all
Singh is not the only villain of Kargil,
though only he and one of his battalion commanders were removed
from command. This is not unusual
but it was avoidable. In the 1962 and
1965 wars, dozens of commanders
were relieved of command. Prima
facie, Singh's immediate superior,
the Leh divisional commander Maj
Gen V.S. Bud hwar is also culpable.
Budhwar came close to being sacked
but as that would have further disturbed the command structure, the
idea was dropped. That Budhwar's
name did not figure in the Kargil gallantry list, however, is clear indication that he too was a casualty of war.
Lt Gen Kishan Pal, Corps Commander, the next senior in the chain
of command, is also under a cloud
as his distinguished service award
was not unanimous. His fate, along
with that of others, will be determined by the findings of the
Subramaniam Committee and the
army's After Action Report. A separate enquiry has now been ordered
to investigate the leakage of Singh's
28 June letter to Gen Malik. No one
culpable, hopefully, will escape unpunished.
Singh is not the fall guy. He was
removed from command for operational reasons. Sections of the India
media have created a myth that the
Kargil brigade is a privileged selection grade command. Until the intrusions happened, it was considered
the most dormant sector in Kastvmir.
The only hot-seat brigade in the
country is the high-altitude Siachen
brigade next door.
As in the case of Vishnu BhagwTat
(the voluble Indian navy chief
sacked earlier in the year), Singh
used and was used in turn by the
media and the Congress, each for
their own ends. National security
interests were subordinated to political expediency. The breach of the
Official Secrets Act was blatant. What
followed was an infringement on the
army's command structure in the
run up to the elections.
Kargil has lessons for everyone.
As far as politicians are concerned —
the military must be made out of
their bounds. Making intrusions to
secure political high ground must
be made taboo. The media, for its
part, requires to be more discerning
in the selection of stories and verification of material. Most of all, the
stories must be run past defence
analysts who can help eliminate the
absurdities and anomalies. Unfortunately, Tndia is a country without
trained defence correspondents.
Appointing defence experts as consultants could be an interim step
while the press builds up its repor-
torial strength.
The biggest lesson is undoubtedly reserved for the military. The
army command cannot take the media for granted. Equally, they cannot
ignore a Singh-tike story simply because they find it ridiculous beyond
rebuttal. The army has to devise a
strategy to pre-empt, contain and
even fight speculative stories. By
doing too little too late in repudiating the Singh story, it damaged not
only its credibility but also the
hierarchcal confidence within it.
If the Kargil war has given the
army a new 14 Corps at Leh, in this
age of information war, it must
modernise its media liaison cell by
drawing in professionals. Unfortunately, staffing defence public relations with stuffy babus who understand neither the media nor the military is the intrusion the army has
been unable to evict. i
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Kashmir deadline
August 23,1992, was my first day in journalism. I was
20. My first assignment was to go to a police station
here in Srinagar, the urban centre of the Kashmir Valley, and collect information on six dead bodies lying
there, riddled with bullets, I accompanied several photographers to the station. They worked as I stared at the
mutilated corpses in their bipod-soaked clothes. Their
entrails were exposed, their faces, unrecognisable. That
evening^ I could not eat. I couldn't .sleep for days; the
-corpses haunted my dreams.   .
At the time, I didn't realise that this was a prelude to
an unending tryst with death and mayhem. But as the
months passed, and the deadly game between security
forces and,, militant groups continued,, the violence began to seem mundane to me, almost normal, a part of
my daily reporting routine. There were exceptions of
course, days when death was anything-but routine-
October 12, 1996, conies to mind: I'm half asleep,
sipping my morning tea. The phone rings. It's my poj-
lice contact. My niind is racing aS I begin to scribble
notes. How many? Where? When? I call my photographer and then I'm out of-my house, riding my bike like
a madman. We arrive tolfirtd wailing Women and un-
sllaven,. huddled men. The dead bodies lie scattered,
like rag"dolls, discarded fey careless children. I feel mf
legs growing heavy. Tfeel -incredibly tired, 1 want to
throw down,my notebook £nd .sit silently with the'
mourners. Then I hear the photographer's shutter clicking. The noise forces me:,tq remember that I have a story
to do. I examine the bodies. I take out my notebook and
start asking my questions. Who? What time? Any witnesses?
