Date:04/06/2006 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/lr/2006/06/04/stories/2006060400170300.htm
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Bookwatch

BY ANITA JOSHUA


Opus Dei: The Truth about its Rituals, Secrets and Power, John L. Allen, Penguin, 4.50.

PRIOR to Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, few outside the Catholic Church — and even within its laity — had heard about the Opus Dei. At least, that was the case in India. But after the runaway success of the book weaving fact into fiction, Opus Dei assumed an ominous proportion larger than its actual strength — a total of 85,491 members in 2004; constituting 0.008 per cent of the global Catholic population.

His journalistic curiosity stirred by the "myths" surrounding Opus Dei, Vatican correspondent John L. Allen tries to find out how much of reality there is to the public perception about this group. And, the first myth that came apart in the face of reality was the shroud of secrecy attributed to Opus Dei. Not only did Opus Dei agree to open up to his endeavour, but also, according to Allen, "they never faltered in their commitment to full disclosure" and were no more secretive than Alcoholics Anonymous.

Though Allen found Opus Dei to be on the "right" (pun intended) side of the Catholic Church, he concludes after 300 hours of interviews and thousands of flying miles to eight countries that Opus Dei is not rich, does not treat its women members as "second class citizens", and most importantly, is not "taking over" the Catholic Church. As for the practice of corporal mortification — epitomised by the murderer-monk Silas in Brown's book — Allen insists it is not exclusive to Opus Dei; thereby inviting for himself the criticism of doing a "whitewash job" in sections of the international press.

Fighting conspiracy theories and charges of being co-opted, Allen's own impression of Opus Dei is that it is the Guinness Extra Stout of the Catholic Church — "a strong brew, definitely an acquired taste, and clearly not for everyone" which "may never dominate the market" but "will always have a loyal constituency".


Docu-saga

The Open Frame Reader: Unreeling the Documentary Film, edited by Rajiv Mehrotra, Public Service Broadcasting Trust (India), Rupa, Rs. 250.

THE journey of the moving image on screen started with the documentary, but this is a genre of films that is struggling to date; particularly in India where short non-feature films have limited access to audience. Though "independent" filmmakers have got together to create platforms of their own, the public broadcaster remains their best bet for an audience.

So, it is not surprising that Rajiv Mehrotra — while editing the The Open Frame Reader ("a collection of essays by filmmakers as well as non-practitioners working on the agenda of the documentary genre") — is rather complimentary about the much-maligned Doordarshan.

Be that as it may, the collection — a ready-reckoner on the genre — does address the sensitive issue of censorship that often puts the Government in poor light. Even now Doordarshan is in court over its decision not to screen Anand Patwardhan's National Award-winning film, "Father, Son and Holy War".

And, Ruchir Joshi, on this count, will be a much-disappointed man in the wake of the censorship controversy over "The Da Vinci Code". For, in his article "Out of Line", he puts great faith in the current government; stating that "it might not be too wildly optimistic to hope that this administration will be the one that finally topples the rotting structure of censorship".


Handy guide

The Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children, Puffin, Rs. 195.

AT first glance, The Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children could easily pass off as an attempt by Penguin Books India to promote its own titles. Though closer scrutiny of the list shows that the list includes many books that are published by more than one publisher, a majority of books suggested are Penguin titles or books marketed by it.

Though pegged as "an invaluable source" for parents and those looking for books for children, it's more the stuff for libraries and bookshops — a handy reference book when choosing from the plenty on spread can be an uphill task.

Beginning with an introduction by Ruskin Bond and a list of his favourite books, the guide loosely arranges books for three age groups: The young adult between 12 and 16, the middle readers from eight to 12 and the younger readers starting from four onwards. And, the list extends beyond the staple Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and the more recent Harry Potter to include Satyajit Ray's Feluda series and other homespun stories.

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