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Strangely detached from the furore surrounding his Booker prize, America’s grand old man of letters is nothing if not a stayer

Philip Roth

When Philip Roth accepted the biennial International Booker Prize honouring some 60 years of his fiction, from Goodbye, Columbus to Nemesis, he sat at a wooden table in the studio adjoining his airy Connecticut retreat looking as much like a retired priest, or judge, as the Grand Old Man of American letters, pushing 79. His performance to the camera was typical: laconic and graceful, but cool. Combined with a dig at his international translators, a long-suffering crew on the SS Roth, was an ironical detachment, even grandeur.

Once again, this solitary man, obsessed with his never-ending personal story, had been cornered by literary fame. “This is a great honour,” he concluded, after speaking for less than a minute, “and I’m delighted to accept it.” The camera continued to roll as, tongue in cheek, his mouth moved in a tiny, but telling gesture, half “You can’t be serious”, half “Will that do?”

Roth’s scepticism was prescient. The International Booker shortlist included Marilynne Robinson, Anne Tyler, Rohinton Mistry and Philip Pullman. Scarcely had Roth’s win been made public than one of the judges, the former publisher Carmen Callil, dissociated herself from the verdict. Roth, she declared, was a bad case of “emperor’s clothes” (sic), a writer who “goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book”.

And one thing was quite certain, said Callil: no one would read him in 20 years’ time. From a farrago of post-feminist disdain, that last judgment was the most eccentric of all. Roth, who made his debut in 1959 with a brilliant novella, Goodbye, Columbus, and hit the international headlines with Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969, is nothing if not a stayer.

He was born into a family of second-generation American Jews from Newark, New Jersey, “before pantyhose and frozen food,” he says, in the year of Hitler’s accession to power, 1933. His parents were devoted to their son. “To be at all,” he writes of his mother and father in his autobiography, “is to be her Philip [and] my history still takes its spin from beginning as his Roth.”

Younger than Mailer, Vidal, Miller, and Vonnegut, he came of age during the 1950s, in Eisenhower’s America, together with Styron, Updike, Bellow, and Heller. This was a generation of young American men who wanted to remake the great republic after the horrors of the Second World War and to achieve that through literature.

For a long time, Roth was one of the pack leaders in an outrageously gifted fraternity. Now, with the exception of Gore Vidal, all his fellows are gone. He sits up in Connecticut, splendidly isolated, working day and night, a lonely and rather tetchy old man. He celebrated this life in his 1979 novel, The Ghost Writer: “Purity. Serenity. Seclusion. All one’s concentration and flamboyance and originality reserved for the gruelling, exalted, transcendent calling. This is how I will live.” Rarely has a great comic writer taken himself quite so seriously.

Such isolation is not just the choice of an obsessive artist. From his earliest days, Roth has endured the kind of attention that would drive the most dedicated headline hog into solitude: incessant self-abuse jokes, a persistent drizzle of low-grade hostility, typified by Callil’s outburst, and the envious scrutiny of literary minnows. Roth would probably agree with the American humorist Peter De Vries who observed, of American literary life, that “one dreams of the goddess Fame – and winds up with the bitch Publicity”.

Variously entitled “The Jewboy”, then “Whacking Off”, then “A Jewish Patient Begins his Analysis” before finally emerging as Portnoy’s Complaint, the novel that catapulted him into a world of banal public curiosity has a lot to answer for. Roth has devoted his life to fleeing its Furies, insisting he cannot identify any single experience from which this hilarious coming-of-age fiction originated. Its themes, pace Callil, are the constant themes of Roth’s mature fiction – the sexual identity of the Jewish-American male and the troubling complexities of his relationship with the opposite sex.

A novel in the guise of a confession, it was taken by hundreds of thousands of American readers as a confession in the guise of a novel: Portnoy became an immediate bestseller. For some readers, a slice of liver would never be quite the same again. For Roth, the novel set the template for all his work, the exquisite torture of literary self-contemplation. “No modern writer,” says Martin Amis, “has taken self-examination so far and so literally.”

After Portnoy, Roth took refuge from celebrity in his alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, and from the pressures of American literary life in long spells of travelling across Europe and England, culminating in his marriage to the actress Claire Bloom. Both this middle period of his fiction, dominated by the Zuckerman novels, and his second marriage (his first wife, Margaret Martinson, from whom he was separated, died in a car crash in 1968) became increasingly troubled by his unrelenting quest for artistic fulfilment.

The Zuckerman books (for example, The Anatomy Lesson and The Counterlife) delighted and exasperated Roth’s critics and fans. “Lives into stories, stories into lives,” says his biographer Hermione Lee, “that’s the name of Roth’s double game.” The novelist himself hates to be asked about his alter egos. “Am I Roth or Zuckerman?” he gripes. “It’s all me. Nothing is me. I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography; I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction. So since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or isn’t.”

As much as the wild humour of a man given to hilarious and memorable comic riffs, this prickly arrogance is typical of Roth. His self-assured belief in his inordinate originality first animated and then poisoned his relationship with Claire Bloom who, having declared that she wanted “to spend my life with this remarkable man”, divorced him in 1995, after years of provocation.

Roth had put some of his adultery into fictions such as Deception (1990), a ruthlessly exact account of an affair with a cultivated English woman. Bloom got her revenge in 1996 in Leaving A Doll’s House. “I no longer gave a damn whether these girlfriends were erotic fantasies,” she writes. “What left me speechless – though not for long – was that he would paint a picture of me as a jealous wife who is betrayed over and over again. I found that portrait nasty and insulting.”

Now Roth was free. Confounding F Scott Fitzgerald’s maxim that “there are no second acts in American lives”, he hurled himself into a frenzy of composition. “If I get up at five and I can’t sleep and I want to work,” he told the New Yorker, “I go out and I go to work.”

He writes, standing up, in an office set apart from the main house in which he lives alone. Never a day passes when he does not stare at those three hateful words: qwertyuiop, asdfghjkl and zxcvbnm. “So I work, I’m on call. I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.”

The turning years of the 20th century and 21st century saw the extraordinary late flowering of his gifts in American Pastoral (1997), The Human Stain (2000) and The Plot Against America (2004)). The mature prose of America’s elder statesman of letters has the sheen, rhythm and simplicity of greatness: words written and rewritten in almost monkish seclusion. Actually, as old age has crept up, Roth has now begun to abandon his country home, spending the winters in New York where he can eat in restaurants and meet a dwindling circle of friends.

He continues to write every day, with uneven results. The Humbling (2009), a “short novel” in the Everyman sequence, was not a success. Nemesis, his most recent publication, was more widely acclaimed. The Observer praised “the sheer delight of his style – that sustained, lucid, precise and subtly cadenced prose that can keep you inside the dynamic thoughts of one of his characters for as many pages as he wants”.

With the approach of his inevitable exit, Roth’s subject is still, as Martin Amis has put it, “himself, himself, himself”. He remains vigilant about posterity and his acceptance video tells us that he knows that the International Booker is a PR stunt, not the real McCoy, if such an award can ever exist in books. The one prize that really matters – the Nobel – is still the one he hasn’t got.

Born 19 March 1933 in Newark, New Jersey to Herman and Bessie Roth. His father, a salesman, provided the inspiration behind Roth’s 1991 novel Patrimony. He read English at Bucknell and Chicago and has written more than 30 books over six decades. Roth is twice divorced.

Best of times After becoming the 1998 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for American Pastorale Roth was also awarded the American National Medal of the Arts that same year by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington

Worst of times It is widely considered to be an injustice that Roth is yet to receive a Nobel prize for literature.

What he says “Only in America do these peasants, our mothers, get their hair dyed platinum at the age of 60, and walk up and down Collins Avenue in Florida in pedal-pushers and mink stoles, with opinions on every subject under the sun. It isn’t their fault they were given a gift like speech, if cows could talk, they would say things just as idiotic.”

What others say “[his books have] stimulated, provoked and amused an enormous, and still expanding, audience…his imagination has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, it has also reanimated fiction, and not just American fiction, generally.” – Rick Gekoski, book dealer and panel member for the international Booker Shortlist.