For years, there has been nothing to write or think
about in -the valley except the violence. If I manage to
avoid doing a news story on that day's;gofy details, I"
inevitably end up writing a feature about orphans or
widows of the conflict. When violence rules the day
there is nothing but tears to jerk from the reader's soul.
Nietzsche once corhparecrjournalisfs to crows
alighting from a wire one by one to swoop down on a
hapless victim. If this is what we are, waiting with our
notebooks and cameras for- death to strike again, then
the killing fields of Kashmir offer a feast, even for the
most gluttonous birds of prey. In the evening,ho journalist here can think of leaving the office without scanning the police bulletin on the day's toll of army bunkers assaulted^ houses destroyed by fire, militants
gunned down. Lf we missed something, our editors
would bemiost unhappy.
As I- became more proficient at chronicling this unending cycle of death, I felt more satisfaction at the end
of the day, rather than revulsion and sleeplessness. Killings meant bylines, headlines-, good play. Every day,
my colleagues and I would ■gather; like vultures on a
wire, to await the next tragedy, hoping we would make
Page 1.'
Finally, the time came when I lost a close school
friend in the'violence —and felt nothing. I wanted'to
cry, but the tears had dried up. My friend's was one of
perhaps 20 routine deaths 1 saw that day in the police
bulletin. Because I was unmoved, I felt ashamed and
afraid of myself.
What has happened to me? Have J sacrificed nor-
Emal human feelings to the thrirkof "reporting such violence? I am'immune to.„deafh. I have lost the ability to
mourn. I am numb.
And I watch with horror my own excitement as I
launch :nto the next story: Ten IdllecT, 14 wrounded...that
is my tragedy as a reporter in Kashmir. s
MuzftMiL Jaleel in "Dry Eyes in India's Valley of
Death" from Thf. W^iiington Post.
Fair is unfair
For the native elite, only innate superiority could ex-
plairi how a handful of whites Irbm a tiny distant island
could rule over millions of subjects. Clearly, their pale
skins put them in the ruler category:,hacl they been dark,
[ am sure resistance to, their presence Would haye been
far fiercer than it actually was.
Our ancestors accepted them because their ancestors
in^upr had seen invasions by pale-skinned soldiers before and had been governed by a succession of such foreign armies. Once British; riile was firmly established,
Sur colonial masters were widely imitated by the native elite. Their dress, manners, speech and customs
were aped with varying degrees of accuracy. But above
all, a pale colouring was seen as, the key to success. Fair
"coloured brides became much in demand, and skin
bleaches and creams were applied assiduously.
As a result of these attitudes, the lives of hundreds
of thousands are blighted today because they are dark,
and reminded of this fact every day of their lives. Opportunities for a 'good' marriage decline in inverse proportion to the skin colour. Curiously, this is a more important matrimonial consideration for girls than it is
for young men. Girls are not permitted to play outdoors
for fear of a tan. Our beaches are full of women huddled
together fully dressed under any shade they can find
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
lest the sun darkens iheir skins.
«. These customs xwould have* been hilarious had it
not been for the pain they cause. Educated mothers can
be heard scolding little girls across the country to stay
out of fhe sun; they are all too aware.of the hard realities of the marriage market. Interestingly, this is a largely
middle-class; urban phenomenon as farmers' daughters, wives and sisters help, out under the blazing sun
when required- While this is a rich field of study for*!
social scientists, I am not aware df-any research done
.in thisarea. It is ironic that when the Western world is
gradually shedding at least the overt expression of racial prejudice,,we have not even begun to acknowledge
the presence' of an unspoken apartheid in our midst.
Irfa'n Husaln in "The Colour Prejudice"
in Dawn, Karachi.
UN in Lanka
Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, In a major policy
statement declared clearly .that human rights must outweigh the notion of sovereignty. He spoke about "the
rights feeypnd borders" and called for forging of "unity
behind the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights—whenever they occur—should
not be,allowed to stand"... ,      ' "   -
Almost all peace efforts in the past have been concentrating on bringing the parties to the confliet/the Sri
Lankan government and LTTE, into the negotiating table.
This is artificial arjd unrealistic. Tbe history of fhis^ef-
,'fort has aYriply demonstrated it. It is naive to expect any
change in this situation. To follow this path is to give
more time to greater destruction and gross abuses of
human rights.
Like some situations in Africa, in Sri Lanka, both
the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must be regarded as perpetrators of gross human rights abuses.
They have both come under repeated international condemnation. Suchcondemnation must now be linked to
a planned course oT action.
