By Prem Shankar Jha
The approach of the next general election has reminded political leaders of the existence of the poor in India. This has set off a rash of competing promises to the electorate.
On January 28, three days before the budget, Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced that his party would guarantee a minimum income to every poor family in the country.
As of now neither Rahul, nor anyone else in Congress, has clarified precisely who will benefit from this scheme, but the cost will be prohibitive: At the prevailing minimum wage of Rs 321 a day (Rs 9,630 a month), covering 25% of the families of the country will cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 700,000 crore a year.
How the beneficiaries will be chosen is still unclear. The actual number could be much smaller – perhaps no more than 18% – if we count only those whom the National Sample Survey has placed in its residual category of ‘casual’ workers. But even casual workers make up 18% of the work force. So guaranteeing at least a minimum income will add Rs 500,000 crore to the central government’s expenditures.
The situation in Wazirpur is indicative of the plight of unorganised workers across Delhi. Credit: Amit Kumar
Not to be outdone, three days later, Piyush Goel – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s acting finance minister – announced in his budget speech that the BJP-led government would introduce an immediate income subsidy of Rs 6,000 a year to all farm families with less than two hectares of land. The government has estimated that 12 crore farmers operate on less than two hectares of land. This will therefore add Rs 72,000 crore to the Centre’s annual expenditure.
Goyal also unveiled an insurance scheme for unorganised workers in which the government will match the contributions of Rs 55 to Rs 100 a month of contributors starting from the age of 18, and guarantee them a pension of Rs 3,000 a month after they reach the age of superannuation. On the surface, this looks like a ‘pay as you go’ insurance scheme of the kind that continental European countries have adopted (but the UK and India have not). But it too bears the marks of haste and lack of study.
In ‘pay as you go’ schemes, the annual payout by the insurance company is met by the interest earned on accumulated pension contributions, supplemented by current premium inflows.
If such a scheme is open to anyone who is prepared to pay the required premium, a lock-in period of five to six years before contributors become eligible for its benefits is usually sufficient to make it solvent, without the need for any annual subvention from the exchequer.
But the imposition of a Rs 15,000 ceiling on eligibility for benefits will almost certainly pervert its purpose. For it will provide the employers with a big stick with which to dissuade workers who want a pay hike beyond Rs 15,000: “Stay below it or face the loss of half your pension when you retire”.
Unwittingly, therefore, Goyal has made a similar mistake to what the Speenhamland Act made in England in 1795, when it promised to supplement private wages with a ‘filler’ to raise workers’ living standards to the minimum acceptable level. All that the Act succeeded in doing was to allow employers to lower their wage rates as far as the Speenhamland commissioners would tolerate.
The ‘Speenhamland Effect’ will also ensure that the total number of beneficiaries will far exceed the 10 crore that to the Modi government expects. There are more than 36 crore non-agricultural employees in the unorganised sector. Is there any good reason not to expect 30 crore among them to take out old age pension policies?
If, or rather when, that happens, the government’s outgo on the scheme will rise to Rs 36,000 crore. If one adds to these two schemes the tax, and interest rebates that the interim finance minister has promised, this budget will increase budget spending by Rs 100-125,000 crore in a full year.
Where will this money come from? Neither the Congress nor the BJP has said a word about how it will raise it, so one must conclude that they expect the annual increase in the government’s tax and non-tax revenues to cover the extra spending.
But even a cursory look at the government’s finances will show that while this can happen when the economy is growing at 8-10% a year and industry at 9-12%, as it did between 2003 and 2011, it cannot when industrial growth is stuck at 3-4% a year.
The harsh truth is that the government is broke. To balance its budget in 2017-18, it had to borrow money to meet close to 29% of its expenditure by borrowing money from the public through the sale of bonds by the Reserve Bank of India. The preliminary estimate for 2018-19 is only marginally lower.
Had the borrowed money been going into the creation of infrastructure, as it did in from the ’50s to the ‘70s, it would have given no cause for concern because the additional assets it created would have generated more money and more jobs.
But in 2017-18, very little of the borrowing is being done for investment. Of Rs 5,91,000 crore in 2017-18, Rs 529,000 crore was used to pay the interest on past loans. This is thus a self-contained circle that comes into being in which fresh debt is incurred to meet the cost of servicing past debt.