(Source: The Observer)

Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS

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‘To give this prize to yet another North American writer suggests a limited vision, to say the least’

Carmen Callil

As one of the three judges for the 2011 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction, announced on 18 May, I have spent the past 18 months tracking down writers from all over the world. The requirements of the prize are that the winner should be living, and that their fiction should be published either originally, or in translation, in English. The prize is not awarded for any particular novel, but for the writer’s achievement in fiction. This brief provided me with the opportunity to read hundreds of novels, to ferret out writers I had never heard of before, and to spend months contemplating other cultures, histories, love stories, lives, the most exciting reading I have done for many a year. The winner of the 2011 prize of £60,000 was announced in Sydney on Wednesday: Philip Roth.

My objections to this outcome are many. The international aspect of this prize is its critical difference: to search out and value other voices. This was especially important to me because I believe that we live in times when English-speaking readers need – and want – the access that speakers of other languages have to such books: fewer writers are translated into English than into any other language.

I imagined the prize would, while including English-speaking writers of course, want to celebrate the work of translation and of translators who so widen our understanding of other countries, other cultures.

The Man Booker International prize allows for a separate prize for translation. If applicable, the winner can choose a translator of his or her work into English to receive a prize of £15,000. Of the four awards given thus far, only one has been given to an author not writing in English, the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadaré. And now, with the choice of Roth, this money continues unused. I hope the sum is accumulating.

I did considerable research into the writers of China, Africa, India, Pakistan, the Arab World, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and more. We read novelists ranging through well-known and lesser known writers from Europe, South America, the US, Asia, Israel, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

So, to give this prize to yet another North American writer, when we had such great writers to choose from (the previous winner was the truly great Canadian writer, Alice Munro) suggests a limited vision, to say the least.

This is not a matter of nationality. You can’t group writers into teams or competitions like the World Cup or the Ashes. The essential matter is the quality of the writer, the body of work achieved and its value to the rest of the world.

There are great moments in Roth’s work. He is clever, harsh, comic, but his reach is narrow. Not in the Austen, Bellow or Updike sense, because they use a narrow canvas to convey the widest concepts and ideas. Roth digs brilliantly into himself, but little else is there. His self-involvement and self-regard restrict him as a novelist. And so he uses a big canvas to do small things, and yet his small things take up oceanic room. The more I read, the more tedious I found his work, the more I heard the swish of emperor’s clothes.

Hard to admire him, hard to see him on the long list, hard to award him this international prize. But I could have done it – after all, I am used to the mysteries of other people’s tastes – had it not been for the following: during the past 18 months favourite writers of each of us bit the dust because one or other of the three judges did not care for them, did not think them fine novelists. Each judge was in the same position, of course, vis à vis some of the finalists.

There were 13 writers on our final list. Any other of the 13 would have been exciting choices for the readers for whom judges work. Any other of the 13 would have been acceptable to me. I have judged many prizes, and compromise has always been necessary. There is a form of compromise when a second choice, acceptable to all judges, is agreed on. This was not the procedure followed and under these circumstances I could not lend my name to the choice of Roth, so I retired from the judging panel.

In retrospect I realise that I should not have capitulated and should have asked for a reassessment and full discussion of each of the other finalists. The depth of humanity, all those different qualities one looks for in great writing are represented in huge measure among them. This puff of indignation is for them, and for the translators who labour in the vineyard on behalf of many of those on the list – not always successfully, but for all who read in the English language. Reading their work so extensively has been a great gift (and could be for others) and for this I shall always be grateful to Man Booker.

(Source: The Guardian)

Carmen Callil: photo – http://www.themanbookerprize.com/

My Life in Doha: Between Dream and Reality
Rachel Hajar, MD
Strategic Book Group
Price: $16

It’s July 1978, and the summer at its peak with intense, blinding light at 40 degree Celsius. The sky was deeply blue and cloudless, and a young Filipina doctor, born and brought up as a Roman Catholic, arrives in Doha with her husband and two children. The very touching of the Qatari soil is like a dream, for she had neither dreamt of coming to Qatar, a name which she had never heard of before meeting her husband, nor of marrying an Arab cardiologist from Qatar, says Dr Rachel Hajar, a cardiologist and the director of non-invasive cardiology, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, and married to Dr Hajar Ahmad Albinali, also a cardiologist and former health minister in Qatar, in the beginning lines of her memoir – My Life in Doha: Between Dream and Reality. Doha Corniche was the first place she visited after arriving in Doha and she might have never dreamt that the Pearl Oyster Fountain along Doha Corniche would make the cover for her memoir in the later years!

The work is remarkable not just because it is written about Arab society and culture, but also because it gives first-hand experience of the author, an outsider, who was accepted by the conservative society with open arms. The book is all about her personal experience and narrates how she met her husband and came to live in Qatar. It also gives an insight into her good rapport with her in-laws, recollections of her early experiences and her insights into another culture.

She admits that the world was obviously different from the one in which she was brought up and reveals what it is like to live within the heart of a culture that’s not her own and the social changes she has witnessed through the years and most importantly, the evolution of her perspective about the region and its people.

With a physician’s eye for detail, she weaves a fascinating tale of how her love story transcended cultural and social habits in a traditionally patriarchal Arab Islamic culture. She blends art and science in a convincing manner. The chapters read easy and a tinge of humour and stories of the past help the reader to maintain the flow of reading. The author takes fascinating side trips into the history and literature surrounding incense, the Islamic call to prayer, the marketplace, and compares and contrasts Christian and Islamic festivals.

Dr Rachel describes the celebrations of Eid very vividly. In fact, she compares and contrasts Christian and Islamic. But she also says “both are occasions for prayer as well as a time devoted to family and friends and the fulfillment of social obligations.” She continues: “The template of the celebrations of Christmas that I remember is not so much different from the celebrations of Eid. The two feasts highlighted that Muslims and Christians shared the same beliefs and behaviors. The milieu for the celebration of Eid and Christmas may be different but both encode in their festival and prayer ritual the concepts peace, joy, love  —  and hope.” (P. 177)

Qatar, the thumb of Arabia, becomes the home of Dr Rachel. She is no more an outsider. She is one among the Qataris. There is a kind of happiness and belongingness when she says: “The first time I gave my children their Eid card written in my distinctive Arabic script, it created a sensation in the family. My newfound skill in writing Arabic letters languished when they outgrew Eidiyas.” (P. 175).  “There is a certain satisfaction in being able to deny yourself food and drink and an excitement in anticipating iftar. Once the fast is broken, food tastes so good, and water so sweet.” (P. 195)

As an insider she describes how Qatari kitchens buzz with activity during Ramadan as women prepare and experiment with new recipes for iftar, the breaking of fast. She goes in detail about the traditional delicacies like thareed and harees, “the two dishes known from pre-Islamic days”. (P. 188). Not to leave behind Loqaimat, a desert which inspired her husband to compose a whimsical Arabic verse. She also narrates the stories behind the traditional sweet dishes Mahalabiya and Umm Ali.

She also examines issues like wearing black veil, history behind it and how being a mother of five children, she volunteered to wear the Qatari veil when her children  reach adolescence. She gives a detail account of markets, on how she learnt to shop for fresh fish and carpets in Doha’s markets.

She is fascinated about Majilis, where ideas, news and thoughts are exchanged. She gives an insight on the nuances of majilis, serving coffee, an integral part of Arab hospitality, burning incense, driving in Doha, tent parties and farkha, a door within a door.

She dedicates two exclusive chapters for her in-laws, one for Abui (my father) and Ummi (my mother). She fondly remembers how her father-in-law, Sheikh Ahmed , became an Islamic  judge, his judgments, writings, reading, collection of books, sense of humour, majilis, his curiosity about the contents of Rachel’s “sling bag, which she carried everywhere”, and lastly slow decline of his health and death.

Rachel fondly remembers how her mother-in-law, whom she called Ummi baked khubz, mahalla and chebab, besides preparing laban, a sweet dish. Always in her veil, Ummi’s world in the house revolved around kitchen. The author gives an insight into how a whole lamb is cooked in Qatari families.

The writer not only goes in detail about anti-smoking campaigned by her husband in the country, but also gives first-hand experience of patients who suffered heart problems, thanks to their habit of smoking.

