Jaswant Singh deserves credit for his harsh criticism of the U.S. decision to supply F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. It is a pity Indian Americans, and indeed Pakistani Americans, have largely chosen to remain silent on this important issue. Was the sale a reward for Pakistan’s relentless war on terrorism? Hardly! Consider the facts: the United States invades Iraq, a country that didn’t possess WMDs and had no alliance with Al Qaeda, and rewards Pakistan even after Islamabad admitted that Pakistani nuclear weapons trafficker Abdul Qadeer Khan—the father of his nation’s nuclear bomb—provided Iran and Libya with the centrifuges essential to such a program.
In an unguarded moment, the grand duchess of the imperial empire, Condi Rice, clarified the core of American foreign policy in stark terms—“to promote American interests (code language for corporate interests).”
The timing of such a sale could not be worse. Just as India and Pakistan are tiptoeing to a period of rapprochement and lowering tensions, the decision is certain to escalate tensions and re-ignite the arms race.
Furthermore, the decision seems particularly hypocritical at a time when the United States scolded European nations for considering lifting their arms embargo on China. Such is the morality of nations driven by corporate profits rather than the sanctity of human life. Pakistan also deserves to be admonished. It is unconscionable that it is squandering its foreign reserves on war machines rather than diverting resources to raise the standard of living of its impoverished people.
I urge our community to raise its voice to oppose the planned sale of F-16 jets to Pakistan.
Jagjit Singh, Palo Alto, Calif.
IS THE STORY ORIGINAL?
I read with deep awe the prize-winning entry in Katha: Indian-American Fiction Contest of 2005 (“The Talkative Donkey of Balram Singh,” IC, June 2005), and wondered what the standards of judgment were. From a linguistic perspective, it’s true, writer Amit Majmudar has done a great job in narrating the story and in keeping the humor intact through his excellent use of grammar and vocabulary. But what about originality in thoughts and ideas? This story is an adaptation of the novels Ek Gadhey Ki Atam Katha (The Autobiography of a Donkey) and Ek Gadhey Ki Waapasi (The Return of a Donkey) written on political satires by Hindi-Urdu renowned writer Krishan Chander somewhere in 1950-1960. He also happens to be my uncle and I still have those novels, then known as Pocket Books, in my house in India.
I understand that the judges may not be aware of the nonoriginality of this idea and awarded First Prize for this entry based on their criteria of penmanship. However, if we wish to raise our standards as writers and authors in English, this is my suggestion that judges’ criteria should be highlighted for general public, clear-cut rules for entries (translations, adaptations, compilations okay or not) and copyright violations thereof should be posted at the time of announcing the contest.
As a general culture of writers all over the world, don’t we give credit to the original author if the entry is a translation or adaptation or the like from someone’s previous work irrespective of where the idea is now in the public domain? Wouldn’t it only be more ethical? Think about it, I can take the Akbar-Birbal stories or Russian folktales or Munshi Prem Chand stories and concoct those high-definition concepts in beautiful English as my own work of fiction without mentioning or crediting where the idea came from. The crispiness in the stories would bring awards to me as well, but where would I be standing as an author? This is what we need to work on. As a public platform, India Currents should emphasize originality in thoughts or otherwise in such contests in order to strengthen and broaden the Indian diaspora in the West.
Anu Sharma, El Cerrito, Calif.
THE AUTHOR RESPONDS
The idea of the talking donkey used for satirical purpose dates far, far back—in fact, much farther back than the letter-writer thinks. In the Eastern tradition, it dates back to the Panchatantra. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it dates back to the story of Balaam’s ass in the Bible; in that case, too, the ass is wiser than his master. In the classical Western tradition, a talking donkey is used to satirical ends in Metamorphoses (or The Golden Ass), by a Latin author named Apuleius, who in turn borrowed from Aesop, who in turn borrowed from India’s own Panchatantra. I strongly recommend all three of these books to your readers, and I am not ashamed to acknowledge such brilliant precedents for my story. For the record, however, I have never heard of the author (Krishan Chander) to whom the letter-writer refers, nor his book. Nor can I read or write Hindi or Urdu. Furthermore, while the idea of the talking donkey has a rich history, the actual events of my story are, to my knowledge at least, entirely original.
“Originality” itself, and the high (in this case, absolute) prestige accorded to it, is actually a concept that entered Western literature in the 19th century during the Romantic era. While the letter-writer disparages my work for “unoriginality,” perhaps she should also berate the Tamil poet Kampan and the Avadhi poet Tulsidas for lifting their story entirely from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Or that poet named Shakespeare for adapting Plutarch’s Life of Caesar into a play called Julius Caesar and “stealing” the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Greek mythology to write Romeo and Juliet. It seems our letter-writer is quite familiar with her own uncle’s book—perhaps she should familiarize herself with some others before she detracts from a young writer’s first experience of recognition.
Amit Majmudar, Cleveland, Ohio