A comprehensive plan of action must include all
parties in Sri Lanka, political parties as well as the
people. It must included very strong UN component.
Without a UN involvement the peace in Sri Lanka will
only be plain talk, while fhe brutal war goes; on. There
is no other third party than UN that can play this.role.
Hardly any one took; seriously the earlier discussions
on the intervention of other third parties. .
However,"aSUN Involvement needs to overcome.,
some problems, among which are: there is a section of!
the people suffering from the Cold'War mentality who
mightbe apprehensive of UN's role as being impartial.
It will be necessary to "address these fears and provide
genuine assurances that can be monitored. On the other
hand there are some countries, which present the warfare in Sri Lanka only as an internal problem, requiring no action on the part of the international commu-
1999 October" 12/10 JHI W$J_
nity. This attitude contributes to the continuatidn of this
war-ina.Very*strongway Those who spread suchviews
too must take the responsibility for the continuing
carnage by both sides. UN-sSecretary-General's policy
perspectives mentioned earlier must lead to some
re-thinking on the part of those who promote this per-
spectivfe of non-involvement.  ""
What the UN secretary-general can now do is to
appoint a competent group to study the relevant issues
and to begin a process of negotiations. Other relevant
UN agencies si\ch as4he UNHCR can be invited to contribute-to such an effort. If they so wish, countries like
India can'play a positive contributory role in such an
initiative... 7        .
Local expressions of concern are very much restricted
^by the deeper fears of assassination by one side or the
other. The fears are well founded. The carnage, taking
place daily confirms these fears. Today in no other Asian
country is there such heightened fear. Such-fears themselves .are a proof ofthe leve} of human rights abuse
■ taking placein the country. It is not; possible to boost
the moralg ofthe people withouta strong backing from
outsidg. Though there is greater reluctance to deal with
specific issues due to fear, people nevertheless do express themselves at a more, general level- The writipgs,
whiph came out last year on the;occasion of 50th annir._
versary of Independence, showed the great bitterness
of the people and tire near total loss of confidence in the
political estabhshment. With encouragement emanating from the international community, people gre more
likely to discharge their responsibilities to fellow citizens of aU communities witfr greater corrrmitment. The
absence of such encouragement can lead to further brain
drain and the loss of, skilled labour thereby aggravating the present situation of poverty in, the country.
In short, the focus of any genuine peace strategy
must be the UN involvement. Needless to say that the
test is mere bluff .We w&uld like to be challenged, if any
other reaJistic solution can be put forward by any one
Press statement by the Asian Human Rights
.... Commission, Hong Kong.
w Kuensel. sterl9ft. orPl
h°r further ;M ■
Tel- £hit"PhuPLlrati°*
 A bomb for a Homb
India is feverishly ftying~to establish, within the -next
two decades, total military hegemony in- South Asia
and beyond, control the sea lanes, from the oil-rich Gtilf
in the West to the Straits of Malacca in the East, and
compete for influence on the global stage with the major powers.
The militaristic dreams'of the current Hindu fundamentalist leadership are a reflection of India's aggressive mythology to which I have alr-eady'referred. The
leadership in New Delhi seem to Be living In a time
warp. They equate greatness with military prowess.
They forget that in today's integrated world, greatness
comes primarily from economic and technological advancement and riot from military capability.
These Indian dreams of grandeur constitute a threat
to thisYegion, to the world," and indeed to the poor and
. deprived people of India itself. -  •■ .;■  - >    l^
India's planned military programme will be extremely expensive. Estimates of the cost vary widely
from 20 billion'dollarsup to hundreds of billions of
dollars. * *
^ What also needs to be emphasised is t|iat these huge
outlays will be iri additiorrto massive3military expenditures which India is to incur under the defence supply agreements, for example, with Russia'and France-
and its ongoing-indigenous -build-up of conventional,•
forces. The manufacture of hundreds df warheads and
missiles, the;acquisition obsatellite early-warning capabilities, the development of sea-based and submarine-based nuclear systems, will all entail huge additional costs.   .     ".'.;*
The development of such a nuclear arsenal by India
will oblige Pakistan to take appropriate action to preserve the credibility of its nuclear deterrence posture
and the capability for conventional selfrdefence. One
recourse is foi" Pakistan to engage in A nuclear and conventional arms race with India. It will require Pakistan
to expend even larger resources for defence, further eroding its economic-and development goals.   ,
"Murder of Nature", an illustration
' accompanyihg a letter in The Nation, Lahore.