She keeps the tender love which blossomed between her and her husband for the last chapter. She replaces “the sun in his life not only in Portland”, but also in Qatar and “shines over his heart”.

The author is fond of flowers and loves watering her plants in the balcony. She likens her wedding and life in Qatar to a lotus flower which adapts and flourishes in a foreign climate. “The lotus flower is exotic. Like me, the flower is foreign in this part of world. But with tender loving care, it might survive and flourish, the way I did.” (P. 286).

It is almost impossible to understand a culture by just looking in from outside, which is like peeping through a window at events happening on the street. One has to live the life within a culture to fully comprehend its perceived mysteries. Moreover, it is difficult to get a glimpse of different aspects of Qatari life and Dr Rachel records her observations and impressions of the culture and society in detail throughout.

A TV channel aired the interview with Jaswant Singh, discussing the book. Here’s the excerpts:

Jaswant Singh

Jaswant Singh

Q: Mr Jaswant Singh, let’s start by establishing how you as the author view Mohammed Ali Jinnah? After reading your book, I get the feeling that you don’t subscribe to the popular demonisation of the man.
JS:
Of course, I don’t. To that I don’t subscribe. I was attracted by the personality which has resulted in a book. If I wasn’t drawn to the personality, I wouldn’t have written the book. It’s an intricate, complex personality of great character, determination.

Q: And it’s a personality that you found quite attractive?
JS:
Naturally, otherwise, I wouldn’t have ventured down the book. I found the personality sufficiently attractive to go and research it for five years. And I was drawn to it, yes.

Q: As a politician, Jinnah joined the Congress party long before he joined the Muslim League and in fact when he joined the Muslim League, he issued a statement to say that this in no way implies “even the shadow of disloyalty to the national cause”.Would you say that in the 20s and 30s and may be even the early years of the 40s, Jinnah was a nationalist?
JS:
Actually speaking the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim unity and that’s why Gopal Krishna Gokhale called him the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Q: In your assessment as his biographer, for most if not the predominant part of his life, Jinnah was a nationalist.
JS:
Oh, yes. He fought the British for an independent India but he also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India.

Q: Was Jinnah secular or was he communal?
JS:
It depends on the way you view the word ‘secular’ because I don’t know whether secular is really fully applicable to a country like India. It’s a word borne of the socio-historical and religious history of Western Europe.

Q: Let me put it like this. Many people believe that Jinnah hated Hindus and that he was a Hindu basher.
JS:
Wrong, totally wrong. That certainly he was not. His principal disagreement was with the Congress party. Repeatedly he says and he says this even in his last statements to the press and to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

Q: So his problem was with Congress and with some Congress leaders but he had no problem with Hindus.
JS:
No, he had no problems whatsoever with the Hindus. Because he was not in that sense, until in the later part of his years, he became exactly what he charged Mahatma Gandhi with. He had charged Mahatma Gandhi of being a demagogue.

Q: He became one as well?
JS:
That was the most flattering way of emulating Gandhi. I refer of course to the Calcutta killings.

Q: As you look back on Jinnah’s life, would you say that he was a great man?
JS:
Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly he stood up against the might of the Congress party and against the British who didn’t really like him.

Q: So you are saying to me he was a great man?
JS:
But I am saying so.

Q:Let me put it like this. Do you admire Jinnah?
JS:
I admire certain aspects of his personality: his determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man — Mahatma Gandhi was a son of a Dewan.

Q: Nehru was born to great wealth.
JS:
All of them were born to wealth and position, Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved out in Bombay a position in that cosmopolitan city being what he was, poor. He was so poor he had to walk to work. He lived in a hotel called Watsons in Bombay and he told one of the biographers that there’s always room at the top but there is no lift and he never sought a lift.

Q: Do you admire the way he created success for himself, born to poverty but he ended up successful, rich?
JS:
I would admire that in any man, self-made man, who resolutely worked towards achieving what he had set out to.

Q: How seriously has India misunderstood Jinnah?
JS:
I think we misunderstood because we needed to create a demon.

Q: We needed a demon and he was the convenient scapegoat?
JS:
I don’t know if he was convenient. We needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the entire subcontinent was the partition of the country.

Q: I’ll come to that in a moment but first the critical question that your book raises is that how is it that the man, considered as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity in 1916 had transformed 30 years later by 1947 into the ‘Qaid-e-Azam’ of Pakistan? And your book suggests that underlying this was Congres’ repeated inability to accept that Muslims feared domination by Hindus and that they wanted “space” in “a reassuring system”.
JS:
Here is the central contest between minoritism and majoritarianism. With the loss of the Mughal empire, the Muslims of India had lost power but majoritarianism didn’t begin to influence them until 1947. Then they saw that unless they had a voice in their own political, economical and social destiny, they would be obliterated. That is the beginning. That is still the purpose.

Q: Let me ask you this. Was Jinnah’s fear or anxiety about Congress majoritarianism justified or understandable? Your book in its account of how Congress refused to form a government with the League in UP in 1937 after fighting the elections in alliance with that party, suggests that Jinnah’s fears were substantial and real.
JS:
Yes. You have to go not just to 1937, which you just cited. See other examples. In the 1946 elections, Jinnah’s Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they do not have sufficient number to be in office because the Congress party has, even without a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government. So it was realised that simply contesting election was not enough.

Q: They needed certain assurances within the system to give them that space?
JS:
That’s right. And those assurances amounted to reservation, which I dispute frankly. Reservations went from 25 per cent to 33 per cent. And then from reservation that became parity, of being on equal terms. Parity to Partition.

Q: All of this was search for space?
JS:
All of this was a search for some kind of autonomy of decision making in their own social and economic destiny.

Q: Your book reveals how people like Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Azad could understand the Jinnah or the Muslim fear of Congress majoritarianism but Nehru simply couldn’t understand. Was Nehru insensitive to this?
JS:
No, he wasn’t. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a deeply sensitive man.

Q: But why couldn’t he understand?
JS:
He was deeply influenced by Western and European socialist thought of those days. For example dominion status would have given virtual independence to India in the 20s (but Nehru shot it down).

Q: In other words, Nehru’s political thinking and his commitment to Western socialist thought meant that he couldn’t understand Jinnah’s concerns about majoritarianism? Nehru was a centralist, Jinnah was a decentraliser?
JS:
That’s right. That is exactly (the point). Nehru believed in a highly centralised polity. That’s what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity.

Q: Because that would give Muslims the space?
JS:
That even Gandhi also accepted.

Q: But Nehru couldn’t.
JS:
Nehru didn’t.

Q: He refused to?
JS:
Well, consistently, he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India.

Q: In fact, the conclusion of your book is that if Congress could have accepted a decentralised federal India, then a united India, as you put it, “was clearly ours to attain”. You add that the problem was that this was in “an anathema to Nehru’s centralising approach and policies”. Do you see Nehru at least as responsible for Partition as Jinnah?
JS:
I think he says it himself. He recognised it and his correspondence, for example with late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal, his official biographer and others. His letters to the late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal are very moving letters.

Q: You are saying Nehru recognised that he was as much of an obstacle.
JS:
No, he recognised his mistakes afterwards.

Q: Afterwards?
JS:
Afterwards.

Q: Today, Nehru’s heirs and party will find it very surprising that you think that Nehru was as responsible for Partition as Jinnah.
JS:
I am not blaming anybody. I’m not assigning blame. I am simply recording what I have found as the development of issues and events of that period.

Q: When Indians turn around and say that Jinnah was, to use a colloquialism, the villain of Partition, your answer is that there were many people responsible and to single out Jinnah, as the only person or as the principal person, is both factually wrong and unfair?
JS:
It is. It is not borne out of events. Go to the last All India Congress Committee meeting in Delhi in the June of 1947 to discuss and accept the June 3, 1947 resolution. Nehru-Patel’s resolution was defeated by the Congress, supported by Gandhi in the defeat. Ram Manohar Lohia had moved the amendment. It was a very moving intervention by Ram Manohar Lohia and then Gandhi finally said we must accept this Partition. Partition is a very painful event. It is very easy to assign blame but very difficult thereafter. Because all events that we are judging are ex post facto.

