Sunday, 27 February 2022 | Swarn Kumar Anand
Book Name: The Descent: Essay and Critiques 2010-2021
Author: KK Srivastava
Publisher: Authors Press, Rs 295
KK Srivastava’s fifth book, The Descent: Essay and Critiques 2010-2021, is a perceptual collection of eighteen essays and twelve critiques of books. A must read, writes Swarn Kumar Anand
KK Srivastava, a former Additional Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General of India, is an accomplished poet, writer and columnist for almost twenty years now. The Descent: Essays and Critiques (2010-2021) is his fifth book: a collection of eighteen essays and twelve critiques of books. Essays are on topics that “irked” Srivastava’s “conscience” and “jerked” his “perception”. Critiques are of books by persons of stature like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Regis Bonvicino, Kurt F Svatek, Abhay K, Ajay Man Singh, Raj Kamal Jha, Sitakanta Mahapatra, Zafar Anjum and a few more.
In prologue, one notes early on Srivastava’s scholarship where he bemoaned “literary and artistic privation” in places and amid people he grew up with. His literary journey has been a search “for unwalked path” and The Descent is a step forward.
Out of eighteen essays, five: Mann Ki Baat: Esthetic Blend of Flames of the Minds; Covid and Opportunities for Rebirth of Humanism; Modi, Public Will and Intellectuals’ Club; Women and a Just Society; In Relentless Solemn Pursuit of Good Governance and India no more ‘soft state’ under Modi’s Leadership are engrossing commentaries, through the brooding and erudite mind of Srivastava, on Prime Minister Modi’s personality, psychology and approach. Any review merits a good coverage of these, though coverage of other essays and books will also be made.
Prime Minister Modi is a poet. Srivastava found Modi’s poetry book a Journey, (reviewed in the book) “evocative and poignant… and awakens the mind to bloom, expand and glow”. Akin to that Mann Ki Baat: a totally apolitical move, is mass experimentation with the thought-sharing process of 138 crore Indians. Srivastava refers to works of psychologists John Radford and Andrew Burton on thinking where they deal with three activities (i) self observation (ii) self-reports (iii) thinking aloud, and links all these three activities to “Mann Ki Baat”, equating it with “introspective contemplation”. In his essay, Srivastava puts forth a few illustrative aspects of Mann Ki Baat by culling out some material from selected months.
Modi, Public Will and Intellectuals’ Club is a uniquely written essay in as much as it enjoins a responsibility on anti-Modi intellectuals. These intellectuals must appreciate voting behaviour of voters in 2014/2019 elections revealing collective desire for a change and continuance. In power in 2014, Prime Minister Modi meant “change”, a shift. The manifesto of the party set the ball rolling. Modi believed in experimenting with growth agents. He knew the behaviour of markets, producers and consumers. He had guts as he started taking macro socio-economic decisions in overall national interest. He knew people’s disillusionment with previous regimes and the reasons for the disillusionment. “Gujarat model of economic development showed a pious path. It was a clean path too.’
Criticising intellectuals’ intolerance of Modi and the BJP, Srivastava focuses on the crucial role assigned by the rulers in post-Independence India to members of the coterie or “elite group” that were fiercely driven by what John Kenneth Galbraith called “vested interests”. People have an enduring tendency to protect what they have, justify what they want to have. And their tendency is to see as right the ideas that serve such a purpose. They don’t accept today’s New India where there is no space for the “coterie”, “elite group” or “vested interests”. “True democracy nestles not in clubs of ‘elite groups’ and ‘coteries’, with a sense of kinship, but inside the ordinary person who is a voter.” Fortunately, elite groups of intellectuals don’t represent the mean of democracy. The “mean” of democracy is not merely a numeric figure implying the number of votes fetched in an election but a trust that the average Indian reposes in the leader and the party he leads. Indian society that is governed by democracy moves by and large on the principles of trust. Voting system implies trust and reciprocal faith.
In Women and a just Society, the author analyses philosopher Onora O’ Neill thesis on status of women in developing societies and reaches a conclusion, “An emerging NEW INDIA” of Modi very well addresses the issue raised by Onora O Neill. The concept of a just Society is firmly embedded in the multi-peaked idea of a NEW INDIA.
Other essays on Prime Minister Modi are intellectually engrossing and pragmatically crucial.
In Dissent, Disagreement and Davus Complex, he dilates the importance of Hinduism as a philosophy and a way of life which tolerated many onslaughts during its long, vast, varied and peaceful existence, particularly during medieval and modern periods, and while keeping its homogeneity intact, it continues to flourish amid the heterodoxy of co-existence — the greatest symbol of its grandeur.
There are thought provoking essays on Naipaul and Nirad C Chaudhuri with the latter being sad as he noticed no emerging hands to arrest the unbridled progress of Circe. Srivastava skillfully links Chaudhuri’s disenchantment with the India of his times with the current one where massive attempts are being undertaken to clean the system, and evolve a better, matured society through special programmes like Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan, aimed at cleaning roads, streets and infrastructure coupled with fast spreading adoption and absorption of yoga to enhance our mental, physical and spiritual capabilities holistically and a host of other measures. Srivastava optimistically concludes “Had Chaudhuri been alive today and writing The Continent of Circe, he would have definitely been overwhelmed by the presence of a society of trust, wisdom and confidence and would have written a superior, more positive version certainly not with the title — The Continent of Circe. Fortunately now, “the great sorceress” will not be able “to see the completeness of her handiwork”.
Coming to critiques of books, the author has done justice to books. Books critiqued are A Journey by Narendra Modi, Beyond The Wall by Brazilian poet Regis Bonvicino, Austrian’s Kurt F Svatek’s Don’t Come Too Close To The Shore, Firaq Gorakhpuri The Poet of pain and Ecstasy by Ajai Man Singh, She will build him A City by Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Raj Kamal Jha, etc.
Srivastava lauds, “metaphysical connotations, fabulously peaked imaginations and zenith of emotional intensity” in Narendra Modi’s book of poetry A Journey. Bonvicino questions, “What age am I in?” The author interprets it, Bonvicino’s world is a lost world, its retrieval an ongoing enterprise… “The moot question raised in book on Firaq is “Only time will tell, how long Firaq Sahib will live in fast changing society?” Srivastava compares Raj Kamal Jha’s book She will Build Him a City with Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story and concludes “the book shows future a reality, a path”.
In short, The Descent: Essay and Critiques 2010-2021, serious one at that, restores a sense of wonder, joy and fulfillment. A literary treat. A highly recommended book.