A prevalent theory is that, by pushing Pakistan into
a! huge military build up; India intends to destroy
" Pakistan's economy. An analogy is drawn with that of
the Soviet economy which crumbled as a consequence
of the -Cold War arms race against the United States.
"The error in this theory is the assumption that we will,
like leminings, follow India's militaristic example.
- LW rhe^ state clearly andwunequivocally that Pakistan can and will find Ways and means to maintain
credible'nuclear deterrence Against India without the
need to match it—bomb for bomb, missile for missile.
From thE: statement made by Pakistani Foreign
( Secretary Shamshad Ahmad at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, on 7 September TJ399.
Are you a true South Asian?
1. You unwrap Christmas gifts very carefully, so you
can save and reuse the wrapping (and especially
.those bows) next year.
2. You have a vinyl, table cloth on your kitchen table.
3. You use grocery bags to hold garbage.
4. You hate to waste food.
5.-~ All your Tupperware is stained with food colour.
6. You don't own any real Tupperware: Only a cup
board full of used, but carefully fihsed, margarine
„4ubs, takeout containers, and jam jars.     ,
7. You never order room service.
8. You fight oyer who pays the dijvner bill.
9. You majored in engineering, medicine, acccnlhtahcy
- ■      or law   .;:" ^, '   ■■ >;:     -
10. You feel like you've gotten a good deal if you didn't
.pay tax.
-11. -You have a* drawer full of ojd pens, most of which
T don't write any mOre.
12. If you don't live at home,/wheh your parents call,
! they ask if you've eaten, even if it's midnight.
13. Your parents use a clothesline.
14. You keep used batteries.
IS/ ^u keep most of your money in a savings account.
!§. You call an older person you never met before
17. The first-thing uncle asks you is "where"arc- your
parents from?"
18. When your parents meet strangers and talk for a few
minufes, you "discover you're talking to a distant
cousin. '-■■ -  ■ s.  •
19. You aydidmotefe-especially'lf thereis an acquain
tance within a 250-mile radius of your destination.
19aYbu sleep on their floor.
2f>. Your parents don't realise "phone connections to for-
l eign countries have improved in the last two decades, and still scream at tire top of their lungs.    -
21. You can't parkyour car in the garage, because you
never throw anything away and keep it there (just
incase you need it); .... .
22.? When dining out, your parents think $l<"is
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
enough of a tip.
23. ftYou f(ead- to the clearance rack
as soon as you walk 'into a
store. )
24. It's embarrassing if your wed
ding has less than &0p people.
25. You. think ap Indian (Pakistani
or Sri Lankan) businessman
will give you a better deal be-
cause he's Indian (Pakistani
or Sri Lankan.)  ,
26. You spew forth the-virrues of
India-Pakistan-Sri Lanka, but
don't want to live there.
27. You use Vicks Vaporub ol Ti
ger Balm.
28. You call fluorescent lights
"tube lights" or ^flashlight a :
■*:■ -.;.-
If you can relate to most of these statements, we're
sorry, but you^re South Asiari.
If you can relate to some of these statements, you're ■
probably a second generation South Asian in a Western society.
If ygu can only relate to a few of these statements,
you're probably not South Asian:   0"""'".. „
<?   "        '     - l '"_  '   <     '.   v
Selections -from
AsSouth Asian e-mail list from the US.
Let them be
We have had the misfortune of hearing and watching
the ado in 1989 about the so-called'rehabilibtion of the
sex workers around Narayanganj area. We know, the
,eviction took place butnot the rehabilitation. Same thing
happened"near Kandupatti also. Once again,, now, a
. massive-attempt is going on to face the matter and lam
quite confident that it will end up in a fiasco. f
One due to his stupidity may obdurately remain insensitive to realitiesTmt science will continue working
relentlessly according to its laws which are inscrutable
and rather overpowering: The existence of female flesh
trade has been going on since tirtie-immernorial. Mainly
it is due to the male's animal vitality and the way they
have been created by Nature or Almighty. I am feeling
no sense of shame or. discomfort in quoting Western
medical science that "a healthy humanfemale will never
be sexually arqUsed by herself" whereas a particular
sex act is "inevitable for the human male". Accept it or.
not, this will happen and has been happening. Now
following this, it can be safely surmised that the act
• starts-as an advance from the males who are not culturally bound to any ideals or with their spouses. On the
other hand, it is poverty with the women, mostly, causing their entry into the trade but with the men it is certainly carnaf appetite.