Q: Absolutely, and what your book does is to shed light in terms of a new assessment of Partition and the responsibility of the different players. And in that re-assessment, you have balanced differently between Jinnah and Nehru?
JS:
All vision which is ex post facto is 20/20. It is when you actually live the event.

Q: Quite right. Those who have lived it would have seen it differently but today, with the benefit of hindsight, you can say that Jinnah wasn’t the only or the principal villain and the Indian impression that he was is mistaken and wrong?
JS:
And we need to correct it.

Q: Let’s turn to Jinnah and Pakistan. Your book shows that right through the 20s and the 30s, or may be even the early years of the 40s, Pakistan for Jinnah was more of a political strategy, less of a target and a goal. Did he consciously, from the very start, seek to dismember and divide India?
JS:
I don’t think it was dismemberment. He wanted space for the Muslims. And he could just not define Pakistan ever. Geographically, it was a vague idea. That’s why ultimately it became a moth-eaten Pakistan. He had ideas about certain provinces which must be Islamic and one-third of the seats in the Central legislature must be Muslims.

Q: So Pakistan was in fact a way of finding, as you call it, ‘space’ for Muslims?
JS:
He wanted space in the Central legislature and in the provinces and protection of the minorities so that the Muslims could have a say in their own political, economic and social destiny.

Q: And that was his primary concern, not dividing India or breaking up the country?
JS:
No. He in fact went to the extent of saying that let there be a Pakistan within India.

Q: A Pakistan within India was acceptable to him?
JS:
Yes.

Q: So in other words, Pakistan was often ‘code’ for space for Muslims?
JS:
That’s right. From what I have written, I find that it was a negotiating tactic because he wanted certain provinces to be with the Muslim League. He wanted a certain percentage (of seats) in the Central legislature. If he had that, there would not have been a partition.

Q: Would you therefore say that when people turn around and say that Jinnah was communal, he was a Hindu hater, a Hindu basher that they are mistaken and wrong?
JS:
He was not a Hindu hater but he had great animosity with the Congress party and Congress leadership. He said so repeatedly: I have no enmity against the Hindu.

Q: Do you as an author believe him when he said so?
JS:
I don’t live in the same time as him. I go by what his contemporaries have said, I go by what he himself says and I reproduce it.

Q: Let’s come again to this business of using Pakistan to create space for Muslims. Your book shows how repeatedly people like Rajagopalachari, Gandhi and Azad were understanding of the Jinnah need or the Muslim need for space. Nehru wasn’t. Nehru had a European-inherited centralised vision of how India should be run. In a sense was Nehru’s vision of a centralised India, a problem that eventually led to partition?
JS:
Jawaharlal Nehru was not always that. He became that after his European tour of the 20s. Then he came back imbued with, as Madhu Limaye puts it, ‘spirit of socialism’ and he was all for highly centralised India.

Q: And a highly centralized India denied the space Jinnah wanted.
JS:
A highly centralised India meant that the dominant party was the Congress party. He (Nehru) in fact said there are only two powers in India — the Congress party and the British.

Q: That attitude in a sense left no room for Jinnah and the Muslim League in India?
JS:
That is what made Jinnah repeatedly say but there is a third force — we. The Congress could have dealt with the Moplas but there were other Muslims.

Q: So it was this majoritarianism of Nehru that actually left no room for Jinnah?
JS:
It became a contest between excessive majoritarianism, exaggerated minoritism and giving the referee’s whistle to the British.

Q: Was the exaggerated minoritism a response to the excessive majoritarianism of Congress?
JS:
In part. Also in response to the historical circumstances that had come up.

Q: If the final decision had been taken by people like Gandhi, Rajagopalachari or Azad, could we have ended up with united India?
JS:
Yes, I believe so. It could have. Gandhi said let the British go home, we will settle this amongst ourselves, we will find a Pakistan. In fact, he said so in the last AICC meetings.

Q: It was therefore Nehru’s centralising vision that made that extra search for united India difficult at the critical moment?
JS:
He continued to say so but subsequently, after Partition, he began to realise what a great mistake he had made.

Q: Nehru realised his mistakes but it was too late, by then it had happened.
JS:
It was too late. It was too late.

Q: Let’s end this first interview there. In the next part I want to talk to you about the relationship between the early Gandhi and Jinnah, the questions you raise about Partition and the predicament of Indian Muslims.

Q: Let us start this second interview with the portrait you paint of the relationship between the early Gandhi and the early Jinnah.You say of their first meeting in January 1915 that Gandhi’s response to Jinnah’s “warm welcome” was “ungracious”. You say Gandhi would only see Jinnah “in Muslim terms”, and the sort of implication that comes across is Gandhi was less accommodating than Jinnah was.
JS:
I have perhaps not used the adjective you have used. Jinnah returned from his education in 1896. Gandhi went to South Africa and was returning finally — in between he had come once — to India it was 1915 already. Jinnah had gone to receive him with Gokhale and he referred fulsomely to Gandhi. Gandhi referred to Jinnah and said that I am very grateful that we have a Muslim leader. That I think was born really of Gandhi’s working in South Africa and not so much the reality of what he felt. The relationship subsequently became competitive.

Q: But you do call that response “ungracious”?
JS:
I don’t know whether I call it ungracious?

Q: You do.
JS:
But I might have. Jinnah is fulsomely receiving Gandhi and Gandhi says I am glad that I am being received by a Muslim leader.

Q: So he was only seeing Jinnah in Muslim terms?
JS:
Yes, which Jinnah didn’t want to be seen.

Q: Even when you discuss the impact of their political strategies in the early years before 1920 you suggest that Jinnah was perhaps more effective than Gandhi, who in a sense permitted the Raj to continue for three decades. You write “Jinnah had successfully kept the Indian political forces together, simultaneously exerting pressure on the government.” Of Gandhi you say “that pressure dissipated and the Raj remained for three more decades”.
JS:
That is a later development, because the political style of the two was totally different. Jinnah was essentially a logician. He believed in the strength of logic; he was a Parliamentarian; he believed in the efficacy of parliamentary politics. Gandhi, after testing the water, took to the trails of India and he took politics into the dusty villages of India.

Q: But in the early years up till 1920 you see Jinnah as more effective in putting pressure on the British than Gandhi.
JS:
Yes, because entire politics was parliamentary.

Q: The adjectives you use to characterise their leadership in the early years suggests a sort of, how shall I put it, slight tilt in Jinnah’s favour. You say of Gandhi’s leadership that it had “an entirely religious, provincial character”. Of Jinnah’s you say he was “doubtless imbued by a non-sectarian nationalistic zeal.”
JS:
He was non-sectarian. Gandhi used religion as a personal expression. Jinnah used religion as a tool to create something but that came later. For Gandhi religion was an integral part of his politics from the very beginning.

Q: And Jinnah wanted religion out of politics.
JS:
Out of politics. That is right — there are innumerable examples.

Q: In fact, Jinnah sensed or feared instinctively that if politics came into religion it would divide.
JS:
There were two fears here. His one fear was that if the whole question or practice of mass movement was introduced into India then the minority in India would be threatened. There could be Hindu-Muslim riots as a consequence. The second fear was that this will result in bringing in religion into Indian politics. He didn’t want that — Khilafat movement, etc are all examples of that.

Q: And in a sense would you say events have borne out Jinnah?
JS:
Not just Jinnah, Annie Besant also. When the Home Rule League broke up — resigning from the League, Annie Beasant cautioned Gandhi you are going down this path, this is a path full of peril.

Q: Both Jinnah and Beasant have been borne out.
JS:
In the sense that mass movement, unless combined with a great sense of discipline, leadership and restraint, becomes chaotic.

Q: As you look back on their lives and their achievements, Jinnah, at the end of the day, stood for creating a homeland for Indian Muslims. But what he produced was moth-eaten and broke up into two pieces in less than 25 years. Gandhi struggled to keep India united, but ended up not just with Partition but with communal passion and communal killing. Would you say at the end of their lives both were failures?
JS:
Gandhi was transparently a honest man. He lived his political life openly. Jinnah didn’t even live his political life, leave alone his private life, openly. Gandhi led his private life openly — (in) Noakhali with a pencil stub he wrote movingly “I don’t want to die a failure but I fear I might.”

