Coorgi Cutter on the Loose

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Sarita Mandanna has written a very expensive brochure, says Arul Mani

TIGER HILLS follows the fortunes of Devi who is born to the Nachimanda family amidst scenes of celebration — she is the first girl-child they’ve seen in 60 years. Devanna of the Kambeymada family comes to live with Devi’s family after domestic upheavals drive his mother to suicide. He spends his adolescence besotted with Devi. She falls in love with his cousin Kambeymada Machaiah who must wait the three years that remain of a 12-year vow of celibacy. Devanna commits an act of violence in a drunken stupor — which plunges their lives into misery that takes a lifetime to undo.

Tiger Hills Sarita Mandanna Viking 464 pp;Rs 599
Tiger Hills Sarita Mandanna Viking 464 pp;Rs 599

Sarita Mandanna’s first novel does some things right. The time-frame is well-chosen — a period of largely self-negotiated transition for the Kodava community. She also builds interesting relationships such as the one between Devanna and his German mentor. And there is a tragic sweep to her story-telling that is not the easiest thing to achieve. The good things are overshadowed by the irritations. Mandanna displays an unfortunate fondness for phrasing her sentences in the relentless technicolour favoured by brochure-writers (“Dawn hung suspended over Tiger Hills… a fulgent mist rolled in from the mountains”). Her notion of getting into a character’s skin involves fevered muttering, followed invariably by a climax in italics. She punctuates the narrative with a resoundingly empty symbol — a cloud of herons that had me regretting all the airgun practice I forwent as a lad. Mandanna may go down in history as a pioneer of the flashback-rape. One of the characters is sodomised in college — with a bone — and this worthy returns to Coorg drunk and rapes a woman while the repressed memory of his own rape plays inside his head. That one move effortlessly puts all of Bollywood’s 90 years in the shade.

Minus about 200 pages, and above frills, Tiger Hills might have made for a far more impressive debut.

Photo: AP, Naveesh Tejpal


Will They Get Our Bellies?

Marie-Monique Robin has laid bare the criminal DNA of Monsanto. Enough reasons to throw it out, says PM Bhargava

The World According To Monsanto Marie-Monique Robin Tulika Books 373 pp; Rs 675
The World According To Monsanto Marie-Monique Robin Tulika Books 373 pp; Rs 675

FOOD BUSINESS is the biggest business in the world and whoever controls it controls the world. That this is what Monsanto and its patron, the US Government, want to do is the message that comes out strongly in this extremely wellresearched book. The route to food domination will be through genetically manipulated (GM) seeds, pesticides and weedicides..

Historically, this is a logical follow-up of a host of dangerous toxic chemicals that Monsanto has been making one after the other — polychlorinated biphenols that cause cancer, dioxins that lead to chloracne, the deadly weedicide Round-Up (glyphosate), GM bovine growth hormone that produce painful mastitis in cattle, and genetically modified organisms such as GM corn, GM soya and Bt cotton, of which a variety of health hazards are now being increasingly documented in reliable scientific literature.

All this was preceded by Agent Orange, the defoliant used extensively by the Americans in Vietnam, contaminating more than 3,000 villages and defoliating between five and 10 million acres of plants and trees. I saw the consequences of this in 1982 while directing, under UNESCO, the first international scientific course after the war in Hanoi. I was taken several hundred kilometres south by Vietnam’s health minister. The surrealistic picture of mile-after-mile of denuded trees still haunts me.

Robin clearly brings out the cocktail of techniques that Monsanto has used to incur often irreversible damage to plant and animal life, including humans, and done so under the garb of humanitarian action such as making the world produce enough food to take care of its bourgeoning population. This deadly cocktail, all to maximise the company’s profits, includes lies, falsification of data, suppression of information, false advertising claims, shady scientific work, contamination of the environment, bribery, threats to whistle-blowers, controlling the media, victimisation of farmers, and control of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in its own country through collusion of the US Government.

Monsanto’s propensity for criminal and unethical acts is built into its genes

In fact, we in India have evidence of it all — evidence that has inexorably led to an indefinite moratorium on the release of Monsanto-Mahyco’s Bt brinjal.