Ohly culture (ethical' and moral control of one's ani
mal vitality) can keep a male
.1 away irpm fornication. If a forcible eviction takes place (no rehabilitation is ever possible) they
will be everywhere on the one
hand and on the other, former customers will malcelfves of innumerable ladies a hell by making
sexual assaults even inside respectable homesteaqs. It is a suppressed society where there is no
legitimate way of haying sex like
in the permissive society of the
West. Even there, the trade has not
been possible to be stopped. It will
remain there and everywhere because customers will always be
available.   -
In the very p^ges ofib>aily Star about a year ago, a
brave writerftwas complaining about the lack of rights
for sodomites in British-made laws in Bangladesh. But
alas, a late, prostitute near Mashdair was refused burial
rights find no:personof eminence came out with protestations. What kind of pluralism is this? Offering sex
is so vile but hot enjoying it? Hpw come? I strongly
suggest, let the inmates stay where they are and let sot,
ciety have the tranquillity (Which is a pretension, of
course) with the clients enjoying, letting the civil and
respectable portion of the populace gtfby honorably.
While we can't manage far easier tasks like keeping the
sewage system clean or boarding buses through a queue
or even supplying waten tdxall citizens let us not m^e
caricatures with an .inevitable; scientific fact. I am not
sorry dr shy for this opinion of mine. We have seen
caricatures before like "slum eradication" or "flood
control". Then reality dawned and we had been advisedly pundits to live with this. Likewise' the" fiction
of "population-wealth'4 will then^also thin away but it
will be too late. -   '        * ,
Dhaka resident Iftekhar Hamid's letter to
"""""' 'The Daily Star.
1999 October 12/1G HIMAL
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 Something is lost when stories
from different parts of south
asia are not shared. litSA is
short for literary south asia-a
new department started by
Himal with the August 1999
issue in an effort to bring
together the literary talent ofthe
Subcontinent. The creative
voice of women and men from
all over the region, we feel, are
as necessary to share as the
journalist's presentation
or the social scientist's analysis.
Himal invites writers and poets, whether
established or new talent, to make
submissions to litSA at:
Anmole Prasad
Editor, litSA
Radhamohan House
Relli Road, Kalimpong - 734 301
West Bengal, India
Tel: 0091-3552-55098/55134
http ://
1. litSA prefers unpublished material in the form of
short fiction, poetry, memoir, travelogue, literary
essays or criticism. We also welcome book
reviews and literature-relevant interviews, as also
book extracts which can stand alone.
2. Nationality or regional origin is no bar, as long as
the submission has a link to south asia.
3. We prefer receiving submissions by email or on
diskettes. If submitting on paper, please do not
send in the original. Prose should be typed double
spaced, and poems should be submitted
Announcing the
arrival of Himal's
Literary Pages
Himal hopes that litSA will
develop as an important forum
for writers — contemporary and
traditional, and from
everywhere, inside and outside,
the centre and the margins, and
from all sides ofthe barbed wire
fences that attempt to divide the
south asian people. Besides
featuring a wide range of literary
styles, litSA will encourage
experiment and adventure.
Above all, it will champion the
writer's right to be irreverent.
Over the years, Himal believes
litSA will help develop an
indigenous appreciation ofthe
region's creative talent, free from
the shackles of power
publishing and marketing hype.
We also aspire eventually to
bring to readers anthologies and
collections culled from the best
writings that feature in litSA.
Translations should specify the source and,
wherever possible, the author's consent.
Manuscripts/diskettes will not be returned unless
requested and accompanied by self-addressed,
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j***r     .■*"
T H k
|L^   S T
N 0 M   ADS
— a short story by Joel Issacson
I have no memory of Max astride a
horse but they say he used to take me
up with him when I was very small.
We shifted camp in the late summer,
just a month after I was born. I have a
picture in my mind of a black tent
falling in upon itself. I hear the
muffled clatter of the precious slender
wooden poles as the women roll them
inside the heavy woollen skins.
They ate singing. Their piercing highland chant, carries on wind
that rises from below us in the canyon. It is their repartee to the preceding
verse, sung by the men, who are now tightening cinches and swinging
up onto their mounts.