Q: And did he in your opinion.
JS:
Yes, I am afraid the Partition of land, the Hindu-Muslim divide, cannot be really called Gandhiji’s great success. Jinnah, I think, did not achieve what he set out to. He got what is called a moth-eaten Pakistan, but the philosophy which under laid that Muslims are a separate nation was completely rejected within years of Pakistan coming into being.

Q: So, in a sense, both failed.
JS:
I am afraid I have to say that. I am, in comparison, a lay practitioner of politics in India. I cannot compare myself to these two great Indians but my assessment would lead me to the conclusion that I cannot treat this as a success either by Gandhi or by Jinnah.

Q: Your book also raises disturbing questions about the Partition of India. You say it was done in a way “that multiplied our problems without solving any communal issue”. Then you ask “if the communal, the principal issue, remains in an even more exacerbated form than before then why did we divide at all?”
JS:
Yes, indeed why? I cannot yet find the answer. Look into the eyes of the Muslims who live in India and if you truly see through the pain they live — to which land do they belong? We treat them as aliens, somewhere inside, because we continue to ask even after Partition you still want something? These are citizens of India — it was Jinnah’s failure because he never advised Muslims who stayed back.

Q: One of the most moving passages of your biography is when you write of Indian Muslims who stayed on in India and didn’t go to Pakistan.You say they are “abandoned”, you say they are “bereft of a sense of kinship”, not “one with the entirety” and then you add that “this robs them of the essence of psychological security”.
JS:
That is right, it does. That lies at the root of the Sachar Committee report.

Q: So, in fact, Indian Muslims have paid the price in their personal lives.
JS:
Without doubt, as have Pakistani Muslims.

Q: Muslims have paid a price on both sides.
JS:
I think Muslims have paid a price in Partition. They would have been significantly stronger in a united India, effectively so — much larger land, every potential is here. Of course Pakistan or Bangladesh won’t like what I am saying.

Q: Let us for a moment focus on Indian Muslims. You are a leader of the BJP. Do you think the rhetoric of your party sometimes adds to that insecurity?
JS:
I didn’t write this book as a BJP parliamentarian or leader, which I am not. I wrote this book as an Indian.

Q: Your book also suggests, at least intellectually, you believe India could face more Partitions. You write: “In India, having once accepted this principle of reservation, then of Partition, how can now we deny it to others, even such Muslims as have had to or chosen to live in India.”
JS:
The problem started with the 1906 reservation. What does Sachar committee report say? Reserve for the Muslim. What are we doing now? Reserve. I think this reservation for Muslims is a disastrous path. I have myself, personally, in Parliament heard a member subscribing to Islam saying we could have a third Partition too. These are the pains that trouble me. What have we solved?

Q:In fact you say in your book how can we deny it to others, having accepted it once it becomes very difficult intellectually to refuse it again.
JS:
You have to refuse it.

Q: Even if you contradict yourself?
JS:
Of course, I am contradicting myself. It is intellectual contradiction.

Q: But you are being honest enough to point out that this intellectual contradiction lies today at the very heart of our predicament as a nation.
JS:
It is. Unless we find an answer, we won’t find an answer to India-Pakistan-Bangladesh relations.

Q: And this continuing contradiction is the legacy of Partition?
JS:
Of course, it is self-evident.

Q: Mr. Jaswant Singh, let’s come to how your book will be received. Are you worried that a biography of Jinnah, that turns on its head the received demonisation of the man; where you concede that for a large part he was a nationalist with admirable qualities, could bring down on your head a storm of protest?
JS:
Firstly, I am not an academic. Sixty years down the line someone else — an academic — should have done it. Then I wouldn’t have persisted for five years. I have written what I have researched and believed in. I have not written to please – it’s a journey that I have undertaken, as I explained myself, along with Mohammedd Ali Jinnah — from his being an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to the Qaid-e-Azam of Pakistan

Q: In a sense you were driven to write this book.
JS:
Indeed, I still search for answers. Having worked with the responsibilities that I had, it is my duty to try and find answers.

Q: And your position is that if people don’t like the truth as you see it – so be it, but you have to tell the truth as you know it.
JS:
Well, so be it is your way of putting it, my dear Karan, but how do I abandon my search, my yearning and what I have found? If I am wrong then somebody else should go and do the research and prove me as wrong.

Q: In other words you are presenting what you believe is the truth and you can’t hide it.
JS:
What else can I do, what else can I present?

Q: In 2005, when L.K. Advani called Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech secular he was forced to resign the presidentship of the party, are you worried that your party might turn on you in a similar manner?
JS:
This is not a party document, and my party knows that I have been working on this. I have mentioned this to Sri Advani as also to others.

Q: But are they aware of your views and the content of the book?
JS:
They can’t be aware unless they read it.

Q: Are you worried that when they find out about your views, and your analyses and your conclusion, they might be embarrassed and angry?
JS:
No, they might disagree, that’s a different matter. Anger? Why should there be anger about disagreement?

Q: Can I put something to you?
JS:
Yes.

Q: Mr Advani in a sense suffered because he called Jinnah secular. You have gone further, you have compared him to the early Gandhi. And some would say that Gandhi is found a little wanting in that comparison. Will that inflame passions?
JS:
I don’t think Gandhi is found wanting. He was a different person. They are two different personalities, each with their characteristics, why should passions be inflamed? Let a self-sufficient majority, 60 years down the line of Independence, be able to stand up to what actually happened pre-47 and in 1947.

Q: So what you are saying is that Gandhi and Jinnah were different people, we must learn to accept that both had good points.
JS:
Of course.

Q: And both had weaknesses.
JS:
Of course. Gandhi himself calls Jinnah a great Indian, why don’t we recognise that? Why did he call him that? He tells Mountbatten “give the Prime Ministership of India to Jinnah.” Mountbatten scoffs at him, “are you joking?” He says, “no I am serious, I will travel India and convince India and carry this message”.

Q: So if today’s Gandhians, reading the passages where you compare between the two, come to the conclusion that you are more of praise of Jinnah than of Gandhi.
JS:
I don’t think I am. I am objective as far as human beings have ability to be objective. As balanced as an author can be.

Q: As balanced as an author can be.
JS:
Indeed, indeed. How else can it be?

Q: Your party has a Chintan Baithak starting in two days time, does it worry you that at that occasion some of your colleagues might stand up and say — your views, your comments about Jinnah, your comments about Gandhi and Nehru have embarrassed the BJP?
JS:
I don’t think so, I don’t think they will. Because in two days time the book would not have been (read). It’s almost a 600-page book. Difficult to read 600 pages in two days.

Q: No one will have read the book by the time you go to Simla!
JS:
Yes (Laughs).

Q: But what about afterwards?
JS:
Well, we will deal with the afters when the afters come.

Q: Let me raise two issues, that could be a problem for you. First of all, your sympathetic understanding of Muslims left behind in India. You say they are abandoned, you say they are bereft, you say they suffer from psychological insecurity. That’s not normally a position leaders of the BJP take.
JS:
I think, the BJP is misunderstood also in its attitude towards the minorities. I don’t think it is so. Every Muslim that lives in India is a loyal Indian and we must treat them as so.

Q: But you are the first person from the BJP I have ever heard say, “look into the eyes of Indian Muslims and see the pain.” No one has ever spoken in such sensitive terms about them before.
JS:
I am born in a district, that is my home — we adjoin Sind, it was not part of British India. We have lived with Muslims and Islam for centuries. They are part…. In fact in Jaisalmer, I don’t mind telling you, Muslims don’t eat cow and the Rajputs don’t eat pig.

Q: So your understanding of Indian Muslims and their predicament is uniquely personal and you would say…
JS:
Indeed because I think what has happened is that we try and treat this whole thing as if it’s an extension of the image of the UP Muslim. Of course the UP (Muslim) is…Pakistan is a stepchild of UP in a sense.

Q: The second issue that your book raises, which could cause problems for you, is that at least theoretically, at least intellectually, you accept that there could be, although you hope there won’t be, further partitions. Could that embarrass you?
JS:
No, I am cautioning. I am cautioning India, Indian leadership. I have said that I am not going to be a politician all my life, or even a member of Parliament. But I do say this — we should learn from what we did wrong, or didn’t do right, so that we don’t repeat the mistakes.

