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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
      CURRENT ISSUE JANUARY 24, 2005
 
     SOCIETY & THE ARTS: BOOKS
 
You're Neoconned

Take it with a pinch of salt: what is the vocabulary of the world where the national holiday occurs only once in every 28 years and where Irony Curtain marks the cultural divide?
 
THE FUTURE OF KNOWLEDGE & CULTURE
Ed by Vinay Lal and Ashis Nandy
Viking
Price: Rs 595 Pages: 375
THE FUTURE DICTIONARY OF AMERICA
Ed by Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers, Nicole Krauss and Eli Horowitz
McSweeney's Books and Barsuk Records
Price: £14.99 Pages: 208

Has the millenarian gone speechless? Words fail to catch up with reality, and reality, whenever it pauses for a while, ridicules the exhausted lexicon. It is an ontological blackout, and he can't even command memory to speak. So, in this foggy morning of the 21st century, as Babel has more towers than it can afford, he can only aspire to be a translator of echoes. From Mesopotamia to Madison Avenue, from the spider hole to the stem-cell lab, from the rearmed neocon to the disarmed Baathist, from Rumsfeldian haiku to Bushist epigrams, from genetics to genocide, it is a long, winding, stretch of catch-me-if-you-can sort of text with an outdated glossary. In politics, culture, technology, fashion, ethics, science, art and religion, the inherited vocabulary doesn't work, any longer. Everything-man, machine and the metaphor-has slipped out of context, and new definitions and additions are needed to make the zeitgeist bearable, comprehensible. Language needs a lobotomy.

  PICTURE SPEAK
Overdog

So here is a refresher course for those who can't read the tea leaves. Or a linguistic prism through which they can see the future, read it, touch it, feel it, and, when the spell recedes, if they wish so, run away from it. From elsewhere in the future, all are invited to read the world-a "bushwhacked" world, of course. There are new constructions and old ones with new meanings. The Future Dictionary of America is a smarter, cleverer rejoinder to the Word According to the Bush Era and, like almost everything American, it has a global resonance, no matter you read it in Delhi or in Fallujah. Written by some of the finest contemporary writers-among them Paul Auster, Jonathan Franzen, T.C. Boyle, Peter Carey, Simon Schama, Stephen King, Manil Suri and Joyce Carol Oates-this wicked volume, illustrated and accompanied by a 22-track CD with new songs for the future, is a multimedia "attalk", pronounced at-tok, ("to set upon rhetorical force for the specific purpose of defusing a volatile situation; to bring into a peaceful state by talking; to affect positively through articulation") on the leadership of George W. The "progressive cause" in America, unlike its counterpart in the Third World, can afford to have some brainy panache, even if the tongue is firmly in the left cheek.

  PICTURE SPEAK
Virgin
  PICTURE SPEAK
Smoking jacket
  PICTURE SPEAK
News

No playful peek into the big, bad, boisterous tomorrow in The Future of Knowledge & Culture, subtitled "The Dictionary for the 21st Century", edited by the formidable Ashis Nandy, India's intellectual at large, and Vinay Lal, who, apart from other things, studies Nandy. It is not much of a dictionary but an anthology in alphabetical order that intends to "contribute to a different, self-reflexive and perhaps more self-doubting cultural politics of knowledge". Well, the range-from Coca-Cola to laughter to Singapore to Yahoo!-is representative. It is a pretty serious book, as serious as sociology in a dissertation paper can be, like "Transmodernism is the transfer of modernity from the edge of chaos into a new order of society". Some familiar and brilliant ideas gasp for air in jargon-heavy pages. Only Nandy -he can be pop and profound, unlike most classroom intellectuals-and a few others can pull it off with ease and elegance. Be it Coca-Cola or sugar, Nandy is breezy and brainy. Otherwise, this dictionary is as refreshing as "Weapons of mass destruction are a product of the clash of civilisations, the triangulation of interventionary fronts, not their cause". Wow!