"Wake up right now, you lazy fuckers!" they wail in piercing
harmony. "We are going through the passes and you'd better get your
wits about you. The long mornings in the sack are over. See, we have
put away those long hard tent poles that you brought to us. We have no
time for your nonsense now."
The minor modal chill of their last descending tone freezes the big
HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
herd-dogs for a moment in their tracks. The already excited
herd spooks, sending the menfolk scampering away from
the horns and hoofs. The one who nearly fell from his horse
has to compose the next verse, or be the butt of every joke
for the whole journey down to the big winter pasture.
I know that the memory is a blending of perhaps two-
dozen different moving-days when I was an infant and a
boy, but there is no memory of Max on a horse. Something
happened to his balance after the skinny Chinese woman
rode out of the camp. That was long years ago, when he was
no longer young, but a strong and full-grown man with a
fair bit of snow growing into his beard.
He never spoke of her to me and since we still bved by
the old ways then, no one ever questioned him.
Max was not from our place. He came from somewhere.
Sometimes he said he could smell the sea of his youth off
Glacier Lake when the wind was right. He learnt our ways
but he was never one of us, even when he took a woman
from our people who bore one son to him.*
When the skinny Chinese woman rode away, Max sat
down undeT the twisted tree that grew near where her tent
had been. That is how 1 always remember him, sitting there
under tire twisted tree, telling his beads. I don't remember
her at all; I was just a child. The people say she came from
the government of some place whose hinterland we
sometimes camped in. It didn't matter much to us; the passes
were our borders in the old days, and the horsemen just
smiled down at farmers, when they talked about who
owned the pastures.
More than a dozen others came with her
from the lowland capital, with their porters and
their bearers and their cooks and tents and
kitchen boys. They came to teach us how to
farm. When they left, the skinny Chinese
woman did not go with them. She stayed,
sleeping in a small hair tent on skins with Max.
She did not ride out until after the rains
came. For nearly three months
she hardly left the tent.
After she Tode away, Old
Max took to sleeping on
the ground beneath the
twisted tree. She had left
him  a  golden-brown
umbrella    of    heavy
Chinese silk, with an
iron ring on the tip.
When the Little Rains
came, he hung it from
branch as a shelter.
Old Max never shifted camp
again. The seven-year drought that
followed killed the twisted tree. The silk umbrella
faded, then cracked in the sun. Still he sat beneath
the dead tree with the umbrella's bones swaying
above him, wind tearing at the last tatters of silk. He
sat there telling his beads like a patient man awaiting
a peaceful death that would not come for him.
In the seventh year the umbrella frame fell to the
ground and only the iron ring hung above him. That
was the year 1 came into my manhood and left that
life, to find fhe sea. That was the year my mother went off
with another man, not so fine a man as Max had been, but
better suited to her temperament. My mother gave me a small
bag of money and her blessing. Old Max hung the small iron
ring, from a cord, around my neck and kissed me. I never
saw either of them again.
Many years later, after T heard that some government
had made a road into that place, I went back tliere to visit,
with my young wife. The people told me Max had sat for
nearly 15 years after 1 went away. I made a gift of money
to the people who had brought him food and water all
those years.
The people said that on the very day the road came
through (not the finished motor-road, but the narrow track
that they cut into the side of the mountain to bring their
workers in) a skinny old Chinese came riding into camp on
a good, strong, tired mountain pony.
They could tell it was a woman by her thick white hair
that blew out behind her like a horse's mane. "Who has hair
like that?" the people asked each other. From the richness of
her clothes they knew she was a high-born lady. From their
colour they knew she was a mourning widow. She was
covered with the dust of her long journey, but they saw those
mourning clothes were new and so they said, "Her husband
has just died."
She sat straight in the saddle inspite of the double weight
of her journey and her years. She held her head high on her
slender neck. Her empty gaze told the people she was blind.
They knew she had trusted the pony to take her here,
across the mountains and they wondered at the force
of this frail old woman's will.
She raised her face into the wind and
seemed to sniff the air. Her tongue licked her
parched old lips. "The sea," she whispered,
in a voice like old dry leaves. The pony turned,
lowered its head, and headed down the slope,
towards the twisted, old, dead tree. Old Max
must have heard its hooves slipping on
the scree behind him because he rose in
an instant, like a young man, but he did
not turn.
The strong pony caught its
balance and came around in front .
of the old man. Old Max reached
ip and gently placed his prayer
beads around the old blind
woman's neck. He took the
reins and started walking .
south, leading them up
onto the high plateau,
where no one ever goes.