Q: In other words this is — how shall I put it, a wake up call?
JS:
Wake-up? Shaking….

Q: A shake-up call!
JS:
Yeah (Smiles)

Q: My last question. Critics in your party, allege that you are responsible for the party losing seats in Rajasthan, they allege that you are responsible for asking questions about the sanctity of Hindutva. Now, after this book, have you fed your critics more ammunition against yourself?
JS:
Time will tell (Smiles).

Q: But does it worry you?
JS:
Do I look worried? (Smiles)

Q: With that smile on your face Mr Jaswant Singh. Thank you very much for these two special interviews.
JS:
Thank you very much.

Today, I saw a startling report on how British controlled Indians. How they managed to fool us and keep Indians under their control.

An Indian-origin writer has made a startling claim that Queen Victoria forbade the wife of the only married grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from having children so that the British Raj could tighten its grip on Punjab.

Peter Bance, a specialist in the history of Sikhs in Britain, writes about the reported instruction by Queen Victoria in his latest book, Sovereign, Squire & Rebel, a biography of Duleep Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

He also claims that Queen Victoria may have been motivated by the desire to ensure that Britain’s hold over the massive and profitable Sikh kingdom remained unchallenged by any future Sikh royal descendant.

The Sikh kingdom, among the fiercest opponents of the British Raj, is today among the few — if not the only one — of the erstwhile major Indian kingdoms without any direct royal descendants.

Duleep Singh had six children from his first marriage and two from his second. All eight, including four who were married, died without issue, a fact that the writer says fanned his curiosity.

In his book, the London-based Bance says Queen Victoria gave the instruction to Lady Anne Alice Blanche — the aristocratic English wife of Duleep Singh’s eldest son Prince Victor Albert Jay — in the summer of 1898. Lady Anne was the youngest daughter of the 9th Earl of Coventry.

The reported instruction came 12 years after the British army physically stopped a disgruntled and rebellious Duleep Singh from returning to India from England, where he had been taken as a 12-year-old boy king after being converted to Christianity.

Like his father, Prince Victor too had tried to visit India in 1898 — if only to spend his honeymoon with Lady Anne, who had taken the name of Princess Victor Duleep Singh — but they too were stopped by the British in Colombo.

On their return, they attended a ball thrown by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace July 8, 1898, where invitees included Prince Victor’s sister Princess Sophia, younger brother Prince Frederick and several other royals visiting from India.

“The ball was soon followed by a request from Queen Victoria for a private audience with Princess Victor at Buckingham Palace, where she received the most distressing and chilling of orders,” says the book.

“She was told by the Queen that she must not have any children with the Prince and that she must live abroad with her husband. Princess Victor followed that command faithfully all her life.”

Bance, a Sikh, said he obtained the startling piece of information from a close “Coventry family source” of Lady Anne, who died in 1956.

“This person, who told me not to mention his name, asked Lady Anne once, ‘why didn’t you have any children?’ and that was when Lady Anne spoke about Queen Victoria’s instructions.

“Of course Lady Anne, being an aristocrat herself, went by those instructions.”

Bance said the main reason why Queen Victoria would have given such a harsh command was the nascent Indian nationalism that had showed in Duleep Singh — otherwise a thorough ‘English’ country gent — throughout the late 1880s.

Mounting expenses for the upkeep of the family would have been an additional factor.

“There is no doubt that the family was always a thorn on the side of the British establishment,” said Bance, who has being researching the life of Duleep Singh since 1996.

“They (any descendants) would be constantly staking a claim to the Punjab throne.”

After the failed bid to visit India, Maharaja Duleep Singh told a British journalist in 1888: “In less than three years — in less than two perhaps — I and my 250,000,000 (250 million, 25 crore) fellow-countrymen will have driven them (the British) out of India.”

Duleep Singh, who had a legitimate claim to a kingdom whose powerful Sikh army very nearly over-ran the British in 1849, also boasted that 90 percent of Indian princes as well as the Russian government were behind his plan to oust the British.

Although Queen Victoria was very fond of Duleep Singh, he had been increasingly distressed by the failure of British authorities to honour financial and other pledges made to him.

In later years, some of Duleep Singh’s children, particularly his youngest daughter from his first marriage, Princess Bamba, were to show strong feelings for India.

The book goes on to refer to a second startling claim about an alleged British plot to stem the royal Sikh bloodline.

It says Princess Bamba had told members of the Fakir family, who were former ministers in her father’s court, that when they were children their English cooks would put “substances” into their food so as to make them infertile.

“The story seemed a bit far-fetched, but nonetheless not one of the Duleep Singh children had any issue,” says the book.

“But this is really what struck me as being very odd – a man with a big family, eight children, and no grandchildren,” Bance said.

Prince Mohsin Ali Khan, a member of the erstwhile ruling family of the princely state of Hyderabad, said he was shocked by the claim about Queen Victoria’s reported instructions to Lady Anne.

“It is quite shocking, but it is plausible,” said the London-based Khan, who is on the Council of the Constitutional Monarchist Association, a non-government body that supports and defends the British monarchy.

Indian former defence, foreign and finance minister of India and also a former soldier Jaswant Singh released his book Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence on Mohammed Ali Jinnah. I think the conventional notion India holds about Jinnah as a communal leader who caused the bloody partition of the subcontinent will receive a deadly blow.

The book will defenitely attract considerable attention and may be even a fair amount of controversy.  Though Jaswant Singh seems like going one step further than L.K. Advani who made similar remarks three years ago in Pakistan, it is a fact that unlike others, Jinnah created success for himself. Jaswant Singh may have drawn another battleline within the saffron party after releasing his book.

It took five years of research before the book could come out. “If I were not drawn to the personality I wouldn’t have written the book. It’s an intricate, complex personality, of great character, determination,” Jaswant Singh told in an interview to a TV channel ahead of the release of his book.

It was historically not tenable to see Mr Jinnah as the villain of 1947, Mr Singh said. “It is not borne out of the facts… we need to correct it… Muslims saw that unless they had a voice in their own economic, political and social destiny they will be obliterated.”

Mr Singh said the 1946 election was a good example to show the fear held by Muslims. That year, he said: “Jinnah’s Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they don’t have sufficient numbers to be in office because the Congress Party has, without even a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government.

Jinnah and Nehru

Jinnah and Nehru

“So it was realised that simply contesting elections was not enough… All of this was a search for some kind of autonomy of decision making in their own social and economy destiny.” Mr Jinnah was a great man because he created something out of nothing, Mr Singh said of his newfound hero.

“He single-handedly stood against the might of the Congress Party and against the British who didn’t really like him … Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don’t we recognise that? Why don’t we see (and try to understand) why he called him that?” Mr Jinnah was as much a nationalist as any leader in India.

“He fought the British for an independent India but also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India … the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim unity.”

Among the aspects of Mr Jinnah’s personality Mr Singh said he admired his determination and will to rise. “He was a self-made man. Mahatma Gandhi was the son of a Diwan. All these (people) — Nehru and others — were born to wealth and position. Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved in Bombay, a metropolitan city, a position for himself.

“He was so poor he had to walk to work … he told one of his biographers there was always room at the top but there’s no lift. And he never sought a lift.”

Jinnah & Gandhi

Jinnah & Gandhi

Demolishing the belief that Mr Jinnah hated or disliked Hindus, Mr Singh said the claim was totally wrong. “His principal disagreement was with the Congress Party.”

Going by his interview shown on CNN-IBN on Sunday, Mr Singh holds Mr Jawaharlal Nehru as more culpable than anyone else for the division of the country.

It is not just Jinnah’s anti-Congressism that Jaswant pays a tribute to in his new book. He also writes admiringly about Jinnah’s elegant dressing and suave lifestyle.

The book reassess Nehru’s role in Partition, and sheds fresh light on the relationship between the Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah.

Return of the Revolutionaries by Walter Semkiw

My story begins in 1984, when I was in my medical residency and living in Chicago. A friend suggested that I have a session with a medium who was working out of a local metaphysical bookstore. Being a skeptic by nature, I never had even considered going to a psychic before. It had been a dreary winter, though, with little to do but study, and I reasoned that a session with a medium might break the monotony.