In short, the government is running the largest Ponzi scheme of all time.
The budget does contain a small allocation Rs 263,000 crore for its capital account. But this money does not create new fixed assets. Most of it goes into the maintenance of the fixed assets – roads, bridges, power stations and the like that were built in the past.
In sum, very little of the money that the government now raises from taxpayers is intended to safeguard the future of the country by creating more and better infrastructure. Nearly all of it is being spent upon salaries and pensions of a bloated bureaucracy whose income is adjusted every five years for inflation, come rain or shine.
What little remains is being spent on an ever-expanding web of social welfare programmes that create immediate relief and garner votes in the next election, but do nothing that will enable the poor to stand on their own feet.
That security comes only with the acquisition of stable, permanent jobs. Neither Rahul Gandhi’s minimum income programme, nor Mr Modi’s Rs 6,000 a year to the superannuated farmer will assure his or her son, daughter or grandchildren a job. To revert to economists’ jargon, every rupee that the government spends on boosting consumption instead of investment, denies someone a job on some date in the not too distant future.
By Raza Naeem
Though Manto had begun writing short columns and commentaries after his association with Musavaat, he wrote his own first original essay on Maxim Gorky with the title Maxim Gorky – the Eminent Thinker of the Red Nation. This was published in the December 1934 issue of Humayunwhen Manto was merely 22 years of age. Then the second essay was on Pushkin, which was published in the Russian Literature Number in May 1935. The same year, Manto compiled the Russian Literature Number of Alamgir and wrote a lengthy introduction to it. Before and after it, his essays Socialist Poetry, Red Revolution, Peasant Worker Capitalist Landlord, etc. were published, reading which one of the great left-wing luminaries of the period Ferozuddin Mansoor confessed:
“Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Maxim Gorky are familiar to Indian readers to an extent. Mr Saadat Hasan Manto and his other friends are doing admirable work in transmitting Russian thought into Urdu.’
(Alamgir, Russian Literature Number)
Maxim Gorky watches revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin playing chess
The essay written on Maxim Gorky begins with a description of the conditions prevalent in Russia. It explores the idea that within Russian language and literature, the two artists who have sketched effective portraits of these conditions and the social system – according to Manto – are Chekhov and Gorky. The essay itself is on Gorky, so while mentioning his school of thought, Manto writes:
“In the school I am referring to, the name of Gorky is especially important, because we find the effect of his thought on the writings of most of the members of this school. The absolute reason for this entire effect is that Gorky indeed is the first person who all at once removed soft and pure elements from Russian realism.”
Then he writes about Russian realism:
“Russian realism was always soft and delicate about morality. Russian writers refrained from the raw materiality and unnecessary plain talk of French novelists. The Russian literature of that time to some extent resembles the English Victorian novel. Ugliness, filth and the sensual aspect of gender relations has always been a forbidden fruit for the Russian writer.”
These lines make clear how closely Manto had studied Russian literature at a young age. No doubt this was Bari Alig’s generosity, but Manto’s personal knowledge and wisdom, too, advanced rapidly towards world literature and was – consciously or otherwise – leveling the path for his thought and art. Eventually his work advanced to a new chapter of savage and complex realism, and he writes directly about Gorky thus:
“Maxim Gorky’s name carried the highest status in the rebirth of Russian literature. In modern writing, only Gorky is world-famous like Tolstoy. His fame is not like the popularity of Chekhov, which is limited to the educated classes of a few countries of the world.”
“Gorky’s character is really very bewildering. Born in a poor family, he dominated Russian literature at only 30 years of age.”
And see also this line:
“He was desirous of giving radiance to the blind flame of Russian literature with his liberating thought; wanted to create an agitation for rebirth in dead, yellow and lifeless skeletons.”
Manto goes on to explore the circumstances, actions and dynamics of Gorky’s life in detail. After all, Manto passed through a period of poverty, want and worry exactly like Gorky.