I hung the iron ring
back on the old dead tree
before I came away from
there. People ride the bus
two days down to the new
bazaar, on the road now. There they can use
a telephone. They tell me that the twisted
tree sprouted new green shoots when the Little
Rains came this year. I am sorry that my father never
met my bride. *
1999  October 12/10  HIMAL
The year of the Earth rooster
On the fourth month of the new year we bought one hundred goldfish.
One by one mother dropped the slippery thrashing bodies into the lake.
We knew our turn would come. A new kite, ice cream in the hot afternoon.
The places we revealed as nature mistaken for habit.
The sky unfolding its ocean. Cloud patterns below the sky. The world
Revolved around us. Trees with rounded heads standing stiff and long.
But that was how we learnt. Prayers before sleep and morning prayers.
And at night the moon racing past clouds in the sky—a clear
Path of light as though we were watching a movie. The daily rituals
And the yearly ones. One year we could not find fish, we were far from water.
I wasn't sure what that would mean for us. Mother found a market of birds
And we set them flying near a goddesses' temple. Watching them flee blindly.
The streets opened up a path and we counted the ones who stayed
On the ground. Mother said fate would take them home.
The moon was a thin stem but we got our story.
■1 HIMAL  12/10 October 1999
Four days it rained after she died.
The plants put to bed by her broke their spines and lay flat. Turned brown
so we forgot they were there.
The government declared some districts as disaster zones. We saw roofs slide
down the river and foreign aid arrive on TV; midnight blue blankets.
The world cricket series began in India and a 19-year-old took the first wicket.
The men wore clean white clothes.
When I cried, I was comforted with updates on the latest death tolls.
A cow floated down the tumid river from one village to the next
without any injuries. The newspapers named her 'Trishuli'—for the river.
Numbers rose, the television flashed portraits of orphaned mothers
and children. Mourners followed the colour of grief. Shades of white.
Three batsmen were out in two hours.
Cremation in the rain allows for li ttle composure. Umbrellas not forgotten.
Extra wood. Mud on white.
The sun hot in India. One player from the visiting team complained
of migraines. Throughout the day, transistors carried the score from street
to street.
Numbers had risen. On the fifth day, we had sun.
Everyone hung their clothes out in their yards.
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL 61
Carried from Here
Due to early monsoon rains Saturday's class was dismissed.
Seven nuns abandoned their books on the roof.
Raindrops, I said in English. They wanted to learn
functional words: immediately, approximate, conversion
A man pissed outside the window. He drew a perfect square
on the wall, then stuck his tongue out at me.
We took a walk and studied mud,
reading stories in the loudness of footprints.
Night brings its night talk. Ani Yeshe hid her face behind her
robes and asked for a precise translation of masturbation.
Stars were motionless on the street. Fifteen nuns and I
squatted in the dark and learnt to count. One, two, three...
Water drove the dogs crazy. Ama said it had more
to do with the place. Served strawberries to the nuns.
Green is insufficient for some shades. I told them it was green
but a snorting green. A green nodding into slumber.
I translate letters for parents whose children are learning
other things. Unpredictable in his allegiance to English grammar,
A Tibetan son sends orange mountains of love to his ama.
The gloaming chews up the horizon. His mother nods her head.
The nuns want to know if I can teach them
what the "school people" learn.
I tell them one learns according to one's needs,
as the evening news on TV is read in crisp British.
Ani Doma pines for winter. She has a new woollen sweater,
the style not quite nun-like. But she's ready for it.
I wanted paper for the nuns. Plain white.
Cheap Chinese paper, she said when she touched it.
62 HIMAL 12/10 October 1999
Love Letter 19
You were happiest in late summer afternoons.
The sun taking his nap. Cat-eyes,
Your mind supple to whims. Butter tea
Under the jacaranda tree. I see jacaranda
Even though the smell of juniper comes in.
That gentle pat of the sun. Taciturn hands
Of a woman that become cotton
After years of working in the sun.
The way yours might have been if your hands
Were still here. And the stars of old days, if days could age.
Stars of grandmother eyes. So like the rheumy gaze
Of yaks. Counting lice in hair.
Days are evasive now. They lose their stutter.
They do not age. I want the kind of day
That learns to crawl and chew. To walk
Outside the gate we call home.
