Nov 7, 2007

In spite of the Gods

I chanced upon the book when I was just browsing through the books in my library, and found this book to be very interesting. The author of the book, Mr. Edward Luce is the Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times, London. Earlier, he was their South Asia Bureau chief based in New Delhi.

Having spent a considerable time in India and interacted with a lot of people who are in a position to shape the future of India, Mr. Luce has written this book to give an all-encompassing and insightful account of India at the dawn of the 21st century. He deserves to be applauded for giving a near-complete picture of modern India, from almost every possible viewpoint, without making overreaching judgments. His intended audience are the Westerners and Indians alike. His intentions are twofold – to the westerners, he explains the nature and the cause of near-bimodal distribution of the populace of India; to the Indians he reminds them of the obstacles India faces in this new era and advises to tread the path with care, enthusiasm and optimism.

This book would help anyone understand South Asia better, because most of the contemporary issues of the Indian subcontinent are described in detail, with historical reasoning. He is well-informed and uses his wit very well to portray some of the traditions of India, such as the wedding , some of the festivals, and the Bollywood. Since he is an Economical journalist, he compares several numbers, such as, the population, the work force, the literacy rate, extent of corruption, the per-capita income and the savings investment, of India with China and with the U.S., throwing light on India’s position vis-à-vis other leading powers. This being a very recent book, many contemporary controversies, such as, the religious extremism , casual criminalization of Indian politics, reservation for lower castes, separate civil codes for each religion, Kashmir issue, South Asia’s nuclear rivalry, and child labor are described well in detail.

He strongly feels that it is the best option for India to remain secular. His dislike of the (BJP), and its arms of Hindu movements, is apparent in the fourth chapter. He dwells on the Gujarat riots of 2002, which still remains a highly controversial issue. However, his use of certain strong words such as ‘Hindu militants’ , ‘fascist salute’ (of RSS cadres), and an unexpected short description of Hanuman, could have been avoided, since it tends to stereotype. Also, his coverage of South India is quite incomplete compared to other parts of India, probably because he feels that the North have to catch up with the South. Some of the lingering problems, such as, water-sharing dispute among neighboring states, the pathetic negligence of outdoor sports, over-adulation of movie stars, and the destructive politics played by opposition parties in most of the states, have not received any attention.

True to the diversity of India, his views on India are also diverse. He approaches an issue from several angles, which sometimes gives a feeling of the author making some sudden jumps in the topic. Nevertheless, he backs his facts and arguments with credible literature – both old and new, and uses a lot of statistics (journalistic insight) to validate his points and draw his conclusions. Though he claims to have written the book from a neutral perspective, his affection towards India and his longing to see India succeed is apparent in several places. A must read. I would recommend this movie to director Shankar, to get some ideas about making his trademark vigilante movies in the future .


VM said...

Lol at your recommendation of this book to Shankar :D
Btw, is this your first book review ?

Nice Guy Eddy said...

Hey raju,

I read this book a few months back.An informative and highly readable book.He writes with insight about the rural scheme that would perpetuate the hold of the babudom and also the incentive to keep khadi cottage industry alive despite its irrelevance.My objection is to the title.It seems the westerners have not stopped viewing india through the prism of religion or the so called 'spritual east' etc etc.Amartya sen once said when he went to a bookstore in the US all the books about india were in the religious section.

If u get time please read ram guha's take on post independence india (india after gandhi).Even though he has not written much about the south,there is a sincere appreciation and admiration about TN and the way the administration handled tsunami.

Raju said...

Vm, :)
Yep, first book review indeed..
Eddy, 'nice' to know that you have read it too.. ;)

The title might sound little objectionable.. but, according to him, religion is the probably among the strongest forces that can divide or unite sections of people. Me too read about Amartya Sen's comment. And, Hinduism being highly polytheistic is another reason for his wonder.

One notable mention about TN is "among the best managed states in India".. then imagine how scary it is to know the condition of UP, Bihar and the like.

i will look out for Ramachandra Guha's book too..

Ponnarasi Kothandaraman said...

Raju Sir,
Vanakkam! :) Epdi irukeenga?

I wanted to get this book a long time :( Too costly :D Searching for ebook..Bytheway this was a nice write up about the book :)

Kajan said...

Many have suggested this one to me, btw have you read Argumentative Indian?

Raju said...

Ponnarasi, vanakkam.. nalla irukken.. :) Neenga? Enna dhideernu sir ellam?

I was lucky to get this book in my library.
Kajan, no, I am yet to read that book by Amartya Sen. In fact, this author has referred to that book in a few places. Lemme try to get it.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, 'In Spite of the Gods', ends up being what can only be described as the typically superficial work by someone looking to cash in on the current obsession in the West about the rise of India. For a more balanced, I would suggest Gurcharan Das' 'India Unbound'.

VM said...

Hi Raju,

Birth is the start of life, Beauty is the art of life, But celebrating Deepavali is the part of life

Wishing you and your family A Very Happy Diwali !

Raju said...

Anon, I can't agree with you. Have you read the book? The author's genuine concern for India is there to be seen. He digs deep into almost all the issues, which an Indian can easily identify and acknowledge. Moreover, IMHO, there is no 'obsession' in the West about the rise of India. They are interested for sure.
Vm, Thanks a lot, and wish you too a Happy (belated) Deepavali!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nice Guy Eddy,

I agree with the title since he is stating that despite the gods ( religion centric), India is reaching modernization