The Japanese Wife and Other Stories
by Kunal Basu
Harper Collins, 2008
These are little stories about human beings trying to make connections across divides of all kinds. There’s the American woman who runs into a Delhi travel agent, a Bengali man in tangles with a Japanese woman, and so on. The short story requires a delicate touch, and Kunal Basu has it. Last year, he asked, Tehelka, why the Indian public had not exploded in anger over the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. In this book, there is a tender short story about the riots. A Filipino woman in Hong Kong falls in love with a Gujarati Muslim suit-maker. He returns home to seek his parents’ permission to marry her. The riot engulfs him. It is her sorrow that remains with us. (Vijay Prashad)
South Asia in the WTO
edited by Saman Kelegama
Sage Publications, 2007
In the context of the stalled Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations, this book provides timely analysis of how Southasian countries have been participating in these talks. It is particularly useful for those keen to understand the political economy of international trade negotiations – not from the results of restricted economic models, but from the point of view of Southasian experts in positions of influence.
Saman Kelegama sets the agenda by summarising the converging and diverging interests of Southasian countries, both in the WTO and in SAARC. He argues that the poor momentum and second-best outcomes of regionalism necessitates that Southasian countries prioritise talks at the former over the latter. He also suggests that a strong economic imperative for a common Southasian position is not on the horizon; as such, the Southasian countries must instead focus on needs-based coalitions rather than one based on region and geography.
The country papers that follow this introduction provide a summary of recent developments in trade policies in Southasia, with respect to their engagements with the multilateral trading system, their policy formulation process, and their bilateral and regional agreements. The authors discuss the positions of Southasian countries on the Doha Round’s key issues – agriculture, industrial goods and services. Finally, they ask whether the countries of Southasia can develop a common negotiating position in the WTO. In particular, Muchkund Dubey’s concluding chapter presents a well-argued case for developing a common Southasian position. However, given the changing current priorities in the region, as well as differences in their growth trajectories, this call for Southasian solidarity in economic matters could well be considered out of fashion. (Parashar Kulkarni)
A Handful of Rice
The Coffer Dam
by Kamala Markandaya
With the re-publication of these three titles from the acclaimed author of the 1954 classic Nectar in a Sieve, Penguin has rekindled interest in one of the pioneers of Indo-Anglian writing. Elegant prose, vibrant characters and an empathy with the dark side of human nature makes these novels just as relevant today as when they were originally written, more than four decades ago. The abrasive interactions of tradition versus modernity, the colonial and the indigenous, men and women – each are explored in their every nuance. Whether tracing the lives of British engineers and local workers at a dam site deep in the jungle in The Coffer Dam, or immersing the reader in the grubby urban underworld in A Handful of Rice, Markandaya tells intrinsically human stories, tales of the triumph of the spirit over destiny. Her explorations of the conflict between human beings and nature, between men and machines (for, in Markandaya’s world, women are outside the equation) continue to touch a chord today. Despite its notably broad canvas, Bombay Tiger, published after her death in 2004, is a mite disappointing in its woodenness, lacking in the finesse one has come to expect from this great author. (Laxmi Murthy)
Nepal: Transition to transformation
edited by Kailash Nath Pyakuryal, et al
HNRSC (Kathmandu) & NCCR North-South, 2008
Nepal’s transition to a democratic republic is being well-documented by a multiplicity of current articles, papers, journals and, now, even whole books. It has become a subject of academic curiosity for some, but a daunting prospect of converging deeply divided issues for others. This book leans more towards the former. Comprised of articles originally disseminated during a national conference held in June 2007, this hardback reads like a journal. Though the issues tackled are important in Nepal’s politico-economic context today, lack of coherence, directness or simplicity in language undermines what could have been an insightful read. The book does highlight the fact that managing Nepal’s transition is the most important issue at the moment, but questions whether it is the most prioritised issue. An oft-repeated line in the book’s conclusion reawakens us to this reality: “The mind-set of the key political actors and their unwillingness to go in for an inclusive state is a major challenge…” As in June 2007, so in September 2008. (Shivendra Thapa)
Also read indepth reviews The retribalisation of Pakistan by Khaled Ahmed, The liberation theologists of the Hindu past by Balmurli Natrajan, and Rebellion films by Surabhi Pudasaini.