1999 October 12/10 HIMAL
 At&w&i&bfy 4$eiKc&
So bad they are. No sooner had
we warned South Asians in
these columns last month about the
hazards to public health from
indiscriminate kissing than they all
went around smooching each other
in public. What is going on here? It
would be presumptuous of us to
try to claim credit for the osculating fit that has gripped one-fifth of
humanity in recent times. But one
thing clear is becoming now:
people to us are not listening.
Knowing the taboos against
kissing Indians in broad daylight,
the first thing Nelson Mandela did
when he came out of jail was pay
lip service to Shabana Azmi. We
haven't yet had a chance to view a
slow motion replay to ascertain
who made the first move, but it is
clear from media reports that the
Hero of Robben Island jumped the
gun and took certain liberties with
Indian womanhood.
What's with our senior citizens?
First chance they get, they are
grabbing our faces and slobbering
all over. True to form, Khushwant
Singh ambushed Ashraf
Jehangir's daughter during the
launch of his latest quasi-
autobiographical novella,
Women Who Think I am a
Pathetic Arse, Or
Something To
That Effect. We do
not know what
Daddy, who is Pakistan's Ambassador and Plenipotentiary at the
Delhi Durbar, thought of it all, but
our old man bolstered his candidature for the Most Lecherous
Hommoid in India, If Not the
Subcontinent. And he nearly set off
a nuclear war in the process.
Careful there, Khushwant.
His book, by the way, is doing
very well in the charts. I don't think
I will be giving anything away by
telling you that it is a blow-by-
blow account of how the protagonist, who unsurprisingly bears a
striking resemblance to the author
himself, is taught the finer points
of the Sri Lankan Boob Trick by a
ravishing and fast-talking
Ceylonese dip. Recent investigations in Serendib did not reveal the
identity of said dip, but the Boob
Trick we discovered is not Sri
Lankan at all. The custom in fact
originates in Lapland since it
involves some creative and
titillating uses for ice cubes.
After the last column, many of
you have written in asking what
you should do when a male host at
a party tries to kiss you as you
cross the threshold. One rule of
thumb I have developed over the
years is not to reciprocate if
someone tries to do a tongue-in-
cheek with you. Cheek-by-jowl is
the preferred way for more
prudish South Asians, but in case
of uncertainty, you can always grab
him by the throat and shake his
head until his eye balls pop out.
Having watched the APEC heads
of state rubbing their proboscises
with each other in Auckland last
month, I couldn't help wondering
what I would do next time I am
invited to a New Zealand High
Commission party and the high
commissioner has a cold?
Bodily contact of any kind is a
practice that is frowned upon in
our society and culture, we just do
not touch if we can help it. In fact,
South Asians are the only race that
have been known to procreate
without any actual physical contact
between the sexes.
This is why I am alarmed at the
growth of contact sports in the
recently concluded Eighth South
Asian Federation Games in
salubrious Kathmandu. I am no
great fan of boxing, but if a pair of
buffoons gets mental satisfaction
from basiling each others' faces
into pulp that is their headache.
But what do you make of
wrestling? To what do we attribute
the newfound popularity for
wrestling aside from the fact that
there are two channels on my cable
listing tliat devote 24 hours a day
to a procession of large ugly men
with long blonde hair tearing each
other from limb to limb while a
crazy crowd bays for blood? Lately,
I have noticed women who look
like they have been nurtured from
childhood on a diet of steroids
and hormones have joined televised wrestling. Haven't we come
a long way?
Anyway, at SAF we were
intrigued by the sight of a swarthy
Pakistani man in a swimsuit
putting his arms between the legs
of his Indian counterpart in a
futile attempt to flip him over. The
Indian man then yanked out a tuft
of Chest hair from his Pakistani
brother and while he was observing the vegetation rather quizzically, the Pakistani man moved fast j
and got the Indian man in a firm      !
half-Nelson. I would be using
poetic license here if I said that the   j
Pakistani man had the Indian man   i
by his balls. But that in essence
was what it was.
And what did you make of the
Bangladeshi swimmer who would
not let go of her bathrobe lest she
be seen in her one-piece Speedo?
She wore the bathrobe right till the
plunge stool and took them off in a
split-second as the referee went
"On your mark...get set..." It is
time the SAF organisers allowed
South Asians to wear sports attire
that are not frowned upon in our
society and culture. Sarongs for the
swimming events, and
cricket-style pelvic
guards for the wrestlers
would be welcomed by
all and sundry.
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