January 1, 2008

Books on India

In a look back at the books he read in 2007, Chandrahas Choudhury writes about three books on India that every Indian should probably try to read. I will try to read them sometime but ….too many interests, too little focus, too little time! (Although one would be right to a great extent if they said that all this is merely an excuse to explain away or justify my lack of discipline!)

Anyways, Chandrahas writes:

I have read several biographies of Gandhi, but the range, depth, narrative poise, and density of detail of Rajmohan Gandhi's Gandhi: The Man, His People and The Empire (Penguin Viking in India, Haus in the UK) made for one of the most intense reading experiences I have ever had. Every page of this massive work is radiant with the intelligence of not one Gandhi but two; reading it was like receiving a moral education in 600 pages. This work also lead me to some of Rajmohan Gandhi's other books, including the many striking ideas of his survey of South Asian history Revenge and Reconciliation.

An even more ambitious project, which might be seen as taking off from where Rajmohan Gandhi's book finishes, was Ramchandra Guha's massive history of India since 1947, India After Gandhi (Picador in India, Macmillan in the UK, Ecco in the USA). Speaking at the launch of the book in Bombay, the distinguished journalist and editor of Loksatta Kumar Ketkar perceptively observed that India After Gandhi was in a way "your, mine and our autobiography". Given the extent to which our sense of our own lives depends on our understanding of our past, there could hardly be a more important book this year for Indian readers, particularly those of my generation, than Guha's. I particularly enjoyed the superb chapters on the Partition, the Indian constitution, and the contributions of our own Founding Fathers: Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Patel and others, and the copious notes and citations at the back of Guha's book were a treasure trove of information and signposts. My only problem with India After Gandhi is that, even at 900 pages, it is far too short. When a biography of Picasso can run to three volumes, why not the history of six decades in the life of a nation?

No work of fiction gave me greater pleasure this year than the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian Building .....


In a year replete with books about India, whether on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of independence or in deference to India's growing stature in the world, few works approached the quality of the Australian foreign correspondent Christopher Kremmer's Inhaling the Mahatma (HarperCollins in India and Australia). The depth of Kremmer's engagement with his adopted country, his curiosity about not just the crisis ushered in by Hindutva but also the larger tradition of Hinduism (his book returns often to the question of the impact of 6, December 1992 - when he was present at Ayodhya - on India), and the beauty of his language (there are many superb descriptions of landscape which a lesser writer would simply pass over) make this one of the best books I've ever read on India.

There is more at Chandrahas's post, including non-fiction from Milan Kundera, and books by V. S. Naipaul, Muhummud Yunus, Christopher Hitchens, and an interesting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn-ish book from a Chinese (Kang Zhengguo's Confessions).. but for this post, I have excerpted the bits about the 3 interesting books on India only. Go to Chandrahas's great blog and read more of the post for the other great books he read this year...and like me you may find yourself spending another hour (or more) reading other great posts by him.

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