You cannot move forward, if you don’t know where you came from
Thanks to my being a pathetic student at history, much of what little school books taught us about India and its history, went over my head. Added to that, I used to suck at reading; which means alternate sources of history was also not an option for me. Not until now. I just finished my longest read ever.
India is a very divided country — on the basis of religion, caste, gender, economy, language, class among others. So why are we one country? Or — as the author explores — how are we one country? He does that by putting together the different events that transpired beginning a decade and a half or so prior to independence, all the way up until now.
As for the book itself, your own age is likely to have a telling impact in your reading experience. Especially if you were born and raised in India, you (a) experienced some of these events first hand, (b) lived through some others but were too young to comprehend or (c) yet some others happened before your time.
I felt like I was diving in a deep blue sea for the major part of this book where the author discusses several years preceding independence, the key people involved in independence, the vision and leadership of several people but most prominently Jinnah and Gandhi, Gandhi’s efforts to keep Hindus and Muslims united and (the ultimate) failure to keep the nation unpartitioned, the partition and how it happened, linguistic reorganization of the country, Nehru and his legacy, Indira’s regime, Sanjay Gandhi’s actions, Indira’s infamous Emergency, regional issues like Kashmir, Punjab, Nagaland, Mizoram, Bangladesh (and on a different dimension Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra etc…) and finally the rise of populism.
I then felt like swimming in a pool (Chapters 25 to 29) reading current events and those of the yesteryears — Rajiv’s regime, Ramjanmabhoomi, Mandal Commission, Dalit rights, fall of principle-based politics (and rise of opportunity based politics), Kargil War, Market Liberalization, India Shining etc…
Chapter 30 was a commercial break. It talks about entertainment — Bollywood, Indian Music, Theater and Sports.
The silver lining of this book is the epilogue titled Why India survives?, where he draws analogy between India and several other countries (including Russia, USA, France, China, Pakistan) and explores the possibilities of and reasoning for survival of the country we know as India.
At 750 pages, this book is a bit long-winded, nevertheless a good read (and a must read if you skipped history in school). I give it 4/5. And finally, thanks to my colleague and friend Deepak, without whose introduction I would not have noticed this book.