India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha, Picador India
What a writer! This book has made me fall in love with the way Guha writes. India After Gandhi is a book on the post-Independence India. It narrates the story of India making her choices after she became Independent, in the face of communal riots, separatism, chaos, poverty, disease, industrial immaturity, and other factors that guaranteed her downfall, apparently. The story is one of India conquering her vices, and emerging as a Nation of reckoning.
Every chapter is written with care, keeping in mind the aware and mindful reader who is looking to gain knowledge and who wants to experience history as it is being narrated. Guha starts each chapter on a serious note, enriches your experience of reading with quotes and excerpts from other sources, mixes some humour (often, some ridiculous anecdotes), and ends with a fleeting glimpse of what the future holds, and how the events could affect the unfolding of the future.
This book was suggested by my history professor. “Read it because you can,” he said. Most of my classmates are busy people who don’t want to go through the trouble of having to read more than two or three books on history. I took my time before purchasing my copy, because I did not want to ‘waste’ my time reading a superficial account of something that I can read about from class notes and textbooks. I finally bought it because I had time on my hands between classes. Besides, “read it if you can” sounded a lot like a challenge. I don’t regret buying the book, not one bit.
This is a scholarly book that is mesmerising me. I’m pleasantly surprised myself. But not too much, since I’ve had a taste of Guha’s work before, when I was impressed with his craftiness with words (which move deftly between fact, opinion and critique), in an essay that he has written in Makers of Modern Asia. I seem to be inclined towards appreciating the way India After Gandhi is written more than the content itself. The content is the greatest epic on Democracy in the modern world, and Guha makes it breathe and gives it life.
Thus far, I’ve learnt of India’s confused state of being after Gandhi’s death. India laid down her communal animosity, embraced fraternity in her preamble and life, asserted secularism in the face of a notorious neighbour, Pakistan, became a republic and took a huge leap of faith with her first general elections (the very first, and the most challenging, to grant universal adult suffrage, with non-existent infrastructure and people to support the exercise). The book has also devoted space to the eccentric and visionary leaders of the country, their thoughts, convictions and how they shaped the future of the country.
Disclaimer: I’ve read only one fifth of the book, and I’m snobbishly happy that I still have a good chunk of the book left. I’ll rate the book when I’ve turned the last page, probably in a different post.