Gorky met an old soldier who developed his habit of reading books; and Manto met an old communist editor and thinker – both also did translations and wrote short stories during days of real distress. Perhaps these, indeed, were the elements which brought Manto closer to Gorky. Moreover, Gorky remained in a battle with life by confronting all these adverse circumstances and harmonizing his pen and step. Then a time came when in 1895 Gorky’s first collection of short stories appeared which created his national identity; his stories were at once distinct from the traditional fictional style of Russian literature. This is the reason why Marxist writers of the period extended a most warm welcome to his work. Afterwards Gorky himself became a Marxist and was internationally recognized as a very great name of Russian literature. His writings became a staple of every Russian household. Indeed they became a headache for the avenues of power.
“Gorky fully participated in the first (Russian) revolution. He was arrested in January 1905. This arrest led to the creation of new lovers of Gorky around the world.”
In this long essay Manto has also pointed towards a few personal weaknesses of Gorky, but nevertheless allows for the following:
“Though his fame fell in literary circles in this manner but on the other hand, his thought began to find favour with the hearts and minds of Russian workers. The mentality of Russian workers that we find until 1917 was actually thanks to the writings of Gorky. Russian civilization is actually obligated for receiving the sincere activities of Gorky. Every effort between 1918 and 1921 that was put into practice to save Russian writers and other journalists from starvation was only the result of Gorky’s attention.”
Manto analyzes Gorky’s literature as follows:
“In the realism of the initial writings of Gorky, romanticism of the highest order is present. This same element of romanticism proved the reason for his popularity in Russia; but on the other hand, in foreign countries it is his realism which made him famous. The freshness of his first short stories was his young and bold thoughts in the eyes of the Russian reader, but the foreign reader felt the freshness in the raw and oppressive narrative style through which he has depicted his hell-like world.”
The depiction of a hell-like world is also seen in Manto, about which the general opinion is that he indeed took this influence from Gorky and Chekhov.
Then we find a detailed overview of Gorky’s short stories, due to which the essay has indeed become lengthy but at least one can guess that Manto studied the creative literature of Gorky in minute detail and was influenced by his revolutionary ideology. In between, with reference to Gorky, he mentions the following lines from Gorky:
“Life as it is, rather than as it should be, can be imagined or will be…this is Gorky’s art and the secret of Russia’s other short story writers.”
Now let us observe the following lines of Manto, too, which were said afterwards by way of some reaction:
“Life should be presented in a colour as it is, not as it was or will be and should be…”
You will clearly hear the voice of Gorky in these lines. Not just that, he writes in another place about the short story, and especially about Gorky’s work:
“Russian short-story writers have nothing to do with fake humanity or the fake traces of fake life. For them, only the structure of a story could be imaginary, and that’s it! It is necessary for all the rest of the characters to be real.”
Manto, too, adopted the same path in his short stories. This was so especially after he reached Bombay, as there was a lot of fakeness in this great city – even some Progressives who were regarded as less than genuine in their convictions and practices.
Manto, it could be said, learnt this honesty and realism from Gorky, Chekhov, etc. but presented it absolutely in his own distinct manner.
Ghalib and ghazal
By Sarwat Ali
Ghalib became a favourite with the singers after he was accepted as a leading poet. This process started with the publication of a pocket edition from Berlin in 1925, very beautifully printed on thick paper, carrying a striking photograph of Ghalib. During his lifetime, he was appreciated by a few, reviled by a lot more, because his sensibility and views violated the more conventional thinking patterns of Indians in general and Muslims in particular.
Ghazal till the turn of the century was a minor form of singing. The grand tradition had travelled from dhurpad to kheyal in about three centuries while the singing of ghazal was restricted to the salons of dancing girls. With the gradual destruction and lessening of importance of Delhi, other centres started to emerge and kheyal prospered there more than in Delhi in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Thumri too formed a definitive style in Lucknow, Benares and Jaipur.
Gradually, as word displaced sur in music, it edged towards a more central position among listeners who were bigger in number and much more diverse in taste and background. It is very difficult to say which ghazals of Ghalib were sung earlier and were popular with the audience that visited the salons. Even the names of those ghazal singers are not known as the names of famous kheyal and thumri maestros were known and documented in history to come down to us.
As Ghalib grew in popularity, myths about his private life and person started to be spun and grew in proportion; names of some female vocalists were romantically linked to him. This became the grist of the popular show business mill as films, television plays and serials were made, not as a faithful depiction of his life but as necessity of creating a drama.