  PICTURE SPEAK
Neocon

It is not a case of "paradoxysm", which the other dictionary defines as "a sudden attack of understanding that allows you to hold sparring statements in your mind without feeling like you have to choose one side over the other". The Future Dictionary of America is more creative as well as expansive, and it is designed as a proper dictionary, so mischievously. Here it goes. Karmageddon: "The culminating event in the War Between Heaven and Heck that ended on July 4, 2044 a.d. (40 A. GWB.), when surviving religious Fundamentalists of all faiths were airlifted off the long suffering planet they'd nearly brought to ruin and-receiving richly deserved retribution-were forced to leave even their dentures behind." Neocon: "To deceive, particularly by sounding false alarms. Once the residents were neoconned into fleeing their homes, which were not on fire, the thieves made off with their possessions. Also, when the practice is accompanied by fraudulent appeals to one's patriotism and love of liberty." Rumsfeld: "One who can stomach casualties." Well, it is a world of terrarism and skinicism, of immigranitis and genopolitics, of democrazy and candidoxy, of mom-o-meter and dad-o-meter, and where sex, cheney, nature, news, brain, marriage, gun, enron and bush mean not what we think they mean.

This is extreme "errogance" of writers and artists disgusted with the new "imperiology" of the Bush Administration. It is a kind of Fahrenheit 9/11 by other means, but certainly much superior as the art of dissent, even though the politics of "the progressive cause" quite often misses the morality of the "neocon job". Then, it is counter-morality, and counter-utopia, as seen from a distant but possible future where the remains of the Bush era would be archival items in a world re-programmed. And language is victim as well as redeemer when mind subverts the pretence of power. A dictionary is all about language, and in this one, some of the fine users of language write their alternative to "Rumsfeldian Geometry" and what they think are other grotesqueries. And it is fun, funnier than the "neoillogism" of the secretary of defense or his boss-or, for that matter, some contributors in the other dictionary.


AUTHORSPEAK: ASHUTOSH SHESHABALAYA

Rider on the Fast Track

Accidents by definition are not pre-planned pit stops. Except when you are an engineering student-turned-humanities scholar-turned-journalist-turned-technology consultant named Ashutosh Sheshabalaya called Tosh who lives in Belgium. An avid biker, 45-year-old Tosh frequently burns tyre on asphalt astride his BMW 1100, cutting across the Belgian borders for a high on the German autobahns. Last August he was thrown off his BMW and into a hospital. Most mortals would have checked in for introspection. Tosh turned it into a break to put his thoughts onto the laptop and bring out Rising Elephant.

It is not your regular book even if Macmillan calls it one. It is a breathless collection of anecdotes, facts and opinions on India's march towards economic stardom. That the book has 36 pages of bibliography and an index of events and names that runs into 11 pages should give you an idea of the page-to-page carpet bombing of facts. And, no, this is not just another treatise on the teeming graduates trundling out of university turnstiles, fuelling India's mind power. It is actually all of that and an attempt to "address the deficit of reasoned analysis on India" as it emerges as a world power-economically, militarily and, of course, technologically. Having "first spotted the $10 billion export potential of the Indian it industry as early as 1997", Tosh has made it a habit to puncture prejudices, force publications to correct notions and organisations like the EU to take note of India-all this with a data bank of four lakh articles on the country on his desktop. If you are an Indo-sceptic then Sheshabalaya is not the kind of guy you would want on the next seat on a long flight for he would convert you with an evangelistic zeal that borders on obsession. "India's success is as much about secularism, pluralism, democracy and free markets," he argues

Provoke him and trigger a flood of quotes, even some kitsch. Sample these: Secularism in the West is an accident; India isn't cheap but the West is expensive; India is permanently organic unlike the south-east Asian tigers. But like a good rider, Tosh manages to balance his rhetoric and his rationale. So how come he pitch-forked off his saddle? Makes you wonder. It is almost as if the accident was by design.

-By Shankkar Aiyar

 

INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
CURRENT ISSUE
JANUARY 24, 2005
 IN THIS ISSUE
COVER STORY

Just Do It

 
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Spiritually Charged
For A Force Multiplier
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Nation Of Freeloaders
Fishing In Troubled Waters

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The Riot Choice

You're Neoconned

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