Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Books About India

With every Desi writer and their brother writing a tome about India’s short and long term fate with the conclusions ranging from over the top optimistic to absolutely dire, the average reader (Desi and otherwise) must view the slew of books on this subject with some consternation not to mention confusion. All opinions, conjectures and projections are not equal and certainly not everyone has the same qualifications to be dispensing the wisdom, foresight and commentary on the future and fortunes of India that they do.

Mira Kamdar brings a whiff of fresh air into this over-crowded genre with her book Planet India. She tempers her enthusiasm for everything there is to be excited about in India with the right measures of sobriety and caution. She shows us the potential and opportunities that lay ahead of the country and its people but never fails to draw attention to the numerous impediments along the way or as this Businessweek article reports – we’ve already hit the wall.

Her writing is factual and objective ; the content well researched. There is a lot of fresh information and insights even for a native born Desi who has spend most of their adult life in India - a rarity for books in this segment that aim at aiding a “discovery” of modern India by non-Indians while insulting the understanding and awareness of its natives.

Unlike a lot of book-about-India writers, Kamdar does not come off as having recycled old news paper editorials and magazine articles in the name of yet another tome about India. But most importantly, she “gets” India and cares about what does or does not happen to this country. Having said that, it is commendable that she is able to remain detached from her subject matter yet present her case in such an engaging and compassionate tone.

I would highly recommend Kamdar’s book to anyone who has enjoyed reading Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City and Ronhinton Mistry’s Fine Balance. Between the three we have viewed India through a composite lens of fact and fiction, dipped into the past, taken stock of the present and tried to glimpse into the future. I would love recommendations for books on a couple of themes that I have not read about yet – applying lessons learned from India’s history to solve today’s problems and to better prepared for the future; opportunities and challenges for India’s rich spiritual heritage in a time when consumerism reigns supreme.

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