During the session, the medium went into a meditative state or trance and in doing so, allowed spiritual guides to talk through him. These guides told me about family issues with surprising accuracy. The guides then told me about two past lives, one of which was during the American Revolution. They gave me the name of who I was supposed to have been and told me that if I researched this person, I would see myself. In 1984, I dismissed the session. It would not be until 1996 that I would revisit the past-life information provided to me. At that time I did research on the person who was identified as my prior incarnation. That person was the second President of the United States, John Adams, and I was quite shocked to realize that I did see myself in him. I was even more surprised to recognize his entire family and closest friends reincarnated among members of my own family and friends.

In seeking information on reincarnation, I encountered a number of other people with similar stories, though there were variations in how people learned about specific past lives. Though the means by which past-life identities were derived varied, the independently researched cases showed common features with cases that I had studied and delineated. As a result of these independent cases, I have divided my book into two sections. In the first, cases that were discovered and documented by other people are reviewed. The second section involves a series of past-life cases that I have researched stemming from the American Revolution. What is exciting is that these cases from both sections reinforce each other. Cases derived by various means and studied by a variety of different people lead to the same conclusions regarding the manner in which reincarnation occurs. These principles of reincarnation are summarized as follows:

1. Physical Appearance
Facial architecture, the shape and proportions of the face, appears to be consistent from lifetime to lifetime. Physical habits, such as postures, hand gestures and the type of jewelry worn, can also be consistent from lifetime to lifetime. Even poses struck in portraits and photographs are often uncannily similar from one lifetime to another.
Of note, my reincarnation research shows that in approximately 10 to 20 percent of cases, a soul changes gender. Even in these cases, facial architecture still remains consistent. Overall, most people (80 to 90%) maintain the same gender from one lifetime to another, and it seems that our essence has an innate masculine or feminine quality. Those who are innately masculine tend to reincarnate as males. Those who are innately feminine prefer to return in a female body.

2. Personality
Personality traits appear to persist from lifetime to lifetime. Some of our personality traits are positive and we carry them with us to our benefit. Other personality traits can be detrimental and can cause suffering from one lifetime to another.
Though personality traits remain consistent, I have observed that physical and mental illnesses do not persist from one lifetime to another. Individuals who are chemically dependent or have a psychiatric illness in a previous lifetime do not appear to carry these disorders over to subsequent ones.
Spiritually and intellectually, we seem to pick up where we have left off. Our hard earned achievements in spiritual and intellectual pursuits are retained – they are a part of us.
Religious affiliation and ethnic background change from lifetime to lifetime. A soul can be Christian in one lifetime and Jewish or Islamic in the next. This casts new insight regarding conflicts based on religious or ethnic differences.

3. Writing Style
Just as personality traits remain consistent from lifetime to lifetime, a person’s manner of expression seems to be similar from one lifetime to another. Some variation in writing style, of course, will be observed due to differing customs of various eras. Still, consistencies in modes of expression and in content are observed. Just as portraits allow us to see how one’s appearance is the same from lifetime to lifetime, historical documents, diaries and other available documentation allow us to study writing style across incarnations.

4. Karmic Soul Groups
People appear to come into life in groups, based on shared karma and emotional attachments. Couples often come back together and entire family units can recur. When an individual reincarnates, other members of that person’s karmic group will be present. Identifying members of the person’s karmic group is another important criterion in establishing a past-life match.
In analyzing past-life cases, I have observed that we all have a predetermined destiny or life itinerary which brings us to the people we are supposed to spend time with. We meet up with different karmic groups at different points in life. New venues bring us to karmic groups we need to be with. My belief is that though we all have a predetermined itinerary that we are committed to honor, we have free will in what we do along the way. Indeed, growth and human evolution could not occur without free will. Some people may have a more structured itinerary that limits diversionary treks, while others may have a less structured game plan. Either way, we have free will along our destined paths.

5. Past-Life Symbols, Synchronistic Events, and Anniversary Phenomena
A common feature in past-life research is that symbols from a prior lifetime are found in the person’s contemporary incarnation. For eleven years I worked for Unocal 76, also known as Union 76, an oil company whose slogan is ‘The Spirit of 1776.’ The company name and slogan reflect my participation in the American Revolution as John Adams. In William Barnes’ book, Thomas Andrews, A Voyage into History, Mr Barnes relates how he came to uncover his past-life as Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic, who died on the ship. Appropriately, William Barnes was born on the anniversary date of the Titanics’ sinking, 41 years after the tragedy occurred.

6. Attraction to Specific Geographic Locations
Individuals are often attracted to geographic settings of past lives. In many cases, people are observed to gravitate to places where they have lived before. Individuals may reside in these areas or visit old haunts on vacation. In some cases, it appears that the soul is simply nostalgic for familiar settings. In other cases, the soul may direct the individual to a specific place to trigger a remembrance of the past lifetime or to facilitate a spiritual awakening.

7. Memories
Memories of past lives can have a profound effect on the individual who has experienced them. Memories can occur spontaneously or through past-life regressions. In a regression, a therapist guides a person into a state of deep relaxation. The subject is coached to go back in time until former lives are experienced or remembered. Memories, whether spontaneous or experienced through regression, are subjective. Alone, these memories provide only weak evidence of reincarnation to those who have not experienced them. Memories, though, when supported by objective facts obtained through historical research and corroboration, provide compelling evidence of reincarnation.

Today, while searching about some facts on Maneka Gandhi I found an interesting report that Annie Besant has been reborn as Maneka Gandhi! Interesting indeed. I went through the report and was amused that not only she, even Mahatma Gandhi has been reincarnated. The world’s leading past life researcher and best-selling author from the US Walter Semkiw even claims that he knows the past lives of even Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and even APJ Abdul Kalam! And here’s the report:

Did you know that Mahatma Gandhi has been reincarnated as Van Jones, the celebrated American civil rights and environmental activist who was named Time magazine’s “environmental hero” in the US in 2008?

“Objective evidence that forms the basis of past life studies prove that Jones is the reincarnation of Gandhi,” world’s leading past life researcher and best-selling author from the US Walter Semkiw said in an interview.

Jones’ facial bone structure and features are the same as that of Gandhi’s, Semkiw said.

“His manners and body language are also similar to that of the Indian freedom fighter and he does the same things Gandhi did in Africa during the 1930s – campaign for civil rights. Like Gandhi, who was named Time magazine man of the year in 1930, Jones figured in Time’s list of most influential men in 2008 and in several other magazines,” the researcher said.

Semkiw, the San Francisco-based author, reincarnation specialist and medical practitioner, who stormed the best-sellers’ list in India with his book Born Again in 2006 that shed light on the past lives of Indian celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and former president APJ Abdul Kalam is back with his second book, Origin of the Soul: And the Purpose of Reincarnation.

“It takes a deeper look into the theory of reincarnation and answers some long-standing questions like where do you come from? Why are we living this physical existence? And where are we going? It’s about the evidence of our past lives in our brains,” Semkiw said.

The writer, who practises medicine in San Francisco, graduated in medicine from the University of Illinois in Chicago and trained in psychiatry at the University of Colorado in Denver.

He has been researching the topic of past lives since 1996.

“I pursue past lives as a scientist based on objective evidence like common personality traits between reincarnations, memories, similarities in facial features, events, patterns in life and writing styles that most people carry over lifetimes. They rarely change down the births,” Semkiw said.

Most of Semkiw’s findings are based on independent research involving extensive library work and interviews with celebrities whose pasts Semkiw likes to probe. Semkiw says he also has sessions with a famous spirit medium, Kevin Ryerson who guides him to a master spirit called Athun Re, an Egyptian high priest, who, according to the doctor, has not been “reincarnated for the past 3,000 years”.

The “master priest” usually makes the “past lives matches instructing Semkiw where to look for possible reincarnations””.

The sessions are followed by research and the matching of physical evidence, the doctor said.

“Some of my famous case studies include those of the prodigy and holocaust victim Anne Frank (of the Diary of Anne Frank fame), who has been reincarnated as Barbro Karlen, a Swedish Christian, US President Barack Husain Obama, who was Lyman Trumbull, a Senator in Abraham Lincoln’s government,” Semkiw said.

