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Gandhi's Model of Masculinity in the Backdrop of Colonial India
By Shyam Pakhare*
Abstract

Though few in number, the British were able to rule India for about 200 years, by overpowering th0e minds of Indians. For years, it was impressed upon them that the British and their institutions were far superior to the Indians' and could not be challenged. Gandhi knew very well that there was a continuous psychological war going on between Indian and British men. The imperialist British had overpowered Indian men physically and mentally. Indian men had become effeminate as a result of their surrender to hegemonic British imperialist masculinity. Gandhi was the leader of this disarmed army of poor and dumb millions. He had to redesign and redefine the traditional concept of masculinity to suit the condition of India. He presented a new model of masculinity to confront the hegemonic British imperialist masculinity.


There are several works on Gandhi in different languages. But there is no study that details the masculinity of Gandhi. Gandhi fought against hegemonic British imperialist masculinity and in the course of his struggle, designed his own unique model of masculinity. It found expression in his political, social and economic thought.

Defining Masculinity

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, masculine means "having qualities associated with men" that is, masculinity has to do with particular traits and qualities rather than with biology. Collins' Thesaurus has the following equivalents for masculine—'male, manful, manlike, manly, mannish, virile, bold, brave, butch, gallant, hardy, macho, muscular, powerful, red-blooded, resolute, robust, stout­hearted, strapping, strong, vigorous, well built.' This list gives us an idea of the physical and behavioural traits a society expects from men.
Men who are gentle are derisively called feminine; on the other hand, women who are strong and in control are called manly or masculine.
Masculinity is a social definition given to boys and men by societies. It is a socio-cultural construct. Nature makes us male or female, it gives us our biological definition, but it is society which makes us masculine or feminine. It defines how boys/men should behave, dress, appear; what attitudes and qualities they should have, how they should be treated. Masculinity defines relationships among and between men and women.


Colonial Masculinity

Colonialism is a system of domination, exploitation and underdevelopment of one society by another.1
The term 'Colonial Masculinity' includes the notions of masculinity of the coloniser and the colonised men. According to R. W. Connell, there is a dimension of masculinity in the culture of imperialism and in the construction of nationalism and national identities.2 He writes, "Empire was a gendered enterprise from the start, initially an outcome of the segregated men's occupations of soldiering and sea trading."3 Connell also thinks that state elites are the preserve of men. The state arms men and disarms women and in this way the state both institutionalizes hegemonic masculinity and expends great energy in controlling it.4
Basil Mathews writes about the geographical span of white dominance highlighting the British dominance in 1925, "...There are on the earth some fifty-three million square miles of habitable land surface. Of those miles forty-seven million are under white dominance-or nearly nine-tenths of the whole habitable area of the world. . . . Of all this vast area of forty-seven million square miles controlled by the white races, by far the greater part is under the hand of the English-speaking peoples. Of every seven people in the British Empire six are coloured. That white leadership of the world-and especially the British authority-is the dominating feature in the world's political landscape...."5
In the nineteenth century there was a school of thinkers like Treitschke who maintained that right of independent existence belonged only to the better peoples of the world-who had spiritual and cultural values peculiarly worth preserving and disseminating.6 It rested on the hypothesis that the physically powerful people are the best people.7 But colonialism is not merely a physical invasion; it is also the invasion of the minds of the subject people.
The contours of colonial masculinity were shaped in the context of an imperial social formation that included both Britain and India.8 The Hindu rhetoric of identity formation began as a part of anti colonial struggle.9 Colonial masculinity includes the idea of masculinity of both colonizers and colonized and its effects on their respective societies.


Subordination of Indian Masculinity

The British rule over India became a reality after the defeat of the Marathas in 1818. It was a difficult task for a handful of British to dominate a populous and vast country like India with only physical power. It was important to subjugate the minds of the Indians. This subjugation was an interplay of masculinities.
The British colonial masters launched a 'propaganda' to impress the Indians that they were weak, effeminate and unfit to rule themselves. They disarmed Indian men by passing the Arms Act of 1878. They called educated Bengali men who were aspiring for equal treatment as 'effeminate Bengali.' This term was later applied to all educated Indian men. Imperialist historians and journalists like Katherine Mayo played a major role in this propaganda. In this background Gandhi's model of masculinity evolved.