This book gives us enough reasons to throw Monsanto out of India in national interest and freeze the assets of such companies if they don’t behave — which, as the book brings out, they are unlikely to do. The propensity to indulge in criminal, illegal and unethical acts, like the ones I have mentioned above, is built in their genes. With its corruption status, India is unlikely to fare better than Indonesia where Monsanto bribed more than 140 government officials to have its Bt cotton released without an environmental risk assessment. Yet, there is hope with what we did with Monsanto-Mahyco’s Bt brinjal, and the fact that even the US could not have Monsanto market its Round-Up Ready wheat.

If our government does not learn a lesson from Robin’s book, it must lose the right to govern the country.

Dr Bhargava is a molecular biologist and was a Supreme Courtappointed observer of GEAC, India’s GM regulatory body

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‘Bt cotton caused the trap that led to Indian farmer suicides’

The digger Journalist Marie-Monique Robin
The digger Journalist Marie-Monique Robin

What is at stake with GMOs and Monsanto?
Marie-Monique Robin, 50, is a French investigative journalist who won the Albert Londres prize for her exposé on organ transplants. Her work on Monsanto was first released as a documentary. She spoke to Samrat Chakrabarti from France. Excerpts:

How did you begin researching Monsanto ?
Some years ago I went to India to tell the story of bio-piracy, such as patenting of neem by an American company. In Punjab I met with farmers’ organisations that told me you should do something on Monsanto. I asked them why, and they said, “We Indian farmers would like to know more about this company and why it’s buying up all the major seed companies in India.” Everywhere I went, I heard about this company called Monsanto. And so I began researching. It was incredible to discover its criminal past. With GM organisms (GMO), too, it was the exact same criminal process at work — lying, concealing, falsifying.

Have you been threatened by Monsanto ?
During my investigation I was very afraid, knowing that Monsanto uses litigation to intimidate people. Every part of the documentary and book has been reviewed by a lawyer and I was sure I would win any case — but to win I might have to sell my house. Then something quite incredible happened. When the documentary and book released in France, it got a huge following on the Internet, which made it counter-productive for Monsanto to come after me. I showed my documentary in the Congress and equivalent bodies in France, Canada, Paraguay, Brazil, Argen tina, Luxembourg — and it had a huge impact. Scientists couldn’t dismiss my story because the core of my investigation was to show that there was nothing scientific about the principle of substantial equivalence (that says that a GMO plant is the same as a non-GMO plant). It was a Monsanto invention to introduce GMOs as quickly as possible into the market without any health or environment assessment. This hit Europe like a bomb since it was the reason for GMOs there. Now Europe does not allow it and my earnest hope is that India does the same, because it’s a disaster. There were two things that moved me the most in my investigation — one was how Monsanto is destroying communities in the US by making farmers spy on each other to prevent patent infringement, and the other was the farmer suicides in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh where Bt cotton was introduced. Farmer suicides is nothing new, neither in India or even here in France, but there is no doubt in my mind that Bt cotton was a great contributor in pushing Indian farmers into the debt trap that led to these suicides.

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The word

Rahul DA Cunha 
Theatre Director

By Pragya Tiwari

A book that means a lot to you?
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. When I first read the book in 1977, I found the stream of consciousness technique of writing so unique, fresh. A narrative that followed a person’s thoughts!

Your favourite genre?
Travel and murder mystery.

Your favourite character?
Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. So messed up, but so inspired.

An underrated book?
I think Amitav Ghosh is an underrated writer — what with all the fuss surrounding Rushdie, Vikram Seth and now Chetan Bhagat.

An overrated book? 
Anything by Chetan Bhagat. How we’ve dumbed down as a race!

How many books do you own? 
About 200. My passions are theatre, film, cricket, travel, photography and politics — so most of my books cover these areas.

Last book bought?
Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book.

Last book read?
Susan Sontag’s On Photography.
Enjoyed the book as Sontag gives you the passion behind the cra of taking photographs.

A book you wish you’d written? 
Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Again both these books are written in a refreshing first-person style — very modern. Both books written in the late sixties, early seventies. So ahead of their time.

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