Penned by Ramachandra Guha, this book left me emotionally stunned possibly because I read it straight through, like I would a murder mystery and was doing so in the background of the Indian railways, an institution that always elicits great nationalistic pride in me. My foremost comment about the book is this - if you are going to be a voter in the upcoming elections then this needs to be your research material.
The author provides a clear picture of India's political history from about a year before our Independence up to 2007. There is a small section towards the end that talks about our culture and cinema but for the most part it details how the world's largest democracy was built and is still buzzing along. For me personally, the book nicely details our *deterioration* from a constitutional democracy to a populist democracy.
I am sure there are better reviews of this book out there so I'm going to talk about issues that struck home to me the most. To start with, I finally understand that the Kashmir issue is not just about its strategic location and land but a fight about principle; by retaining Kashmir India wants to demonstrate its secularism while Pakistan wants to vindicate the two nation theory based as it is, on religious ground. The perverse nature in which our countries have decided to resolve this is of course, open to debate. I learnt about the violence that has been perpetrated by tribals and the government over the separatist movement launched in various parts of the north east. Sitting so far away it's easy to wish for peace! Our turbulent history with Chinese aggression was also nicely captured. Who knew that the word "naxal" comes from the village naxalbari, Assam where the first such rebellion was conducted?
Finally, the book made me think about my identity in this large subcontinent. To be politically relevant it would appear that I need to define it either by state or caste or religion. Long ago I came to the conclusion that the number one perception that I define myself by is as a woman. Everything else takes a back seat to that. Also after having lived much of my life as a defense brat and later abroad I have never had the need to define myself either by caste, religion or regionality. This book has reaffirmed what I always felt rather intuitively that in spite of our diversity, differences, lunatic religious sentiments and hundreds of languages, I am proud to be an Indian.