It can be guessed that Ghalib was not a favourite with vocalists as he was known to be “mushkil pasand”. The poets who were liable to an instant understanding and were more sentimental in tone must have been more sought after. There is great likelihood that someone like Daagh was more in demand than Ghalib. It is possible that poets who were more serious in their approach may have been wary of their ghazals being sung in the salons and appreciated in terms of monetary rewards in the shape of vails. Popular ghazal was also sung in stage plays and it must have matured the art of singing the ghazal because the actors were primarily vocalists.
Many Indians who wanted higher education chose to go to Germany rather than England on a note of defiance because it offered comparable standards of education and scholarship, if not higher, while being in the colonialist’s enemy camp. Aligarh by the turn of the century had cast aside its absolutely loyalist approach after a number of revolts and upheavals to evolve a more balanced view. Some of the revival of our past had its origins in Aligarh. As these scholars and intellectuals went abroad to study, their nationalistic sentiments were stoked by the more liberal atmosphere of the academia in the West. One such person was Zakir Hussain, later Dr. Zakir Hussain, president of India, who went to Germany. His anti-British approach was galvanised in the wake of gruelling scholarship that he was subjected to in the universities of Germany.
It was also from Aligarh that Dewan-e Ghalib along with Veda was proclaimed as an Ilhami Kitab and classified as the best representative of this entire civilisation.
After the first flush of conquest, the nationalistic movement started to gain some confidence. A conscious effort was made to look at our own things without the prejudice of the conqueror, coupled with the insight of the new liberal humanistic education.
Ghalib’s writings can be also seen as the legacy that influenced subsequent poetic endeavour. In one respect, he was extremely elitist and obscure because the Persian language that he wrote and took a great deal of pride in writing was phased out of the lives of the educated or literate Indians. Had he only written in Persian in this part of the world, Ghalib would only have been remembered by the academia and scholars, like Urfi, Nazeeri and Bedil now exist only in the researches .of scholars. But singers made Ghalib a household name among the urban middle classes of North India.
It is very difficult to trace back the history of music because it only existed in time and all else is either hearsay or oral narration. It cannot be recalled for verification and authenticity. The actual history that can be documented started with the recording of sound, and it is said that the recording of music in India started in the early years of the twentieth century. It is also said that the first person to be recorded was Gohar Jan.
For record, we have a 78 rpm disc of Gohar Jan yeh na thi hamari kismet key wisal-e yaar hota. Others of about the same era whose recordings have survived are Shamshad Bai Dilliwali dost ghamkhari main meri saye farmain Ge kiya and Hujrowali taskeen ko hum na roain jo zauq-e nazar mile.
When the vocalists who were valued sang Ghalib, it must have contributed to him being seen as a popular poet. Akhteri Bai Faizabadi, K. L Saigal and Barkat Ali Khan not only sang Ghalib but took the rendition of the form a couple of notches higher. Once this was achieved then everyone sang Ghalib. Talat Mehmood, Kamala Jharia, Malika Pukhraj, Noor Jehan, Suraiya, Mehdi Hasan, Habib Wali Muhammed, Amanat Ali Khan, Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano, Ghulam Ali, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhonsley, Jagjit Singh, you name them and they are there.
Now as we enter another phase of music history, this period is viewed by the younger generation as “classical” as very few actually recall dhrupad and kheyal, generally considered to be classical forms.
By Syed Nomanul Haq
Much has been said about the difficulties one faces in translating poetry. Yes, it is a daunting task, particularly in the case of good poetry. In the case of great poetry, it is ultimately a frustrating task. The reasons are obvious: great poets take upon themselves the onus of exhausting the possibilities of the medium in which they work — colour, brush and pencil for a Picasso or a Michelangelo; words and their history, metaphors and symbolism, rhythm and balance for a Shakespeare or a Ghalib. Their works resist and militate any attempt at transferring them from their own medium into another. Intriguingly, it is precisely this demurral to dislocation that happens to be the testimonial flag of their greatness.
