Blogging will be low for the next two months or until my editor removes the Smith & Wesson from my left temple, whichever is sooner. Nope, the Babu’s not joining the ranks of Indians Writing in English; he foolishly promised to put together a few things for a publishing house and discovered too late that they employ Rottweilers in (very beautiful) human form.
Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal has been stolen from Visvabharati, the university he had established in Shantiniketan–but the thieves may have been caught, and some of the items restored. The Bengali biradari has united in lamenting this affront to Gurudeva, often at tearful length–unfortunately the editorial I read yesterday that spoke in shocked accents of “sacrilege” and compared the theft to the occasion when used condoms were found in the Visvabharati prayer hall is not available online. (I wonder what Gurudeva would have made of the comparison, but then he had a sense of humour!) Stockholm has offered to replace the medal (note: it has now been confirmed that the Nobel citation was not stolen). There was speculation that the medal would end up in a private collector’s hands. It was a very Indian theft; the thieves timed their operations for the day of the final Indo-Pak match, assuming correctly that everyone would be too busy watching cricket to bother about security!
Rochona Majumdar makes a larger point: “[Theft] screams the poverty of politics. It announces to the world that we are so bereft as a people, so denuded of any sense of the past, any pride in our cultural accomplishments, that we now strip our museums. ”
“One reason Wavell read so much was that he did not like to talk.” Good man, and it’s a shame that modern-day politicians do not follow the example set by the Viceroy. Ram Guha catalogues Wavell’s range of interests: “[Among] the books he ordered from Truslove and Hanson were the political scientist Harold Laski’s Reflections on the Revolution of our Time, William Empson’s work of literary criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity, and the Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The Viceroy seemed to have a taste for the classics ? hence the request for copies of all volumes of the Cambridge New Shakespeare, ‘in the leather binding if available’. He liked humour both ancient and modern ? thus the orders for G. Gordon’s Shakespearean Comedy, for Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, and for the letters of George Bernard Shaw. Scripture was represented by R.A. Knox’s translation of the new Testament, art by a biography of the painter Augustus John and a book on the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci.”
Outlook’s policy of appeasement–balance a pseudosecularist with an oxymoron, ie a Hindutva intellectual–has infected the magazine’s book pages. The Babu has no brief against Outlook: he contributes to its pages every so often. But to place Balbir Punj in the same space that the likes of Rajmohan Gandhi and Amitava Kumar have occupied is to turn your literary pages into the equivalent of op-ed columns. About this piece by Tarun Vijay: one, it’s an attack on Dalrymple ad hominem and beyond calling attention to the colour of William’s skin, does not actually address his arguments except in terms of the schoolboy sneer. Two, it’s actually worth reading Vijay if you want to know where the deep roots of prejudice come from. The words he uses to describe Dalrymple’s piece–“stinking and rude”–make me wonder whether he even read the article; I thought the essay stood out precisely because Dalrymple avoided launching a personal attack on Sir Vidia, and reinforced my sense that we argue most ferociously with the writers whom we take the most seriously.
John Darkin rants about product placement in novels as he imagines the era of the sponsored book: “Novels will promote dietary supplements, condoms, alcohol, petrol, cigarettes (neatly circumventing the advertising restrictions, perhaps) and anything else that is sold by brand name.” But think of all that wasted space. In the desi context, Amitav Ghosh could have advertised compasses and London A-Zs in The Shadow Lines; Midnight’s Children is ripe for sponsorship by Patak’s Pickles; Naipaul’s rants on the lack of hygiene in India could have been accompanied by a discreet plug for Wintex toilet paper; several of Anita Desai’s heroines are walking advertisements for Prozac; and Chitra B Divakaruni could start her own brand of Mystic Masalas.