Making of Gandhi's Model of Masculinity

Gandhi's life can be classified into three phases. First phase lasted up to 1893 when he was under the influence of late Victorian masculinity and tried to imitate the British gentleman. The second phase between 1893 to 1919 can be considered as a transition phase of his life in which he was in search of self identity. The third phase was the final phase when he lost faith in the British Empire and gave final shape to his own model of masculinity.
The loss of faith in the British Empire came with the passage of Rowlatt Act and massacre at Jalianwalla Bagh in 1919 and unjust convictions of the people in the cases under Punjab Martial Law. He came to the conclusion that co-operation with this empire was a 'sin' and non-cooperation a 'virtue' because people had a right to self- respect and dignity.10 It was the major turning point and the beginning of the third and final phase of Gandhi's life.
We come across the words 'emasculation/ 'manhood' a number of times in Gandhi's writings and speeches on political, social and economic condition of India. Gandhi believed that India was manly under the Mughal and Maratha rule and an orderly humiliation and emasculation of the whole nation was going on under the British Empire.11
Gandhi knew it very well that there was a continuous psychological war going on between Indian and British men. The imperialist British had overpowered the Indian men physically and mentally too. Gandhi believed that compulsory disarmament had made Indians unmanly and the presence of an alien army, employed with deadly effect to crush the spirit of resistance, had made Indians think that they could not defend themselves against foreign aggression.12 Gandhi raised the demand for the right to carry arms from various platforms. It was one of the major demands presented to the Viceroy before launching the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930.13 Gandhi was the leader of this disarmed army of poor and dumb millions. He had to redesign and redefine the traditional concept of masculinity to suit the condition of India.
Gandhi's model of masculinity was designed combining the best features of Eastern and Western culture after removing their defects. Gandhi knew that it was difficult to compete British imperialist masculinity with physical power; so he gave emphasis on moral superiority. By presenting this new model of masculinity, Gandhi wanted to remove the inferiority complex from the minds of Indian men.
Local, regional, national and international influences and factors played an important role in the making of the masculinity of Gandhi. I have tried to study his model of masculinity in the form of body and social practices.


Body Practices
(a) Celibacy:

Gandhi wanted India to become 'a celibate nation' in order to rebuild herself. Gandhi firmly believed in the connection between celibacy and strength. He also believed that semen had to be preserved to gain physical and moral power. He thought that the unchaste man loses stamina, becomes emasculated and cowardly.14 He also connected sexual pleasures with anger, hatred leading to violence.15 Satyagrahi had to observe marital celibacy and indulge in sex only for procreation and not for carnal pleasures. He expected a satyagrahi to postpone the birth of a child till the achievement of independence.16
Gandhi believed that satyagraha was based on soul force. He did not want satyagrahi men to get distracted by sensory pleasures. For Gandhi, a war was being fought between Indian and imperialist British men, more at a psychological level than physical level. Victory depended on mental toughness. By making celibacy an integral part of satyagraha, Gandhi tried to develop a feeling of high moral character, self respect and self confidence among Indian men. When Victorian men were sacrificing their family life for the nation, Gandhi expected satyagrahi men also to perform the same sacrifice. He wanted to show the British men that Indian men were not inferior to them in any way.

(b) Diet and Fasting:Non-vegetarian diet has always been considered essential for body building. But in Gandhi's model of masculinity, priority was given to soul power over physical power. Non-violence is inherent in vegetarian diet and has always been considered as morally superior to non-vegetarian diet in India. Gandhi believed that the control of palate was the first essential rule in the observance of the celibacy and the food of the celibate should be limited, simple, spiceless and if possible, uncooked.17
Fasting was also an important aspect of his experiments in dietetics as it was considered as an aid to national progress, to the development of national ideals and to the attainment of restraint over human passions such as hunger.18 Gandhi used fasting as a symbolic gesture in the freedom struggle to demonstrate the moral superiority of a satyagrahi man over the British.
Selflessness was an important feature of Gandhi's model of masculinity. Gandhi tried to project the satyagrahi as a selfless man who had renounced even the basic pleasures of life such as enjoying food. The satyagrahi was ready to even renounce food itself for the cause of the nation. Gandhi was using religious symbolism to make his model of masculinity highly respectable among the Indian masses and in front of the British imperialist men.


