& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

India: A Portrait

India: A Portrait
Patrick French’s book on India (India: A Portrait – AnIntimate Biography of 1.2 Billion People) is a mixture of racy history, stories about jugaad (innovative approach at fixing intractable problems) and stories about the bizarre.

It’s a welcome addition to understanding India at a time when understanding India is becoming imperative.  As French said during a  panel discussion about his book organised by Literature Live!, in the week US was downgraded, India was upgraded.
In the last decade or so – since Sunil Khilnani’s Idea of India was published, there has been a surfeit of books on India, some by historians and some by western journalists.

These books are meant for the western reader who can't quite figure out the India as perceived from media headlines. Increasingly, as Kumar Ketkar pointed out to me, these books are also for Indians whose exposure to India is through English language.
All these book seem enthralled by the amazing turnaround of this once famine ravaged, poor nation into an economic powerhouse.
For many years, as it floundered economically, India’s only redeeming feature was its surprising success in democracy and electoral politics – something that no other postcolonial, newly-independent nation quite managed.

French’s book traverses all the known terrain and even does excellent primary research in unravelling the extent of nepotism in politics – with truly insightful results.
Although I don’t quite get the point of this Hereditary Members of Parliament (HMP) exercise – isn’t everything in India is nepotistic? And, Anil Dharker made a pertinent point that the second or third generation dynastic politician wouldn’t be corrupt.

Some of these and many other issues were discussed at the panel discussion at Bombay’s Prithvi Theatre earlier this week. The discussion was scintillating.
Besides French, Kumar Ketkar, public intellectual; Shabana Azmi, activist and actor; Aditya Sinha, journalist; and Anil Dharkar, former editor; participated in an engaging debate that touched upon several aspects of French’s intimate biography of 1.2 billion people, as well as some that aren’t part of the book.

On a vacation in Bombay, I'm able to do a few things (such as attend a book discussion) that I could only dream of doing when I lived here.
About “Literature Live!, The Mumbai Lit fest. The Festival was launched in November 2010. The response from Mumbaikars during the three-day fest was truly enthusiastic and it was clear from the level of audience participation that Literature Live! was answering a long-felt need.”

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