Encapsulating India’s social, political and economic history post-Partition to the present day is a hugely challenging task that only a writer like Patrick French could have dreamt of taking on.
The historian’s love for the country is well documented. His previous work on the subject, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division, had won him the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. His latest book picks up from where the last one left off and in the process paints a picture that is beguiling and thought-provoking.
French’s narrative style instantly strikes a bond with the reader and grips from the word go. His attempt to unravel how India made the transition from its socialist roots to aggressive capitalism covers every social and economic strata – underworld dons to billionaires, politicians to revolutionaries.
The text is structured along the lines of Rashtra (nation), Lakshmi (wealth) and Samaj (society) in true Indian style. How the largely agrarian society is coming to terms with the realities of modern India, how being born into a political family defines your future and how violence and corruption go hand-in-hand with peace and progress are just some of the issues he tackles head on.
French manages to delve into some of the most uneasy truths, such as the realities of the caste system in today's India, without being tempted to pronounce judgement on them.
His unbiased and empathetic style is possibly the strongest feature of this book. It may not present a bright and shining picture of the country throughout but it is certainly an honest reflection of the ground realities.
Whether it is his enduring passion for the country or simply skilful writing, French has succeeded in painting a surprisingly coherent portrait of an extremely complex country.
www.theindiasite.com is a new website set up by the author for hand-picked stories about modern India
by Aditi Khanna