Social Practices
(a) Non-violence:

Gandhi's definition of non-violence covered not only physical non-violence but also non-violence in thought.19 Satyagrahi man had to follow non-violence towards men, birds and animals.20
Non-violence practised by satyagrahis was the non-violence of a strong man. Gandhi writes, "...I am not pleading for India to practice non-violence because it is weak. I want her to practice non-violence being conscious of her strength and power. No training of arms is required for realization of her strength..."21 He also writes that it would be unmanly for him to obey unjust laws.22 Gandhi writes in Harijan dated 3rd March, 1946, "....I want Swaraj in the winning of which even women and children would contribute an equal share with physically the strongest. That can be under ahimsa only. I would, therefore, stand for ahimsa as the only means for obtaining India's freedom even if I were alone."23 Gandhi expected satyagrahis to imbibe the redefined 'Kshatriya' spirit. The markers of the new Kshatriya spirit were forbearance, readiness to forgive, compassion, nobility, the strength to stand unshaken and fearless under shower of bullets. He would receive blows instead of killing others.24

(b) Religion: Gandhi was a deeply religious person. His political, social and economic thought also sprang from spirituality. For him, belief in God was one of the indispensable qualifications of a satyagrahi.
Gandhi's religion was cosmopolitan in nature. After the comparative study of different religions Gandhi came to the conclusion that Hinduism has an edge over other religions because it is 'most tolerant’, 'most free' of dogmas, gives the 'largest scope' for self-expression and offers the 'highest expression and application' to the principle of universal compassion.25 But Gandhi was against religious conversion because it assumes that a particular religion represents the final truth.26
Gandhi thought that if political life could be spiritualized, it would have a profoundly transformative effect on the rest of society. He made Hinduism human centric and reduced it to the basic moral principles such as love, truth, ahimsa and social service by marginalizing the 'Sastras' and depriving them of their religious and moral authority.27 Gandhi always projected the mass struggle against the British colonial masters as a religious duty of Indians and connected it with manhood. Gandhi understood the pulse of the masses and knew the hypnotizing effect of religion on Indians and the ability of religion to make men out of straws. Indians involved in the freedom struggle under the leadership of Gandhi gained moral power from their religions in the struggle against the imperialist masculinity.

(c) Thoughts on Women: Gandhi understood that the treatment given to women in Indian society was an important criterion to gain respect in the eyes of the colonial masters.
Gandhi was against the practice of child marriage.28 He was in favour of widow remarriage and said that widows should be treated with respect in society and arrangements should be made to educate widows and some occupation should be provided to them.29 He also criticized the tradition of veiling the women because it was detrimental to their overall development. He firmly believed that women should have equal status in the society. Gandhi believed that woman should realize her strength and never think of herself as helpless before man. He said that though weaker in physical strength women were morally far superior to men.
Gandhi gave married women the right to practice celibacy. He redefined the traditional concept of masculinity which had denied woman right over her body.
Gandhi was against this attitude that women should decorate themselves for men. Talking to women on one occasion, Gandhi said: "Woman must cease to consider herself the object of man's lust. The remedy is more in her hands than man's. She must refuse to adorn herself for men, including her husband, if she wants to be an equal partner with man."30 Gandhi had admitted that he had learnt more of passive resistance as a weapon of power from Indian women than anyone else.31 He asked satyagrahi men to incorporate the best feminine qualities and become complete men. There was influence of feminine qualities like tolerance, suffering and sacrifice on satyagraha movement. Gandhi believed that women's education should differ from men's as their nature and function differ. He was of the opinion that women should first look after home.32 He further writes that it is degrading both for men and women that women should be called upon or induced to forsake the hearth and shoulder the rifle for the protection of that hearth. Gandhi thought that all women could not become warriors like the Rani of Jhansi, but all women could emulate the example of Sita whom even the mighty Ravana could not bend to his will for Rani of Jhansi could be subdued but not Sita.33