Semkiw has interesting revelations about Indian celebrities as well.

Amitabh Bachchan, revealed the doctor, is the reincarnation of famous American actor Edward Booth and “displays all his characteristics”, while former president APJ Abdul Kalam is the present-day avatar of Tipu Sultan, the first Indian ruler to have used rockets in battles.

“Shah Rukh Khan is the reincarnation of yester year Hindu actress-singer and dancer Sadhana Bose. Social worker Annie Besant has been born as Maneka Gandhi….”

“My interest in investigating past life is academic,” said the researcher.

The writer, who claims to be the reincarnation of American president John Adams, started researching past life as a “spirit told him when he was studying medicine that he had a past life”.

“Initially, I did not believe it. But after 12 years, I started researching,” Semkiw said.

After reading the above report, I wanted to know little more about the writer and found this:

Semkiw

Semkiw

“I am a Board Certified Occupational Medicine physician and serve as the Assistant Chief of Occupational Medicine at a major medical center in San Francisco. Before that, I was a Medical Director for Unocal 76, a Fortune 500 oil company.

My undergraduate years were spent at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where I majored in biology and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with University Honors. After obtaining my medical degree at the University of Illinois, Chicago, I trained in psychiatry at the University of Colorado, Denver. I later entered an Occupational Medicine residency at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where I earned a Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree. In this program, I studied epidemiology and biostatistics, disciplines concerned with establishing scientific proofs. On my Occupational Medicine board examination,
I scored in the 99th percentile.

I share my educational background because I know that the information I am forwarding on reincarnation may be hard for some to believe. I want to reassure you that I am grounded in science.

My parents, Luba and Zenobius Semkiw, were immigrants from Ukraine, who were displaced during the Second World War. They came to the United States with nothing, yet found opportunity. My mother worked and supported my father while he went to medical school. Later on, my mother became a laboratory technician. Continuing the medical tradition, my brother George became a pharmacist and Leo an orthopedic surgeon.

My father was a gifted pianist and he would play Chopin late into the night. I remember well these childhood nocturnal serenades. I wanted to play piano also, but I didn’t have the talent. I am athletic, though, and I found that I could dance, which became a way to express music. I eventually married a beautiful and intelligent woman named Oksana. Though in time we parted, our early years were the happiest in my life. Many times, couples and other family members come back to life together from one incarnation to another, and indeed, I believe that Oksana was a close relative of mine in a lifetime past. Our story is described my book.

Though I like science, I have always been attracted to the metaphysical world. Though I knew that going into medicine was the right thing for me to do, I also felt that I had another purpose in life that had to do with the spiritual. It was only in 1996 that I started to realize what that task was. I unexpectedly found myself on a path which led me to investigate objective evidence of reincarnation, as well as a past lifetime of my own. In 2001, I presented my reincarnation research to the International Association of Regression Research and Therapies (IARRT). Approximately a year later, I was elected to the Board of Directors for IARRT.

It is my assertion that the objective evidence of reincarnation that is now emerging, from multiple independent research sources, has the potential to change the world in a fundamental way. This evidence demonstrates that we retain similar facial features, personality traits and even writing style, from lifetime to lifetime. We come back into life with people we have known before, and it appears that we all have a predetermined destiny or life path, which ensures that we rendezvous with souls that we are meant to reunite with, once again.”

Not that only we commit language errors, people from the land of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton also commit follies, despite English being their mother tongue. I wondered after reading a report how people from English speaking countries also misspell words, those which are not difficult ones.
But I have seen people around who justify their language and grammar either calling it as ‘American English’ or ‘Yo yo English’, which is still beyond my comprehension. Pub-going youth not only misspell words and use them, but in fact kill them in their own way. They have their own way to justify to do so, they call it modern and people who fail to understand them are termed as ‘old fashioned’ or dubbed as merely ‘outdated’.
I wish someone conducts a survery even here to check how many people are killing the language and in what manner!
A new study has shown that a majority of Brits find it difficult to properly spell the word ‘definitely’.
The 10-letter word of English language topped the list of commonly misspelt words as most of them mix up the second ‘I’ with an ‘A’.
The second place went to ‘sacrilegious’, where people often get confused over whether it has an ‘E’ or ‘I’ in the middle.
Indict, which is often misspelt as ‘indite’, came third followed by ‘manoeuvre’ at the fourth place.
Britons often face problems due to the proximity of the ‘O’ and ‘E’ to each other.
‘Bureaucracy’ was fifth, which is awkward because the inclusion of so many vowels.
‘Broccoli’, ‘phlegm’, ‘prejudice’, ‘consensus’ and ‘unnecessary’ wrapped up the top ten.
The survey led by www.OnePoll.com showed that nearly one in 10 thought ‘mortgage’ was spelt ‘morgauge’ and seven per cent often spell ‘speech’ as ‘speach’.
Moreover, 90 per cent couldn’t spell ‘diarrhoea’.
“So many of us can’t seem to spell,” a spokesperson for market research company said.
“Whether it is down to the structure of the word, or the frequency of use, there is no excuse not to learn how they are formed. And considering people judge others, yet don’t like their intelligence to be judged by how well they spell, they should up their game and pick up a dictionary,” the spokesperson added.

Top 10 misspelt words are:
1. Definitely
2. Sacrilegious
3. Indict
4. Manoeuvre
5. Bureaucracy
6. Broccoli
7. Phlegm
8. Prejudice
9. Consensus
10. Unnecessary

August 1, 1944

Dearest Kitty,

“A bundle of contradictions” was the end of my previous letter and is the beginning of this one.  Can you please tell me exactly what “a bundle of contradictions” is?  What does “contradiction” mean? Like so many words, it can be interpreted in two ways: a contradiction imposed from without and one imposed from within.  The former means not accepting other people’s opinions, always knowing best, having the last word;  in short, all those unpleasant traits for which I’m known.  The latter, for which I’m not known, is my own secret.

Anne Frank at 11 years of age, two years before going into hiding. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1940.

Anne Frank at 11 years of age, two years before going into hiding. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1940.

As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things.  By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, a saucy joke.  This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper, and finer.

No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me.  Oh, I can be an amusing clown for an afternoon, but after that everyone’s had enough of me to last a month.  Actually, I’m what a romantic film is to a profound thinker – a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten:  not bad, but not particulary good either.

I hate having to tell you this, but why shouldn’t I admit it when I know it’s true?  My lighter, more superficial side will always steal a march on the deeper side and therefore always win.  You can’t imagine how often I’ve tried to push away this Anne, which is only half of what is known as Anne – to beat her down, hide her.  But it doesn’t work, and I know why.

I’m afraid that people who know me as I usually am will discover I have another side, a better and finer side.  I’m afraid they’ll mock me, think I’m ridiculous and sentimental and not take me seriously.

I’m used to not being taken seriously, but only the “lighthearted” Anne is used to it and can put up with it;  the “deeper” Anne is too weak.  If I force the good Anne into the spotlight for even fifteen minutes, she shuts up like a clam the moment she’s called upon to speak, and lets Anne number one do the talking.  Before I realize it, she’s disappeared.

So the nice Anne is never seen in company.  She’s never made a single appearance, though she almost always takes the stage whem I’m alone.   I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am . . . on the inside.  But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself.  And perhaps that’s why – no, I’m sure that’s the reason why – I think of myself as happy on the inside and other people think I’m happy on the outside.  I’m guided by the pure Anne within, but on the outside I’m nothing but a frolicsome little goat tugging at its tether.

As I’ve told you, what I say is not what I feel, which is why I have a reputation for being a boy-chaser, a flirt, a smart aleck and a reader of romances.  The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she couldn’t care less. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way.

If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy.  A voice within me is sobbing, “You see, that’s what’s become of you.  You’re surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you, and all because you don’t listen to the advice of your own better half.”

Believe me, I’d like to listen, but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I’m not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be ill, stuff me with asprins and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can’t keep it up any more, beause when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if . . . if only there were no other people in the world.

Yours, Anne M. Frank

(Three days later, Anne Frank was found and imprisoned.  Later, she was transported to Auschwitz, then later died in Bergen-Belsen.)

Photo: Google