The Tears of the Rajas
In this book, we see India through the eyes of one Scottish family: the Lows. For 100 years this family has survived through the problems of living in India: mutiny against the British (and European) authority, siege, debt and even, disease. The Lows travel from sunny Madras to snowy Afghan terrains, but their life is anything but worth writing home about. This family has had to survive some of the most tumultuous inhumanity, imaginable. As is human nature, the family has often survived it all through counter-attacks at all of the barbarity.
The British enterprise which gave rise to the idea of corporation, around the globe, was in the past fragile, in peril, tremendously oppressive (and proud), exploitative, occasionally stouthearted and a magnificent Kingdom. At the time, it was tough to imagine Scottish people having much more than just plain old hard times – John and Augusta are two people in love whose relationship seems like it can survive all odds, but when you read their personal accounts of their life in India you are not spared from absorbing their lonely tales and their desperation to climb the professional ladder, all the time lost and confused about what they are supposed to do exactly with their life in India.
The author is a Low himself and he decided to write the book when he discovered his own family timeline and portions of British history he believes that the generation of today has decisively chosen to not remember anymore. The Lows have survived through many historical episodes, from the Vellore massacre because of a “mutiny”, the pursuit of Java (in Indonesia), the removal of the young man-child lord of a former princely state, Afghan disasters, reliefs in Lucknow, following a siege, which led to permanent vacating of both states by the Indian population.
The book also covers what the Lows had to personally go through from bankruptcies in Scotland and Calcutta, plagues, fevers, children dying and childbirth-related deaths, the camps the family have had to live in, celebratory balls at hill stations, and the hot and humid train journeys. A very adventurous read – most definitely not for the fainthearted.
The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan
The British Raj gave rise to a partitioned land: one that was broken apart into a separate state of India, which was separate from Pakistan, in August 1947. This was happening as “communal holocaust” began to shape political events of the future in India. Hindus and Sikhs were seemingly aligned against all of the Muslims in India. A lot of people were killed, as a result, and many more ran away from their homes in bullock carts, that had a caravan on them, to survive the massacre within the parameters of the new border for India – it was without a doubt the single-biggest exodus in history.
So many decades later, the difficult relationship between India and Pakistan never ended – the partition and the new borders did nothing to stop the tensions between the two countries in the Indian subcontinent. Hindus and Muslims in the region, and by that I do not mean the regional troubles different religious groups might have in India and Bangladesh, have a controversial relationship in the Indian subcontinent.
The controversy is that it is filled with sentiments of conflict and no matter how far you go or how advanced the world becomes, this problem looks to be impenetrable. The Line of Control in Kashmir is home to thousands of soldiers on each side of the border, ready to pounce at the thought of attack. Events such as those that led to the creation of a separate Bangladesh from East Pakistan in 1971 that was won with the support of India, and the threat of a conflict over the possession of nuclear weapons for both the countries, almost took place inbetween India and Pakistan that was avoided, in 1999 and 2002, demonstrates that these two countries are conflicted about each other for various characteristic reasons. The conflict has an important place in geo-politics for China, the former Soviet Union, China, Israel and Afghanistan. The book is interesting and vivid in its description about how pig-headed the conflict has been through the ages, and will in all likelihood continue to be so for forever.
The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India – Wisden Sports Writing
This book is about how cricket influences India. You get a good glimpse of this on the eve of an April 2008 cricket match in Bangalore. There was a lot of money involved, alongside glamour, girls dancing around in local costumes, and stars from Bollywood. The sporting event wasn’t really about the actual sport that is cricket but more about the entertainment value that comes from such a glittering spectacle.
In this book, you learn about India through the eyes of cricket lovers and how their love for the sport, represents the kind of people they are. India is known to be a patient country and its economic surplus has made it possible to become a favourite for many amongst spectators of the sport at Lord’s, despite their minute times spent on the cricket ground, in actuality. India, like any other country, is rife with power, money, celebrities and a whole lot of corruption – but it is also a cricket-obsessed nation, and all of this interests the one billion population, tremendously.
The author goes on a cross-country trip across India and meets various people over cups of tea, who all build up the fabric of India, such as princes who have lost all their power, to bookmakers who work in back-street alleys. He also converses with children who live in slums, and with extremely rich people, or squillionaires. He learns about their lives and how cricket influences who they are as people, their lives, and how it all contributes to the story of India.
