I was at my friend’s house where I saw two books — both seemingly had to do with god. One was the “Origin of God” and another, “In spite of the gods”. Just by the title, I started showing more interest towards the latter.

In spite of the gods is a book written by a British (ostensibly British-Indian) journalist, about India.

Before I decided to read it, I confirmed with my friend, this book was not about how India “has arrived” or is “shining” — something that would easily bore me.

In spite of the gods is about how India survives, sometimes even glows, in spite of the corruption and politics, in spite of pluralism and heterogeneity, in spite of beliefs and faiths, in spite of ideals and geopolitics, and finally in spite of the gods. The author provides his views of India, based on interviews with a multitude of prominent people, from a cross-section of India. He also must have referred to works of people to the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Amartya Sen, Ramachandra Guha — some of who are even credited in the book.

In hindsight, I would not have picked up this book — I found India after Gandhi (IaG) (more info) to be much more informative, if a little overwhelming. I did however appreciate areas that Guha spoke less of — topics like industry, foreign policy etc… (If he did, I have forgotten reading it).

I found it annoying that the author had to oftentimes post transcripts of his interviews, as opposed to glean information from those interviews and articulate it in a manner that is consistent with the editorial style. In my view, reproducing interviews reduces the conviction of the author. That said, the copy-paste impression does disappear once you get past the first few chapters, slowly but surely.

In perhaps the starkest difference from Guha’s approach in IaG, Edward Luce, the author, while summarizing his book, highlights four aspects (poverty, environment, health, democracy) as being the critical success factors. In the summation section, Guha would have preferred hope and optimism in addition to Bollywood and cricket.

I read this book in record time (my standards) and my final verdict for this book is — if you have already read IaG, skip this book. If you have not read IaG but interested in modern history of India, also skip this book and read IaG instead. If you want to read modern Indian history, but do not have stomach for Guha’s level of details, pick up a copy of this book.

My favorite quote from this book is that “In India, things are never as good or as bad as they seem”

“Origin of God”, the other book I found at my friend’s, as the title suggests, discusses how religion and god originated. I read the table of contents and there was no mention whatsoever of Hinduism. I chuckled.