(d) Gandhian Economics: Gandhi's model of masculinity found expression in his economic thought also. Gandhi said: "It was our love of foreign cloth that ousted the wheel from its position of dignity. Therefore, I consider it a sin to wear foreign clothes. I must confess that I do not draw a sharp distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral will-being of an individual or a nation are immoral, and therefore sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. . . .”34 The Western world had been proud of science and technology and the industrial revolution. They used to criticize the Eastern world for its backwardness in this field. But Gandhi criticized the overdependence of men on machinery in the West. He believed that the people of the West had become slaves of machines and neglected use of their bodily strength.35 In Gandhi's model of masculinity, importance was given to manual labour and minimum use of machinery. Gandhi believed that it was manly to be self-reliant and independent. He wished that India would become a nation of workers.
He rejected the modern economic structure which was based on exploitation. He put forward the idea of self reliant villages based on cooperation instead of competition.
Gandhi thought that the modern methods of production and distribution had made people indulgent and deteriorated the moral qualities of the people. Gandhian economy aims at reeducating people to respect the human values and put restraint on desires. Self- discipline and self-control is the foundation of Gandhian economy.36
By presenting his independent model of economic structure Gandhi showed the way of economic independence to India and developed confidence and self respect among the Indians.

(e) Hygiene: Hygiene consciousness was one of the features of Victorian masculinity. Teaching the people of the colonies the habits of cleanliness was also part of the civilizing mission of the colonial masters. Indians were considered as inferior by the British because of their filthy habits and lack of sense of public hygiene.
Gandhi admitted that he had learnt the value of public hygiene from the British "during his stay in England.37 Gandhi observed the filthy habits of Indians when he travelled throughout India in the third class compartment of the railway. Gandhi agreed with the criticism of Indians by the British for their lack of hygiene. Wherever Gandhi went, he made it a point to make people aware of the need for public hygiene. He wrote a number of articles on personal and public hygiene. He made his ashrams perfect examples of cleanliness. Giving lessons of hygiene to the people in villages and cities was part of the constructive work programme.38
Gandhi's model of masculinity was not based on negation of everything related to British imperialist masculinity. He asked Indians to introspect and identify their defects and borrow whatever was worthy of borrowing from the British. Gandhi gave minute attention to every aspect of his model of masculinity and made it strong enough to stand in front of the British. Gandhi connected hygiene consciousness with Swaraj and asked Indians to develop this good habit so that they would not be treated as inferior.

(f) Thoughts on Education - Nai Talim: Education had always remained a major concern for the national leaders since the time of anti-Bengal Partition Movement. National schools and colleges were opened all over India. National leaders believed that the education given in Government educational institutions developed inferiority complex and slave mentality in the young generation. Gandhi's experiments on education had started when he was in South Africa. He opened a school for children in Phoenix farm where importance was also given to manual labour.
Gandhi believed that the English education in the manner it had been given had emasculated the English educated Indians.39 He writes, "....by receiving English education, we have enslaved the nation. Hypocrisy, tyranny, etc., have increased; English knowing Indians have not hesitated to cheat and strike terror into the people. . ."40
Gandhi believed that education should bring about a harmonious development of all the four aspects of the human personality, viz., body, heart, mind and spirit.41 He considered the existing system of education in India not only wasteful but positively harmful because most of the boys were lost to the parents and to the occupation to which they were born. They picked up evil habits and urban ways. For Gandhi the remedy lay in vocational or manual training. He was in favour of giving scientific training in useful handicrafts to the student which would lead him to the highest development of mind and soul.42
According to Gandhi, education should help a student to cultivate character appropriate to become a future citizen of society. He must have an opportunity to practice civic virtues at school and learn the art of discipline and self-government to become a member of a democratic state.43 Gandhi's educational philosophy had its roots in Indian culture. Gandhi stressed the importance of non-violence in the education of children by opposing corporal punishment. He also believed that boys and girls should be taught together. After forty years of trials and experiments, Gandhi finalized a scheme of education in 1937 for application on a nationwide scale. The new scheme was called the Wardha Scheme or Basic National Education, also known as Nai Talim.
By rejecting the Western educational system and presenting his own unique model of education Gandhi undermined British masculinity. Through Nai Talim, Gandhi gave institutional foundation to his model of masculinity. Nai Talim imbibed Gandhi's model of masculinity among children during their most formative phase of life. It provided Gandhi a band of new recruits loyal to his model of masculinity in his struggle against British imperialist masculinity.

