Book Review: In Spite Of The Gods

Before I start commenting on the back, for the uninitiated, here is a 2-line spiel on Edward Luce, the luminary writer of this book.
Edward Luce is a Financial Times journalist who has covered India for a considerable period of time. (And his wife is an Indian). As part of his journalistic experiences, he did get to read, write and experience a fair bit of India. And the true enigma that India is, Edward is tempted to share his understanding of the profound through this book.
The name of the book – In Spite Of The Gods – The Strange Rise Of Modern India, itself tells you how a lot of people feel about India. Despite all that plagues modern India, people often surmise about what has brought India to this stage of exploding growth. Why is there so much talk about India being the next big thing in the global economy? The real answer is – Nobody Knows! It reminds me of this joke where the whole of US is baffled about “Jugaad” – a technology which ensures a 5 year tenure for a government with 20% of the seats in the parliament, which tilts the scooter at 5 degrees to start it, which provides food and shelter for those thousands of good for nothing young ones in villages who think sitting at the chaupaal and talking about Indian Politics is the biggest form of entertainment (besides periodic consumption of Chai and Gutkha), and which sums up the sentiment behind this golden statement – “Ho Jayega Saab! Aap chinta mat kijiye. Kuch jugaad to lag hi jayega!”
Anyways, back to Edward Luce and his rendition of the great (and not-so-great) story of Indian evolution. The book is very good when it comes to research, and sharing experiential learning. However, the book suffers from a very common problem. People who have not felt India, often misinterpret the chaos that prevails. Particles moving in random motion with a specified purpose often contain a powerhouse of energy within. Luce’s attempt to generalize a lot of Indian undercurrents fail at striking a chord with an Indian. Some of the opinionated generalizations are unwarranted too. However, there is no fun in reading an author if he does not have an opinion! [;)]
The thing that struck me the most was the elevation of Sonia Gandhi’s character from the common perception of an opportunistic politician. Sonia is portrayed as someone who was and is naturally averse to politics and is there in the Indian politics for a social good. Sentiments I could not just wait and see what they were trying to do with the country sound nice, but very untrue. At the same time, the hatred for Sangh Parivar and the fact that BJP has played a puppet in Sangh’s hands for long are bloated magnanimously, with there being no equal stage sharing for some of the other forms of religious paranoia plaguing our country. Not one to support the extremist acts of religious atrocities in Gujarat, it somehow paints an incomplete and unjustified picture if a “journalist” never bothers to look at all faces of the coin before forming an opinion.
The place where this book suffers the most, according to me, and I am not great orator or journalist, is that it confuses personal opinions with research facts. In the same breath, Edward talks about the facts and figures of economic growth, Nehruvian model of socialistic economic growth, and his opinions about Ravi Shankar, Sonia Gandhi, etc.
It’s a good read for those who like hypothesizing about India and the way going forward (I am one of them!), and those who love reading (seemingly) interesting anecdotes concerning popular people (oxymoron – anything related to popular people is an interesting anecdote. That’s how they became popular, right?). A little depressing for die hard Sangh fans, a little too upbeat for Congress supporters, the book is a spicy read, if nothing else!
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