Translating classical Urdu poetry has its own peculiar, in fact unique, challenges. Here is a tradition that arises from the bosom of an indelibly and irreversibly language-bound milieu. Linguistic usages, idioms, turns of phrase, phonetics, mixing of the metaphorical with the real, semantic ranges and the multivalence of verbal expressions — sometimes Urdu poetry is an embodiment of all this. Remove it from its linguistic soil and it wilts, or else it changes its looks. How have our English translators struggled throughout with the word jigar (literally ‘liver’) in Urdu poetry, or the word naaz (often translated as ‘coquetry’), or adaa (‘style’), or khamyaaza (literally, ‘yawning’), or pindaar (rendered generally as ‘conceit’)! The trouble is that all these words have a whole range of meanings, and they are drenched in Urdu poetic formulary: how can this be carried over into the poetic form of another language?
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, master craftsman that he is, exploits in his verse a pretty wide range of meanings and usages of a given word or phrase at once, so skilfully that all of them make sense at the same time. As a matter of fact, there is a standard poetic device called ihaam (literally, ‘to put into deception’), a praiseworthy artifice (san‘at) whereby a word is used such that it has a plain/well-known meaning and a distant/obscure meaning or meanings, and either both the former and the latter work equally well, or it is the latter that is intended, and thereby the reader is ‘deceived’. Ghalib has employed this device frequently — for example, he uses the word shikast, at once meaning both ‘defeat’ and ‘breakage’, and they both work simultaneously:
[What is the echo/sound of the breaking of the value/price of a heart]
Another word which functions in its dual meaning in a verse is shor — ‘noise’ as well as ‘salt’. So,
[The outcry/uproar of the counsel of the Adviser sprinkled salt on the wound]
In fact, the same plurality of meaning is exploited in the second half of this verse in which the word maza appears, both in the literal sense of ‘taste’ as well as metaphorical sense of ‘fun’ or ‘joy’. This is Ghalib’s superb craft. But more, in his fascinating visuality, this poetic giant makes use even of the shape of letters as they are actually scribed in the Urdu script. It seems to me, albeit tentatively, that this visual technique is unique to Ghalib in the whole history of Urdu poetry.
So how does one translate Ghalib, say, into English? Some people say this is not possible at all, and so, alas, the treasure of the Urdu ghazal must remain hidden from the world audience. And yet, the ingenuity of some people has found ways of getting round the challenge so as not to surrender completely. One way is that of Frances Pritchett. Indeed, the Urdu world ought to be forever grateful to this indefatigable scholar for her Columbia site ‘A Desertful of Roses’, a work on which she has practically invested a lifetime. What Pritchett has done is a strictly literal and accurate English translation of Ghalib, eschewing all consideration of the elegance/inelegance of her literal translations and supporting every single verse with copious notes and references, along with commentaries, both her own and by other modern and classical scholars. And there is more to the Pritchett bouquet, more by way of indices, glossaries, lists and the like. This is some feat! Among other things, the Pritchett method is an invaluable tool for teaching Ghalib to students of Urdu poetry.
But then, some poetically adventurous translators have found other methods of handling the challenge. What we see among these is the method, not of translating Ghalib into English directly, but of transcending him in verse. What does this mean? This means several things. One is to construct one’s own verse inspired by the words of Ghalib, so what we get is not Ghalib, but rather, shadow Ghalib. In my view, this is what Jane Hirshfield has done in her beautiful casting of the ‘shadow’ in English. Strictly speaking, here Ghalib serves as the point of departure, a taxiing runway, an anchor.
But transcending Ghalib also means rendering him into English freely and, instead of providing notes and explanations, constructing more than one version of the rendering. A remarkable pioneering example of this method is the recent work of Shahid Alam, Intimations of Ghalib, published by Orison Books. What we find here is the identification of particular central themes in the original ghazals, a considered liberty on the part of the author. He gives titles to Ghalib’s ghazals — note that traditionally the ghazal genre does not carry any titles; there is a variegated multiplicity of subjects in a ghazal such that each verse is an independent poem in itself.
But what is novel in this method of bringing Ghalib into English is the construction of more than one version. This is an acknowledgement that the original cannot be rendered into English in any exhaustive single manner. Thus, by providing several possibilities, and doing so in verse, saves the author from having to interrupt his line’s poetic flow by interposing notes and annotations. This is highly ingenious. But why didn’t I call this act ‘transcreation’? Because Ghalib will not allow us to create him in any way other than his own.
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