(g) Satyagraha: For Gandhi a system of oppression derived its strength and durability from two interrelated sources; first, the victim's illusion that his oppressor was all-powerful and he himself powerless; and second, his incapacity for action.44 satyagraha was the perfect solution to the dilemma faced by unarmed Indian men who did not know how to fight British masculinity. Gandhi rejected the principles of British imperialist masculinity such as 'Might is Right' and 'Survival of the Fittest’, as immoral. Gandhi gave the colour of 'Spiritual War' to the freedom struggle and called satyagraha as a 'pure Soul-Force.'45 For him satyagraha was not the weapon of the weak. Gandhi said that the aim of the satyagraha struggle was to infuse manliness in cowards.46 Gandhi believed that Indians had become unmanly because they were afraid of death. He said that a satyagrahi needed more courage than a man who relied on physical strength because a satyagrahi continued resistance till the end without fear of death.
In addition to bravery and courage, Satyagraha claims for itself the great virtue of fearlessness. A violent soldier may be brave and courageous but he is never fearless. He wants to kill, yet does not want to be killed which means that he is afraid of death....The Satyagrahi is fearless. His resistance is open. He therefore eschews secrecy. His is an open revolt. He is willing to bear the consequences of his non-violent opposition or revolt. Under certain circumstances he invites these consequences. A Satyagrahi abjures the right of self-defence. He is not afraid of death.47
A Satyagrahi is indifferent to wealth and other comforts of life. He is celibate. He is not chained by any family attachments. He has sacrificed everything for the nation. He has become an ascetic for the cause of nation. He does not inflict pain on the adversary; he does not seek his destruction. He never resorts to fire arms. He firmly believes that at the end 'truth only triumphs' (the famous mantra from Mundaka Upanishad).
Satyagraha used several forms of non-violent actions such as non- cooperation and civil disobedience. Gandhi was clear about the means. His political sense showed him that British rule was based on the active collaboration of some Indians and the acquiescence of the rest, and that if Indians were to force the British into a position where they could no longer inflict intolerable 'wrongs' on their Indian subjects, then those subjects must undermine the foundation of their rule. Non-cooperation was the means he offered. In principle, non-cooperation was simply the refusal to cooperate with those responsible for violation of fundamental 'truths.' It might include strike, walkout and resignation of offices and titles. Civil disobedience was the direct contravention of specific laws and included such activities as non-payment of taxes. Jail going was a special non-resistance activity undertaken in a civil disobedience programme.48
The Constructive Programme was an integral part and positive aspect of satyagraha. It was 'designed to build up the nation from the very bottom upward' and regenerate India's society and economy.
Satyagraha was a perfect solution on the dilemma faced by Indian men who wanted to fight against the British injustice but did not know how to do it. This was the dilemma faced by the leaders of Indian National Congress right from 1885 up to 1920. These leaders could not give a concrete agenda to the masses. Indians were chafing for action and Gandhi's satyagraha showed them the path. Participation in satyagraha could inculcate self-respect among the Indians. It rested on solid philosophical foundations, which also gave a sense of manliness with high moral standing to Indian men in their struggle against the British imperialist masculinity.
Gandhi's model of masculinity was feasible for the masses. As a result, it appealed to the masses. Even the Pathans of the North West Frontier Province, considered as the most aggressive of all the races, adopted non-violence as a creed under the leadership of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.49 Diplomat Chester Bowles50 observes, "Everybody on earth has been affected by Gandhi. Because of him the British Empire ceased to exist as such, and when his own people threw Europe off, the rest of Asia and Africa followed. His special teachings and techniques have inspired other struggles for human deliverance, in quarters where armed revolt would have been out of the question. America's Civil Rights campaign was foretold by him, and led by his avowed admirers and imitators. There and elsewhere, the spectacular wave of 'protest' movements has not always displayed the same discipleship, yet without his broadening of horizons it might never have begun to roll."51 The author of the book Who Killed the British Empire, George Woodcock observes, "Undoubtedly, if one had to choose any individual as more responsible than others for the death of the Empire, it would be Gandhi."52