India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is one leader who has contributed a great deal to India, after being a prominent civil rights activist in South Africa and completing his studies in English law in London, with the hopes and intentions of becoming a barrister. However, he left all of this for India. As a result, I was interested to see what exactly transpired in a place he was so fond of, after his numerous struggles and trysts in politics was complete. As rationing and civil war, broke up different classes, languages and religions, with the birth of an independent India, which was now democratic and more unified than before, what followed wasn’t a better life for Indians now that the British Raj was no longer there, for its mass numbers of workers to exert their authority upon, or for them to oppress.
What followed were painful episodes of struggles, humiliating incidents, and the more-recent bursts of glories, for a nation that is most unlikely to be democratic in the entire world. This makes the nation seems all the more ungovernable, but in my experience, it has never been so. I do not think there is any conflict in the world that is more powerful than effective and tremendously courageous governance, through foreign policy. But not every sliver of intelligent thread that comes out of great leaders heads, such as those featured in this book: Indira Gandhi, amongst others, is precisely so, because sometimes exasperation and a lack of foresight in politics, in governance, or even plain old sensibility, can tip the scale in the opposite direction and governance becomes quite hard.
It is tough to imagine that in this world people can be so filled with hatred and vengeance that they can give birth to protests and conflicts in India, that it can lead to so many tragic episodes, that sometimes people’s “intelligent” thoughts on how certain conflicts do exist, despite their attitude that it does not, can make it tough for a newly born nation to grapple with. This gives rise to different shades of people, different colours of ideas in India, from peasants to women, which has marred the history of a freer India than before.
The Great Fear of 1857: Rumours, Conspiracies and the Making of the Indian Uprising
The uprising of 1857 in India was about sepoys, fighting against the British Raj, despite their faithful service to it for many years. This battle had an unprecedented influence in the consciousness of the Raj, on the colonial mindset, and its menace became a haunting figure for the British until upto the moment the Raj ended. Plenty of conspiracies brewed amongst Indians that led to the uprising, there was a lot of plotting, and it was all because of a contaminated ammunition containing beef and pork, which many sepoys found offensive, after a battle in Oudh (a former princely state) had stripped them of the same privileges and rights that only belonged to the Raj, and resentment soon brewed about how they were being treated unfairly in their own “glorious” country.
The book details the conspiracies that led to the outbreak of a rebellion in India, and the widespread panic that ensued amongst Indians, forcing them to arm themselves – but no one really knows if it was to defend their sentiments over beef and pork, or the British Raj, they had so loyally served for so many years? I found the idea quite surprising because it did not take the sepoys one moment to carry out a “stab-in-the-back”, a Dolchstoßlegende, of sorts, for the British Raj.
Nehru’s India: Essays on the Maker of a Nation
When the British Raj went back to England and decided to end their rule in India (and Bangladesh), and British authorities declared India as an “ungovernable state” because of the massive amount of conflicts and rebellions that took place there, one political figure dominated the headlines in India: Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was a prominent figure in the independence movement against the British Raj, and a successor personally chosen by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, to become India’s first Prime Minister. Nehru only lost that post because of his untimely death in 1964 and he was known to be a great believer in the conquest the Allied powers shared during the Second World War, and that included United Kingdom.
After returning from studying law at the Trinity College, Cambridge, he defied British authorities and formed an alliance with Gandhi to alter the political landscape of the Raj. However, he was thrown into prison and what greeted him after he came out off it, was not a united Congress that was dominating provincial elections, that eventually got killed because of the Quit India movement, which helped the Raj to effectively crush the political party, but a changed India. After a difficult partition of India, that was especially hard for all involved, Nehru won successive elections and all of that can perhaps be attributed to his socialist, secular and sovereign beliefs. The book examines one of India’s foremost political leaders and his ideas on India as a democratic republic – he inaugurated many local institutions, from an academy devoted to literature to numerous important universities in India, mirroring the great work the British Raj did in dominating the architectural and various heritage landscapes in India, which the book covers, apart from talking about the debates that still go on nationally over Nehru’s contribution to the political landscape in an independent and democratic India.