Notes and References:
  1. Bipan Chandra, Essays on Colonialism (New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 1999), p.v.
  2. Connell, Masculinities, op.cit., p.xvi.
  3. Ibid., p.187.
  4. Connell, Gender and Power (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1987), pp. 126-128.
  5. Basil Mathews, The Clash of Colour (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1925), pp.18-19.
  6. Francis W. Coker, Recent Political Thought (New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1934), p.443.
  7. Ibid., p.444.
  8. Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The "Manly Englishman" and the "Effeminate Bengali" in the Late Nineteenth Century, (Manchester and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p.2.
  9. Indira Chowdhury, The Frail Hero and Virile History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.162.
  10. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (here in after CW), Vol. 13, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information And Broadcasting, Government of India, 1958-1999, p.128.
  11. CW, Vol. 20, p.250.
  12. CW, Vol. 42, p.427.
  13. Ibid., p.434.
  14. CW, Vol. 10, pp.51-52.
  15. CW, Vol. 12, pp.46-47.
  16. CW, Vol. 18, pp.346.
  17. CW, Vol. 44, p.79.
  18. CW, Vol. 15, p.274.
  19. CW, Vol. 13, p.228.
  20. CW, Vol. 26, p.556.
  21. CW, Vol. 18, p.133.
  22. CW, Vol. 10, p.49.
  23. N. K. Bose, Studies in Gandhism (Calcutta: Indian Associated Publishing Co. Ltd., 1947), p.306.
  24. CW, Vol. 20, p.52.
  25. Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi's Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination(Delhi: Ajanta Publications,1995), p.83.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., p.108.
  28. CW, Vol. 17, p.398.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Quoted in, J. B. Kripalani, Gandhi His Life and Thought (Delhi: Publications Divisions, Ministry of Information And Broadcasting, Government of India), p.397.
  31. Millie Graham Polak, Mr. Gandhi: The Man (Bombay: Vora & Co., Publishers Ltd., 1949), p.127.
  32. CW, Vol. 13, p.246.
  33. Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi The Last Phase, Vol.1 (Ahmedabad: Navjivan Publishing House), p.326.
  34. C. F. Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi His Life and Ideas (Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1988), pp.263-264.
  35. CW, Vol. 10, p.20.
  36. Kumarappa, op.cit., p.ll.
  37. CW, Vol. 16, p.495.
  38. CW, Vol. 23, p.126.
  39. CW, Vol. 17, pp.535-536.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Patel, op.cz'f., p.17.
  42. Ibid., p.18.
  43. Patel, op.cz'f., p.24.
  44. Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), p.155.
  45. CW, Vol. 19, p.240.
  46. CW, Vol. 13, p.291.
  47. J. B. Kripalani, Gandhi His Life And Thoughts (Delhi: Publication Divisions, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India), p.350.
  48. Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1959), p.36.
  49. Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1959), pp.132-134.
  50. Chester Bowles (1901-1986) was a liberal Democratic American diplomat and politician from Connecticut. He was an advocate for stronger relations between the U.S.A. and India.
  51. Quoted in, Geoffrey Ashe, Gandhi: A Study in Revolution (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1968), p.vii.
  52. Quoted in, James Hunt, Gandhi in London (New Delhi: Promilla & Co., 1978), p.226.
Courtesy: Adapted from Gandhi Marg, Volume 37, Number 2, July-September 2015

*Shyam Pakhare is Assistant Professor, K. C. College, Churchgate, Mumbai. e-mail: shyam_pakhare@yahoo.com